LOS ANGELES At age 77, when most of his peers have either long since retired or seen their careers simply fade away, Michael Caine is busier than ever.
In his latest film, "Harry Brown," in theaters this Friday, the actor portrays a mild-mannered senior citizen who turns into a gun-toting vigilante after a gang murders his friend in the drug-infested London housing project where they live.
The two-time Oscar winner, for "Hannah and her Sisters" and "The Cider House Rules," talked to Reuters about making the film, why he'll never retire and the secret to a long, happy marriage.
Q: There's nothing nice and safe about this film. Was that the appeal for you?
A: "Absolutely. I want to keep challenging myself as an actor, and this immediately grabbed my attention. Harry Brown is a victim for most of the film, unable to help himself, but then he takes action. And there's a fair amount of me in the character. I come from the exact same place, the same block of flats. Charlie Chaplin came from there too, and I once saw him walking around, checking out all the rebuilding, so I had a chat with him. He didn't have a clue who I was. I was just an annoying fan (laughs). No one else recognized him."
Q: And like Harry Brown, you're also an ex-soldier.
A: "Right, but that and the similar background is where the resemblance ends. I was in a gang, but we never hurt anyone. The drug was alcohol and the weapons were fists. The problem now is all the drugs and guns and violence that go with it."
Q: Was it easy getting in touch with your inner Charles Bronson? (The tough-guy actor in movies like "Death Wish")
A: "Well, you don't want to go around killing people, do you (laughs). The film's about violence, but it's not like "Death Wish." It abhors violence and was basically made as a wake-up call by someone who lived in one of these tenements. What's astonishing is that you can change the locale -- it could be Chicago -- and the situation's exactly the same."
Q: What do you think is responsible for such situations?
A: "Lack of education and the breakdown of the family. The one thing I had that most of these kids don't have was a father, a happy family and an education. To me, education is the key. When we were shooting at the flats, I'd talk to a lot of the local kids, and they all wanted a chance to get out. Mayhem and all the drugs and violence was their answer to being left out. And although I grew up there, I hadn't been back in years. I'd been living in my little enclosed world, and now I do charity work for them -- anything to help educate and save these kids. So I didn't come away going, put 'em all in prison and throw away the key.' That's no answer -- and prison is three times the cost of education!"
Q: Is acting more fun for you now?
A: "Yes, because I've got to an age where I don't get the girl anymore, I get the part, so the pressure is off. Now I do exactly what I want, but I'm my own worst critic, and I try to make life more difficult for myself. I'm still pushing myself to see how good I can become as an actor."
Q: You've been married to your wife, Shakira, for 38 years. What's the secret?
A: "Simple. Two bathrooms -- or you'll be divorced in no time."
Q: Will you ever retire?
A: "What happens is, the movie industry retires you. I sit there waiting for a script to turn up every day, and eventually none will and I'll be gone. I'll just fade away, like an old soldier."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney)