Blowing the Bloody Doors Off

And Other Lessons in Life


By Michael Caine

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Now in his 85th year, Hollywood legend Michael Caine shares wisdom and stories from his remarkable career in this “engrossing” memoir that “shines with positive energy” (Library Journal, starred review).

One of our best-loved actors, Michael Caine has starred in over 100 films in his six-decade career, spanning classic movies like Alfie, Zulu, and The Italian Job (the inspiration for the book title) to playing Alfred opposite Christian Bale’s Batman in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Dark Knight trilogy. Caine has excelled in every kind of role–with a skill that’s made it look easy.

Caine knows what success takes. He’s made it to the pinnacle of his profession from humble origins. But as he says, “Small parts can lead to big things. And if you keep doing things right, the stars will align when you least expect it.” Still working and more beloved than ever, Caine now shares everything he’s learned-and “his fans will be rewarded, as will anyone seeking an enjoyable, inspirational read” (Library Journal).



THE FIRST TIME I was in the United States, when I had just made Alfie, I was sitting on my own in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel and heard the sound of a helicopter landing in the gardens opposite. This, the porter told me, was strictly illegal. He and I stood at the door to see who was so flagrantly flouting the law—presumably the President, of the United States or at least of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Across Sunset Boulevard, out of a swirling sun-flecked cloud of dust, six foot four and in full cowboy get-up, strode the unmistakable figure of John Wayne. As I stood there with my mouth open he caught my eye and altered his course to come over to me. "What's your name, kid?" he asked.

"Michael Caine," I managed to croak.

"That's right," he agreed, with a tilt of his head. "You were in that movie Alfie."

"Yes," I said. I wasn't really keeping up my end of the conversation.

"You're gonna be a star, kid," he drawled, draping his arm around my shoulders. "But if you want to stay one, remember this: talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much."

"Thank you, Mr. Wayne," I said.

"Call me Duke." He gave me a chuck on the arm, turned around and swaggered off.


It was a mind-blowing Hollywood moment for an ambitious young actor on his first visit to the city of dreams. And it was great advice for anyone who was going to be acting in Westerns and delivering all his dialogue from a horse. Talk low and slow so you don't scare the horses, and say as little as possible before the horse runs away. But it was not such great advice for someone like me, an actor who was going to play all kinds of characters with tons of dialogue, and mostly, thankfully, with my feet planted firmly on the ground.

I am often asked what advice I have for actors starting out in this business. And for many years my answer was "Never listen to old actors like me." That was because, until John Wayne offered me his words of wisdom, I always used to ask older actors what I should do, and the only thing they ever told me was to give up.

But as I've got older, I've been reflecting on my life, as older people often do. And I've realised that, over my sixty years in the movie business and my eighty-five years of life, I have been given a lot of useful advice—by Marlene Dietrich, Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier among many others—and I have learnt a lot of useful lessons, from my many glittering successes and my many disastrous failures. I started to think I could do a bit better than "never listen to advice." In fact, my advice would be, don't listen to that advice.

This book is the result of that reflection. I wanted to look back on my life from the Elephant and Castle to Hollywood, and from man-about-town Alfie to Batman's butler Alfred, with all its successes and all its failures, all its fun and all its misery and struggle, its comedy, its drama, its romance and its tragedy, and find, among it all, the lessons I've learnt and want to share, not just for aspiring movie actors but for everyone.


A few of my "lessons" are quite specific to movie acting. But I hope that most of them will speak, somehow, to most of you. You won't all have to audition for parts but in some ways life is always an audition: everyone has moments when they have to put themselves out there for what they want. You won't all have to learn lines but everyone sometimes has to make sure they're properly prepared. We all have to deal with difficult people and we all have to learn how to balance our professional and personal lives.

What you need to be a star in the movies is not that different from what you need to be a star in any other universe (it just takes a little more luck).

