Michael Caine’s 15 rules for acting – part 1

by | Apr 5, 2023 | Uncategorised | 0 comments

If you want to be a star kid remember this: talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.

Those were the words John Wayne dispensed to Michael Caine in his younger acting days. 

His book ‘blowing the bloody doors of’ is really a reflection and a look back on his life from his upbringing in Elephant and castle in London all the way to Hollywood and the lessons he’s learned which he shares with the readers in this book.

Michael was a just a lad in his early days, performing at his clubland youth club. He never set out to be rich and famous. Quite the opposite. He thought he’d never be a star the way he looked so he just set out to enjoy himself and be the best actor he could possibly become in his own small world. 

For the first nine years of his professional acting career Michael struggled to make ends meet and pay the bills. But he never fell out of love with acting. 

By the time he was 30 years old he had done seven to eight hundred auditions and played more than a hundred different parts in repertory theatre, another hundred small rolls on TV and a few walk on parts in the West End. 

Now, well into his 80’s and having accumulated more than half a century of knowledge and experience in the acting realm, Michael dispenses in his book some of the rules that he believes actors should apply to their craft and I’m going to cover 15 that I believe are the important ones. 

So, here goes: 

No. 1 – auditions – if you only think you’re auditioning when you’re in the room with the casting director, you’re missing half of it. You are auditioning when you’re checking in with the receptionist, when you are sitting in the waiting area, when you are grabbing a cup of coffee. 

In fact, whenever you’re in a public place, you are auditioning. You never know who’s watching your performance. You’re not a working actor yet? Doesn’t matter. Perform your roll as though the Uber driver, the checkout girl, the Barista and even the guy fixing your laptop is your contact to someone bigger. Whether it’s to another writer, an associate producer, or even a director.  It will make you a better person. 

No. 2 – Your image – Michael was a cockney lad and knew nobody was going to take him seriously as an actor with that accent, so he decided to invent himself and create a recognisable image. It started with glasses. Great big black ones so you couldn’t miss them. And eventually he became the cool working class actor who wore glasses. 

Later on in his career he kept reinventing himself and reassessing his strengths. But to begin with he knew that he had to convey something to the acting world, so know your strengths and play them up. 

No 3. – On being lucky – What does the abbreviation or acronym for luck really stand for? Labouring under correct knowledge. 

Luck favours the prepared – that means knowing your lines. Knowing your lines until you could wake up in the middle of the night and say them. Can you say them while you’re cooking an omelette or packing a suitcase or chasing someone down the street? If not, you’re unlikely to be able to get them out at your audition. 

Don’t say the lines in your head or mouth them silently. Say them out loud or audible enough for you to hear yourself saying them. Practice until it sound natural. Practise until it is natural. If you can’t convince yourself how are you going to convince anyone else? 

Think of all those auditions when you didn’t get called back or heard from not as failures but as part of your preparation. Because luck favours the focused, the hard grafters and the rubber ball resilient. Most of Michael’s luck happened when someone saw him playing one role and offered him another. 

Getting the role for Zulu Michael believed a lot of luck went into him getting the part. Being cast as a an aristocratic lieutenant with a posh accent might not have worked if it weren’t for the director being an American, more than likely no British director whole have considered him to play the part of an officer. Plus, thanks to his small role in an eight line part in ‘A hill in Korea’ he was recognised by the producer which was thanks to his experience in Koreas while in the army. 

No. 4 – If you’re going through hell, keep going – most of us will do this at one time or another through our careers – going through hell. Michael kept going out of a mixture of anger, fear, determination and necessity. There was nothing else he cloud do. He wanted to be an actor and he was going to go through whatever it took to make it. 

Even in his sixties the scripts stopped coming and he thought his acting career was over. But jack Nicholson persuaded him to keep going and he’s glad he did. He now believes he’s done some of his best work since ‘he retired.’ 

No. 5 – Use the difficulty – look hard and find something positive within the problem. 

At one point in his early career, after his performance in Zulu Michael was summoned to a producers office who he had under contract and told him that he’d never become a romantic lead and he’s not for them. And to add insult to injury he went on to tell Michael that he looks like a queer on screen. Following that ordeal Michael was released from his contract and it was a terrible blow. Michael though swallowed his pride and kept pushing forward for roles. 

In the Ipcress File film, while watching the rushes, one executive sent a message to Sidney Furie the director mentioning again that Michael Caine while wearing glasses comes across as a homosexual. Luckily the director took no notice and in one scene when Michael was playing opposite an actress she asked him if he always wore glasses, Michael responded back as the films character with ‘I only take them off in bed.’ So, she reached over and took them off and it’s considered to be one of the great moments of movie seduction. 

The last example of using difficulty, in his earlier repertory days when Michael was doing theatre a chair became accidentally lodged in front of the door he was supposed to come in through. When his queue came to make his entrance he shouted ‘I can’t come in, there’s a chair in the way’. 

Without hesitation the director said to him ‘use the difficulty’ Michael asked him what he meant by that and the director’s reply was ‘if it’s drama smash it, if it’s comedy fall over it’. Life is full of bumps and stumps and they can feel damn annoying but we need the tension in order for us to be aware of who we really are. 

If its all plain sailing we’ll never get to explore our full consciousness – there’s definitely a lesson to be learnt by embracing difficulty and breathe into it and see how perhaps you can make the situation slightly more positive and a little less negative. 

No. 6 – Keep learning – Michael had a lot of flops during his acting career but he learned from each one of those and didn’t look back with regret – what was the point? He could always find something good for him even in bad situations. If the script was terrible maybe the location was fun. If the locations was terrible maybe the director was a genius. If the director was not great maybe his co stars made it interesting. If all else fails he could always learn from whatever mistake got him there in the first place. 

His success came from doing. The best way to keep doing enough of the right things is to keep doing a lot of things. Even if some of those things end up being flops, you’ll be building up your experiences, building relationships, building confidence, opening up opportunities, keeping life fresh and learning your craft. So long as enough of them are good enough, you will be allowed to keep going. 

No. 7 – Whatever it is – give it 100 per cent – Your part may not be the most important part in the movie, but it is the most important thing to you. Your contribution is what you can control so, however big or small it is, you have to make it as good as it can be. Don’t try to attract attention to yourself, that would be annoying and makes you look needy. Just make it real, make it true and make sure you know your lines. Treat your small part as if it’s the main event – because for you it is. However scaled down your role is do not make that a reason to scale down your effort. 

Want to hear no. 8? No problem. Please join me next week when I’ll finish off dispensing Michael’s rules and guidelines for becoming a great actor. 

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