Michael Caine’s retirement shows actors can bow out before they burn out

Michael Caine, at the age of 88, has retired from acting. It is not as big a surprise as it should be. Two years into a difficult time for filmmakers, with a global pandemic and shift in audience attitude and viewing style, and there were bound to be career casualties.

His announcement came in an interview with Simon Mayo for Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, where the veteran actor revealed that his work on upcoming feature Best Sellers would be his last.

Caine said: “There haven’t been any offers, obviously, for two years. Nobody has been making movies.”

“But also, I’m 88. There aren’t many scripts pouring out where the leading man is 88.”

Instead of filmmaking, Caine turns his hand to writing. His autobiography, Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, offers audiences a collection of anecdotes, advice and early years in the life of an up-and-coming cockney actor.

Caine added: “As an actor, you have to get up at half six in the morning, but as a writer, you can start writing without leaving the bed.”

His career change should not come as a surprise. While his retirement may be a shock, it is also a refreshing and necessary reminder that actors and directors are human. This is their job, and it is not something they should be shackled to for their whole lives.

Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert Redford and Roy Andersson all took their final bow as an active choice. Finish on top, leave the audience wanting more. Each has an exceptional body of work that, to this day, audiences still talk of and enjoy.

That is what Caine will be remembered for as he enters a new phase of his career as a writer. His Academy Award-winning roles in Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules, his work on countless classics like Get CarterAlfie and The Italian Job and his scene-stealing brilliance in The Dark Knight.

With such a tremendous backlog of art to dig through, Caine lives on the screen for as long as audiences are willing to remember him. He moves away from that, though, and rightly so. Recent outings like Dear Dictator and King of Thieves should have been a sign not just of slowing down but preparing for a shift in ambition.

It is better to leave an audience wanting more. Caine does so and has worked hard for decades to make sure he is not forgotten when he decides to leave the silver screen behind him.

He is not the first to make this decision and will not be the last. Gene Hackman and Audrey Hepburn both bowed out of their own accord, but it is in recent years that actors are moving on to pastures new.

Mara Wilson and Cameron Diaz too took that decision to retire from the screen and move to new careers. Caine’s choice to move his focus from acting to writing is the confirmation of a respectable trend, one that sees quality actors choose to leave the screen, rather than have it leave them behind.

Interests change or wane. Hackman became an author, as did Wilson and Diaz. Day-Lewis has all but dropped from the public eye, and Andersson exacerbated all creativity. The big taboo over an artist retiring is that fans will want them to offer more and more. A fresh innovation time and time again. It is neither possible nor fair. Most actors burn out before they bow out, and to see an actor make an active decision to call time on their career is surprising, refreshing and bold. Sometimes it is out of choice, other times it is an interest that lies elsewhere. 

As Caine said: “I haven’t worked for two years, I am now not an actor, I am a writer.”

Note: At the time of writing, Michael Caine had not released a statement saying he was not in fact, retiring. More fool us, but blessedly so. 

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