And if you don't give a monkey's about this old man's so-called wisdom? Well, I hope you'll still be entertained. Along the way I tell stories from my life, some old, some new, many star-studded and all entertaining, I hope, that help to tell the bigger story of how I got from where I started to where I ended up, and the mistakes I made, and the fun I had, and what I learnt along the way.

What worked for John Wayne was never going to work for me. So I don't assume that what worked for me will necessarily work for you. The world I came up in was very different from today's, and my battles as a young white working-class male movie actor in the 1950s and 1960s will not be the same as yours.

And I know that my life has been blessed with more than its fair share of good luck and good timing. As a young working-class lad in the 1960s I was in the right place at the right time. I know that. Thousands of actors out there were as good as and better than me, but didn't get the breaks. I know that too. And I know that while suddenly in the 1960s parts were being written and worlds were opening up for working-class lads like me, those breakthroughs were decades away for women and people of colour. It has taken me many decades to understand the battles—not just for the roles but for dignity and basic decency—that women have been fighting in the movies and many other industries for years, and I'm still learning.

I have been extraordinarily lucky in my personal life too, meeting my wife Shakira and having the most wonderful life with her for forty-seven years. I have been blessed with two incredible daughters, three precious grandchildren and a group of close, supportive friends.

No one can succeed in the movies or anywhere else without luck. But I haven't just been lucky. I've been unlucky plenty of times too. And I've never rested on my laurels. I've worked hard, learnt my craft, grabbed my opportunities and just kept on bloody going when others gave up.

Nobody has the one secret formula for success. No one can promise you riches and fame—and actually I wouldn't recommend wishing for them. A lot of actors know as much about the business as I do, and more. But if you would like a look at how one very lucky man got there, overcoming the bad luck and wringing everything he could out of the good, making tons of mistakes but trying to learn from them, doing what he loved and having a lot of fun along the way, let's get going!







Starting Out


It Doesn't Matter Where You Start

"…you don't even see the riches you're treadin' on with your own feet"

Walter Huston to Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948


WHEN I LOOK AROUND me now, and look back to where I've come from, and then, just to be sure, check out the view again, I still sometimes think: What? Me? No. You're having me on. It still sometimes seems like an impossible dream. Lesson number one: I am living proof that, whatever your start in life, you can make it. Emphasis on "can"—not "will." No promises.

I was born about a million years ago in 1933, in the middle of the worst depression this country has ever known and six years before it was brought to an end by an even bigger catastrophe, the Second World War. My mother was a charlady who, though I didn't learn this until after her death, already had one son, who she was loving and caring for in secret. My father was an intelligent but completely uneducated—or undereducated, which was typical of the working class at that time—fish porter at Billingsgate market. We lived in a cramped two-room flat in a converted Victorian house in Camberwell, then one of the poorest parts of grimy, smoggy London: three flights up from the street and five flights up from the one toilet in the garden. I suffered from rickets, a disease of poverty that causes weak bones, and I tottered up and down those stairs in surgical boots.

Three years after me came another son, Stanley, and another three years after Stanley came the Second World War. As the Blitz flattened London, my brother and I, aged three and six, were evacuated, and found ourselves at the tender mercies of separate and rather disappointing new families. Mine fed me one tin of pilchards on toast a day and kept me locked in a cupboard under the stairs when they went away for the weekends. My mother barged in and rescued me, covered with sores, as soon as the Germans stopped bombing the railway lines, but not before I'd developed lifelong claustrophobia and an absolute detestation of any cruelty to children.

I left school at sixteen with a small handful of exam passes, found and got sacked from a handful of menial office jobs, and at eighteen I got called up for National Service, where I first did my level best to help with the Allied occupation of a defeated post-war Germany and then headed off to be shot at by Communists in Korea.

Britain then was one of the most class-ridden nations in the world, and I was, I was daily informed, at the bottom of the heap. Of course there were millions of people all over the world living lives much worse than mine, but I didn't know about that. I just knew that I was poor and working-class.

