Oral History: Michael Caine on Greed, Envy and Social Structure

by Jack Tewksbury January 23, 2020
Actor Michael Caine, Golden Globe winner, in 2003

hfpa archives

For over 40 years the HFPA has recorded famous and celebrated actresses, actors and filmmakers. The world's largest collection of its kind - over 10,000  items - is now in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library.

A multiple Golden Globe nominee, Michael Caine won Golden Globes for Best Actor/Drama in 1984  and 1999 and has been a frequent presenter.  In 2003, when he was nominated for The Quiet American, he reflected on Great Britain's (and the US's) social structure.

“I rather enjoy my upward mobility because the upper class in  England is so stupid.  They really are ridiculous,  and not anything to worry about. But they don't perpetuate the class system, the working class does. I mean, do you see dukes or lords or earls lining the streets to look at the  Queen?  It's all working-class people.

Here, in America, you don't have a class system,  you have race. The main difference between the  US. and  England is in England you have a quality of life and in the US you have a standard of living. A standard of living means two cars,  four TVs,  etc., 200 cable stations, air conditioning, central heating, all those things. Everyone here has a psychiatrist, sniffs coke or smokes marijuana.  In England, you have a quality of life, which means you don't have any of these things.

One of the great  British diseases is envy.  Every nation has its own disease. America is greed, France is chauvinism, and England is envy.  The papers in  England deal with envy. When they write, ‘Here comes the cockney lad leaving his 2 million home, getting into his 50  thousand pound  Rolls Royce,’ they're telling readers, ‘You're working  class, he's made  it, and you haven't.’  They deal in envy all the time.”