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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 14:33 GMT
Caine: Going strong at 70
Sir Michael Caine in The Quiet American
Caine has earned his nomination on the publicity trail
After a long and distinguished career Sir Michael Caine has become one of Britain's best-loved actors and one of its most bankable exports.

But it took him years of bit parts in movies before he was cast in lead roles with Zulu in 1964 one of his first big breaks.

Sir Michael was Oscar-nominated in 2003 for the sixth time for his role as a war reporter in The Quiet American - a film that almost did not make it to the cinema.

While some actors dismiss Academy Awards as pleasant but unnecessary accolades, Sir Michael is in no doubt about how important an Oscar can be.

He credits his victory as best supporting actor in 2000 for The Cider House Rules with reviving his career at a time when he thought he was finished.

And his nomination for The Quiet American confirmed that he is on Hollywood's A-list of dependable quality actors.

The nomination was a fitting result to Sir Michael's campaign to make sure The Quiet American was seen at cinemas after Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein put it on indefinite hold following 11 September.

Jaded reporter

With a message seen by many as anti-American, Weinstein thought it could have been too sensitive and was preparing for it to go straight to video.

But Sir Michael phoned him and said: "I'm getting up there now - I'm nearly 70. How many more opportunities [for another Oscar] am I going to have?"

Michael Caine
Caine was one of the faces of the "swinging sixties"
Weinstein agreed to show the film at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2002 and - if the reaction was good - give it a release that would make it eligible for the Oscars.

Sir Michael, who celebrated his 70th birthday this month, told him: "If it doesn't go well in Toronto, I'll bring a shovel and help you bury it." But the Toronto audience loved it.

The role of an ageing, jaded English reporter in the adaptation of Graham Greene's novel is a far cry from the fresh-faced wide boy roles that he made him famous in Alfie, The Italian Job and Get Carter.

Born Maurice Micklewhite in south London in 1933, his father was a fish-porter and his mother a charwoman. The young Maurice's first job was as a meat porter.

Proud of his humble roots, he clung to his working class accent at a time when, as an actor, it was considered unfashionable and unwise.

He did not attend stage school and many say his unaffected presence blew like a breath of fresh air through British cinema in the 1960s.

Sir Michael in Cider House Rules
Sir Michael played an abortionist in The Cider House Rules
Roles like the cockney Lothario Alfie and the anti-hero spy Harry Palmer were just as central to the "Swinging Sixties" as The Beatles, Mary Quant and E-Type Jaguars.

His urbane but self-cultivated style, plus the directness both of his acting and accent, resonated in the new classless Britain.

Disillusioned

He has had his critics who berated him as a limited performer, and he had a running feud with late actor Richard Harris, who described him as "a fat, flatulent windbag".

But Sir Michael's track record speaks for itself. He made the breakthrough playing the upper-class Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead Zulu and earned his first Oscar nomination for Alfie three years later.

He has chilled audiences in roles such as the evil gangster Mortwell in Mona Lisa and thrilled through his performance as the disillusioned German officer Kurt Steiner in The Eagle Has Landed.

But roles such as the suave conman of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels also show he is just as capable of raising a laugh.

He got more Oscar nominations for thriller Sleuth, opposite Laurence Olivier, in 1973, British drama Educating Rita in 1984 and he finally won a statuette for Hannah and Her Sisters in 1987.

Michael Caine
Caine was knighted by the Queen in 2000
But after the plum roles began to fade away, to be replaced by "four or five really crap movies", as he described them, he decided it was all over.

He retired to open restaurants and write his memoirs, but was tempted back to film by Weinstein, who gave him roles in The Cider House Rules, Little Voice and The Quiet American.

The Oscar for The Cider House Rules was "the most important thing to ever happen to me in my career", he has said.

It "catapulted me into leading roles, even though the award was for supporting actor".

'Duff accent'

His role as Austin Powers' father Nigel in the latest Austin Powers film, Goldmember, showed that he could still pull off lighter roles and laugh at himself.

Knighted as Sir Maurice Micklewhite in 2000, he said he still uses his real name when off duty.

"When I go home, I leave Michael Caine the film star with the costumes, the wigs and the props in the studio."

But he knows that even with his "awkward voice and a duff accent" he has achieved a level of success about which most in his profession can only dream.



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