In 2010, Sir Michael Caine practically gave an acting masterclass when he appeared on “Front Row” with Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4. Enjoy the radio interview in this video, which was luckily recorded in the studio and/or our transcription below.
Mark Lawson: In the book, there are some very useful tips I think, for young actors which I find fascinating. One of them is: „in a close-up choose just one eye of the actor you are playing opposite.“
Sir Michael Caine: Yeah, and don’t go from eye to eye. The reason you choose an eye is because in this shot now, the camera is obviously there, shooting me. If I look at you with this eye [the one closer to the camera], into your other eye [the opposite person’s eye further away from the camera], you have lost me. If I look at you with this eye into that eye [i.e. the constellation with the person in the frame being the most front facing], this eye is in the camera. And if you want to play strong, don’t blink. If you want to play weak: blink. I mean: don’t deliberately blink […] but if you really want to play strong, just look at someone like that…this camera can see this eye. And never change eyes. Only actors do that. People don’t do that in real life.
Mark Lawson: Hugh Grant for example, he…
Sir Michael Caine: He is so funny, because he blinks all the time because he is always nervous. He can’t get the girl…and that is a very clever actor, letting you know that he is not very strong, and he is very nervous and he is upset. If you are playing a serious character in a movie as I often do, you don’t want to appear nervous and upset.
Mark Lawson: And never ever appear naked.
Sir Michael Caine: No. Movie acting is about control. People don’t know that they are being controlled but they are looking where I say you look and they are listening to what I say. And the minute you have a full frontal, not naked – a full frontal naked, they immediately are not looking where you want them to look and they are immediately having conversations with each other. They immediately start to talk, you know… they are making all sorts of comparisons if you are man or woman…and so you have lost concentration. One of the things that started me on this was Robert Helpmann who was the Head of the English Ballet at the time of “Oh! Calcutta!” which was a naked musical, and it was a big thing you know – a naked musical. They said to Robert Helpmann: “Would you ever do naked ballet?” So he said: “no.” They said: “Why not?” He said: “Because everything does not stop when the music does!” Now I think that is a very good reason you know, because what he is saying is you lose the concentration. Concentration is when the music stops – bang! – you are done. If you are full frontal nude, you are still looking at things still moving. So never do full frontal nudity.
Mark Lawson: And finally, which I never thought of but it made perfect sense once you said it: when people are playing a drunk scene, they often make the same mistake as you did originally by acting drunk, whereas…
Sir Michael Caine: And talking slurred. I was supposed to be a drunk when I was a young actor and I came in drunk and the producer stopped it and said: “what are you doing?” I said: “I am drunk in this scene!” He said:” I know you are drunk but you are not a drunk. You are an actor trying to be drunk.” – “I don’t know what you mean” – “You are an actor trying to walk crooked and talk slurred. A drunk is a man trying to walk straight and talk properly. Go out and do it again!” Which is a wonderful basis for movie acting, which is where you deal with the reality of it. In a movie, in my impression is what you are to be to be a good movie actor: if the audience is sitting there, saying “Oh, isn’t Michael Caine a wonderful actor!?”, then I have done it all wrong. They should be saying: “I wonder what is going to happen to Harry Brown now!” You know – that is the difference.
Mark Lawson: And I think about drunk acting, there is a similar one which again, I have never thought of, that is: somebody who is crying is in fact someone who is trying not to cry.
Sir Michael Caine: No. It is when men cry in particular. Men would do anything but cry […] You must fight the tears. If you fight the tears, the audience will cry for you.
Mark Lawson: Thank you very much.