In many ways it was not a great start—for anything, let alone movie stardom. But to its star—Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, as (poor sod) I was known back then—my childhood never felt like a sob story. It was what I knew, I was loved, my mother and father were great parents and even the worst of times seemed to bring me something good.

The Second World War was one of the most horrific, tragic events of the twentieth century. But for me, it was one of the greatest things that ever happened. For this scrawny six-year-old slum-dweller, it meant evacuation and escape from the Blitz—with my brother and mother the second time around. We were transported from smoke-choked London to the bliss of the Norfolk countryside where I could run around in the fresh air, nick apples and have a massive bleeding carthorse called Lottie as a pet. Like everyone else I was forced to eat organic food for five years: there were no chemicals to put on the land or in food, because they were all being used in explosives and ammunition. There was very little sugar, no sweets, no fizzy drinks, but free orange juice, cod liver oil, malt extract and vitamins. For most people rationing was terrible but for people like me the wartime diet was a great improvement. My rickets was cured and I shot up like a weed.

Because of the war I got the opportunity to take the so-called eleven-plus exam to get me a place at a good grammar school: very unusual at that time for a boy from my background. My father survived Dunkirk, El Alamein and the liberation of Rome—I still have the card he sent me for my sixth birthday from Dunkirk, and the rosary the Pope gave him in thanks in 1944—and came back to us, tireder, sadder, but a daily reminder of how lucky we were: the telegram we had dreaded every day for the six years of the war had never arrived. And when I came back to London after the war, twelve years old, still lanky but now six foot tall—already four inches taller than my father—we were rehoused in a prefab in the Elephant and Castle. It had electric light, hot water, a proper bath, a refrigerator and, best of all, an inside toilet. These were all firsts for us and it felt like luxury.


I learnt early on that everything, no matter how tragic, can have its good side for you personally. I learnt to find the good in terrible situations. Looking back I would add another lesson that I couldn't possibly have known at the time (I wish I had): if I can make it, there's hope for us all. No matter where you start in life, you can get up and out.

 Learn what you can from what you get

None of us chooses our childhood. We don't choose our families, or our circumstances, or the era we are born into. But no matter where we find ourselves, there is always something we can learn. And now, more than ever, I realise what great lessons I learnt from the good bits and the crappy bits of my early life.

My father taught me that I wanted more out of life than I was supposed to get. My mother taught me the things I needed to be able to go out and get it. Together, they provided me with a wonderful launch pad—and a wonderful grounding.

My father was a brilliant, intelligent and funny man, a hero to my brother and me. He could make a wireless from scratch out of small parts. But like many of his generation he wasn't very good at reading and writing, and because he was uneducated he was unsuited for anything but manual labour. My father was not a chirpy Cockney sparrow. He was, in truth, never truly happy. He deeply resented his situation yet felt hopeless to change it. I used to look at him and think: Blimey, with an education, what could this man have done? And then: Blimey, I need to get an education or I'll end up like him, getting up at four every morning to spend the day carting freezing cold fish about, then blowing all my wages on the horses. When my father died in St. Thomas's hospital at the age of fifty-six, I was with him. He had three shillings and eightpence in his pockets, and that was all he had to show for a lifetime of working like a beast of burden. As I walked out of the hospital ward I swore I would make something of myself, and my family would never be poor again.

My mother set me on my path to success by giving me my first acting role. At the age of three I had a regular gig in a two-hander, opening our front door to a varied cast of unsuspecting co-stars—the local debt collectors. I had only one line to deliver: "Mummy's out." Slam door, exit up the three flights of stairs back to our tiny flat.

It's a nice story and it's true. But what my mother gave me went a lot deeper than that.

My mother made me the man I am.

When my father went off to war, I was six and my brother Stanley was three. My mother didn't cry as my father got on the army truck and it drove off out of sight. She turned and looked at us and said, "Your father's gone. Now you two have to look after me."

