Michael Caine: "I was a gay icon"

As a young man, Michael Caine thought he was "an ugly bugger", but others thought differently. "When I came out of the army I was very suntanned and built a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger. When I walked in to be assistant stage manager, I realised the entire theatre company was gay. So they hired me instantly," he adds delightedly.

"So that's how I got in. And then I had to fight for my honour for years," he teases. "I was so big, they didn't scare me."

Michael Caine (Credit: Wenn)

In an interview with 'The Sunday Times' to celebrate being given Freedom of the City of London, Caine admits he's never planned his career, despite having collected an Oscar nomination in every decade since the 1960s.

"If I made a film like 'The Swarm', I would make three very quickly before it came out, so I always survived failure - because I had a hit.

"People say: 'Why did you do 'Jaws 4'?'. They paid me $1m for 10 days…  I come from a very poor background so I wanted to do everything for everyone. Every one of my family got a house. That was the attitude I had. I'm either going to get the Academy Award or I'm going to make a lot of money, I still base it on that."

He reveals he was physically abused during his evacuation in WW2 - and locked in a cupboard for a day. Now he does "a lot of charity work, but never for adults. I don't like grown-ups very much."

He has a ferocious temper "which I never lose because it's bad".

Born Maurice Micklewhite in Rotherhithe, he took the name Caine from the Bogart film, "The Caine Mutiny".

Class has been a motivating force in his life, but he says: "I will talk exactly the same to the Queen - and have done many times - as I am talking to the woman cleaning the hotel room. I am a knight and no one has to call me 'Sir'."

He has he admits "mostly played failures". "You don't write about steady people who are completely happy. You write about people who have got a problem."

'The Michael Caine exhibition' is at the Museum of London, EC2 until 14 July.