The director of Michael Caine’s latest film, the crime drama Harry Brown, says Caine is the only person in England who everybody loves.
“He is a great Briton,” says Daniel Barber, “and he is admired in Britain by everyone, high, low or whatever as being one of the great Britons. He comes from very humble origins; he is truly a man of the people like very few people are.”
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In reaction, Caine laughs, “I dunno. They say, ‘You’re an icon now.' I say, ‘I don’t know how to do that.' There’s no lessons. There’s no special icon bar where you go, meet up and learn what to do. I just consider myself lucky.”
The humble routine is part of what makes Caine beloved, but his Harry Brown co-star, Emily Mortimer, adds, “People feel both in awe of him because he is an icon but he is, at the same time, somehow accessible. That’s an amazing combination. To be a big movie star but for people to feel that they know you and that you are a good bloke and you’d be a good person to have a pint with.”
Harry Brown takes Caine back to his roots. The film, about a widowed man who strikes back at the hoodlums who have terrorizing his community, was shot in his old stomping grounds.
“It’s amazing because we were working on the same estate that he grew up on,” continues Mortimer. “A lot has changed since then, but that was incredible for him; an inspiration for him. There’s a big wall in the Elephant and Castle with a big painting of him as his character from Get Carter on it. There were moments when the 76-year-old Michael Caine would walk past this wall in the projects, in the middle of real degradation with this iconic image behind him. Moments like that were fantastic.”
“I always said I come from the slums,” says Caine of the E&C neighborhood where he was born, “and I do, but when I went back I didn’t realize how lucky I was. Because when we were shooting late at night, I’d talk to the neighbourhood boys and I realized I was quite lucky because I had two thing they didn’t have: I had a happy family life and I got an education. So I had two valuable things they didn’t have, and one thing they did have that I didn’t. That was drugs.”
Caine blames drugs for the rise in hoodlum culture that Harry Brown portrays. “In the end,” he says, “they wipe out all feeling for the other person.”
But despite strong feelings on the subject, Caine believes making Harry Brown taught him something.
“This movie changed me,” he said “in as much as I started out thinking, ‘Let’s go out and make a movie about killing all these scumbags,’ and then I met these people and realized they were helpless, just as much as the victims, and they had been neglected and they need help.”