"Right, Mum," we both said. "Of course we will. Don't you worry."

Of course it wasn't true. We couldn't possibly look after her, and she didn't need us to: she was tough as old boots and could look after herself. Which was lucky because my father didn't come back for four years. But that solemn moment gave me an incredible sense of responsibility that stayed with me all my life. I have always wanted to take care of the people around me and always felt a terrible sense of guilt when I haven't been able to.

At the same time, Mum taught me how to relax, have fun, laugh and not take myself too seriously. She had a hard life but, unlike my father, she was not weighed down with bitterness or self-pity. She loved to laugh and she smiled her way through the humiliations of the grinding poverty that comes with being married to a gambler, six years of war waiting for the telegram boy in his silly hat and the lifelong strain of caring in secret for her beloved first child, David.

And, later, when stardom came, boy, did my mother keep me grounded.

When I had grown up (a bit) and settled down (a bit), my wife Shakira and I used to have my mother over to our house in Windsor every week for Sunday lunch. Sometimes it would be just the family and other times we would have friends there too—by this time, often very successful movie-business friends. This Sunday must have been just after I'd finished making The Man Who Would Be King, a 1970s escapist buddy caper set in a remote made-up land near India. The great director John Huston and the producer John Foreman, who, together with my co-star Sean Connery, had made working on that movie such a joy, were tucking into their roast dinner and my mother was earnestly engaging John Foreman on the topic of the price of milk. It was on her mind at the time, because it had just gone up by twopence, and John was agreeing with her that this was terrible. My mother always remained herself and always treated everyone the same.

She had excellent instincts about people. She knew who was a kind person and who could be trusted. And she knew that that was what was important about a person. I remember one time in the 1970s, at a party at my house that was bursting with glamorous, successful people—Peter Sellers and Liza Minnelli were there, Sean Connery, Nanette Newman, Roger Moore—my mother quietly asked me, "Who's that over there?"

I glanced across the room, packed with stars, to where she was looking and said, "That's a very famous actress, Mum. She's very famous." And I told my mum the actress's name. She was as famous as you can get, very beautiful, vivacious, the life and soul of the party.

"I don't like her," said Mum, pursing her lips. "I really don't like her."

"Why, Mum?" I said.

And my mum said, "She's spoken to everyone in this room except the old lady: me. She's not spoken to anyone old."

It's easy to get swept off your feet with the glamour of it all, unless you have some sensible people keeping you grounded.

More simply, and more importantly, my mother gave me and both of my brothers (maybe the other two even a little bit more than me because I could usually look after myself) uncomplicated, unconditional, devoted love. So much so that what I remember most clearly about my childhood Christmases is not that my father was away fighting the war, or that there were precious few presents; what I remember is my mother going at a hard-boiled sweet—the last of our Christmas rations—with a carving knife, trying to cut it in half so that neither son should feel favoured over the other. When the knife slipped and she gouged out a piece of her thumb, she disappeared for a minute, came back with it bandaged and went back to sawing away until that sweet finally surrendered to her onslaught. (My father loved me, too, but he wasn't as good at showing it.)

When you have been shown love, you can show it to others. At the beginning of her life, when I was young and broke and desperate, I wasn't always the father I wanted to be to my first daughter, Dominique. But what I have done right, as a father to Dominique and later to my second daughter Natasha, and as a grandfather to three wonderful grandchildren, I learnt from Mum and the way she offered all her three sons unconditional, unjudgemental, unfailing love.

I would even say that my mother, in a way, gave me my wife of forty-five years, Shakira. I've told the story many times of how I first stumbled across, pursued and fell hopelessly in love with Shakira, and Shakira has begged me not to tell it again here. So if you don't know this incredible, unlikely story of the greatest run of luck I ever had, I'm very sorry but you'll have to find it somewhere else. But not so many people know the story of how this stunning, poised, intelligent woman fell for little old me. I had always assumed it was my smooth Cockney charm and suave good looks that had swept Shakira off her feet, until one day I was standing at the door eavesdropping on an interview my wife was doing for a newspaper. "What first attracted you to Michael?" the journalist asked, and I heard her reply, "It was the way he treated his mother."


Most successful people will have a story to tell about a great teacher, and I am no exception. The headmistress at the village school I attended in Norfolk was an intimidating and fierce-looking woman, about sixty years old, called Miss Linton. She had an unusual haircut for a woman—similar to my father's, I thought—was unmarried, smoked 100 cigarettes a day and was extremely tough with us children. Except that after a while her attitude towards me softened. She started to take a close interest in me, gave me special lessons, guided my reading, taught me to play poker to improve my maths and eventually got me through the scholarship exam for grammar school. I never saw her happier than the day she came rushing across the village green to tell me I had passed: the first child from the village school ever to do so.

Miss Linton was probably the first person I loved outside my own family. Initially strange and frightening, and ultimately an inspirational figure who changed the course of my life, she was an early study in character for me. Could she have guessed that the most important lesson she taught the boy she treated like a son was that people are not always as they first appear?

I got to grammar school but didn't make the most of it. I hated the school I was sent to once the war was over (and I'm sure the feeling was mutual) and played truant whenever I could. My main education from that point forward came from two sources: books and the movies. Books like Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead and James Jones's From Here to Eternity, and movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen, directed by John Huston, allowed me to escape from the grim, depressing reality of everyday post-war life, and reassured me that the world was bigger than the few bits I could see over the rubble of the bombsites and through the thick London smog. I can't recommend bunking off school to anyone who wants to get on in life, but if you are going to do it, you couldn't find two more richly educational surrogates than the cinema and the public library.


The Elephant (which is what anyone local called the Elephant and Castle, ideally accompanied by a hard, unblinking stare for extra menace) was a tough neighbourhood. I learnt from an early age the importance of having friends who've got your back.

Down the Elephant in the 1950s the most dangerous gangs were the spivs, and after that, the Teddy Boys, who were the children of the spivs. These gangs were viciously violent, hot-tempered and dangerous. As a skinny pale fifteen-year-old what could I do? Round my way, if you were on your own you had no chance. I had to join a gang myself. In my gang we were mostly very funny and very calm. We didn't go out looking for trouble.

I was reminded of this in 2009 when I was back in the Elephant, making a film called Harry Brown and getting to know some of the local young men, who started off hanging around the shoot and ended up actually in the movie, ably directed by talented young first-time director Daniel Barber. I was surprised and gratified that these lads were prepared to talk to an old man like me about their lives, and as they did, it dawned on me how much bleaker life had become on my home patch. Our prefab house had been small but what there was of it was ours: we had a little garden of our own, our own fence, our own front door. Behind it there had been a loving family and a decent education. These kids lived in dilapidated high-rise blocks full of dangerous corners and alleyways, many had difficult family backgrounds and had given up on school, and in place of the alcohol and fist-fights of my youth there were drugs, guns and knives. Worst of all, there was nothing for them to do and nowhere for them to go.

What a lot of people don't realise is that young lads in gangs, we are not there to attack you. We are there, most of us, so that no one will attack us. Young people who join gangs are not bad lads: they are making a rational choice to protect themselves from harm.

I was also, without really knowing it, gaining some useful skills. I was learning to get along by performing: acting like I was tough and wasn't afraid, when I was actually always afraid and not tough at all. And I was learning to watch and listen: to observe people carefully for a fast take on their character and mood. Malevolent? Trustworthy? Volatile?

My gang dropped me during my years as an out-of-work actor: I couldn't afford to get my round in the pub, and if I was an actor I was probably a poof, so I was out. By then I was part of a new gang of other out-of-work actors, writers and musicians. No one was coming at us with knives but we had each other's backs in different ways. Now, in my ninth decade, my friends are dropping like flies, and having their back more often than not means turning up to their memorial. The point is, whether you call them a gang, your mates or your comrades-in-arms, no one gets very far without friends—people who like you for who you really are, and who have your back. (Or if they do, they don't have much fun on the way.)


At the age of eighteen, along with all the other kids in my gang, I was called up for two years of National Service. In my case this meant two years as an infantryman in the British Army.

If my mother had started to make me into a man when my father went off to fight in the Second World War, and my teenage years of weaving a safe path through the Elephant had added street smarts, then National Service finished the job when it sent me off to fight in the Korean War. National Service was, at the time, the worst experience of my life. In the warm comfort of hindsight, it was still the worst bloody experience of my life up to that point and at any time since. But I can also see that it was one of the most valuable.


  • "Charming, advice-filled look at his extraordinary career."—People
  • "Caine the raconteur provides exactly what an admiring reader would want from the cockney-born Hollywood vet.... The great stuff is when he recalls his days in swinging 1960s England."—New York Times Book Review
  • "Caine melds candid anecdotes and a master class on acting into an upbeat, unpretentious, and star-studded memoir.... Warm recollections and practical advice from an acclaimed star."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Caine reflects on an exceptional life on and off stage and shares pertinent advice and poignant observations in a dishy and anecdotal rumination. Caine's pithy but passionate counsel can be applied to nearly any situation. Gracious, generous, and humble, this consummate professional is a generous advocate for creating a fulfilling and contented life."—Booklist
  • "Funny, warm, down-to-earth--will captivate fans and casual readers alike."—Publishers Weekly
  • "With exceptional wit and flair, Academy Award winner Caine recounts his fascinating personal and professional journey. Engrossing anecdotes.... Caine speaks of his failures and successes with humility and humor, perceptively explaining that the lessons he learned apply both to aspiring actors and the general public-how to be fully prepared, make the most of every opportunity, achieve balance, deal with aging, and find the good in any experience. This well-written narrative shines with positive energy and provides a fine overview of the actor's life and the screen and stage.... Caine's is a life well lived and well told. His fans will be rewarded, as will anyone seeking an enjoyable, inspirational read."—Library Journal (starred review)
  • "Thoroughly engaging."—Sunday Express (UK)
  • "A down-to-earth, kindhearted ramble from your nice British great-uncle, who's led a fascinating and glamorous life but never forgot his humble roots. [...] full of irresistibly tossed-off moments involving the likes of Cary Grant, Quincy Jones, Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Bette Davis, and Stephen Hawking."—Seattle Times
  • "Witty and wildly entertaining.... Caine offers star-studded anecdotes about the realities of being a working actor and life on and off the sets.... This solidly entertaining memoir doesn't have a single dull page."—Shelf Awareness
  • "A chatty and engaging read."—Sunday Times, Books of the Year
  • "A bright, breezy, and entertaining read."—Daily Express
  • "National treasure Michael Caine shares the wisdom, insight and skills life has taught him, all with his fabulous storytelling."—Prima

On Sale
Oct 22, 2019
Page Count
288 pages
Hachette Books

Michael Caine

About the Author

Sir Michael Caine CBE has been Oscar-nominated six times, winning his first Academy Award for the 1986 film Hannah and Her Sisters and his second in 1999 for The Cider House Rules. He has starred in over one hundred films, becoming well-known for several critically acclaimed performances including his first major film role in Zulu in 1964, followed by films including The Ipcress File, Get Carter, Alfie, The Italian Job, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Educating Rita, and more recently The Dark Knight, Is Anybody There?, and Harry Brown. He was appointed a CBE in 1992 and knighted in 2000 in recognition of his contribution to cinema.

Married for more than thirty years, with two daughters and three grandchildren, he and his wife Shakira live in London and Surrey.

Learn more about this author