What's It All About? An Autobiography by Michael Caine, Turtle Bay Books, Random House, New York, 1992, pp. 154-156
One night at the end of a performance of Next Time I'll Sing To You, Stanley Baker, with whom I had worked all those years ago in A Hill in Korea, came backstage to visit me in my dressing room. By now he was one of the biggest stars in the British cinema and I was very flattered by this. He was very nice about my performance. In the show I played a Cockney comic character and Stanley explained that he was starring in and producing a film called Zulu, in which there was a Cockney character. If I was interested in trying for the part, I'd have to go and see Cy Endfield in the bar of the Prince of Wales' Theatre at ten o'clock the next morning. This I very quickly agreed to do and he left, wishing me luck.
At ten o'clock sharp the next morning I arrived at the theatre bar and found Cy Endfield sitting there alone. He was a tubby, slow-speaking, slow-moving, middle-aged American. As he stood up and shook hands, his first words were: "I am sorry to have wasted your time, Michael, but we have already given the part to James Booth. We figured he looked more Cockney than you do." I knew Jimmy Booth, who was a very good actor and I had to agree, he did look more Cockney than me--very tough indeed. This was a terrible disappointment and the rejection would have floored me at one time but I had suffered so much of it, I just went into my current defense, which was a numb mode. "Sorry kid, " he said. "That's okay," I smiled. "Maybe next time." He smiled back. "Yeah, maybe next time, kid." I turned and walked out.
The bar was very long and I could not wait to reach the door and get out of there, away from yet another humiliation. I opened the swing door and was just about to disappear when Cy shouted, "Michael, come back here!" I walked back across the room and stood in front of Cy, waiting for the man to speak. I certainly had nothing more to say. "Can you use any other accent but Cockney?" he asked.
"When I was in rep, I was doing fifty plays a year," I told him, "using every accent from American gangsters to a lord of the manor. I can do any accent you want."
"Can you do upper-crust English?" he probed.
"That's the easiest one of all," I shrugged, hoping desperately that I could remember how to do it.
Cy stared at me for a while and then he said, "You know, you don't look like a Cockney. You look like one of those snotty blue-blooded English guys."
My thoughts raced. Was this a compliment or an insult? Was there something behind what he was saying? What the fuck was he talking about, anyhow? I looked in the mirror behind the bar; maybe he was right, I thought. I was six feet two inches tall, very slim with long blond hair and blue eyes. Yes, I was nobody's idea of a typical Cockney.
"In this movie," Cy remarked, interrupting my thoughts, "there is a character called Gonville Bromhead. He is a very snobbish and aristocratic lieutenant who thinks that he is superior to everybody, especially the character played by Stanley--who will be here in a minute," he added. "Would you mind waiting and reading the part with him?" I agreed to this instantly and afterwards stood there feigning disinterest while they huddled in a corner and discussed my suitability. Finally they turned to me and Cy said, "Can you do a screen test with Stanley on Friday morning?" Of course I agreed. At last I had got what I always wanted, a screen test!
I walked out of the bar again but this time with an almighty spring in my step. As I went through the door I reflected on what would have happened if the bar had been shorter.
The screen test took place in the basement of a building in Fleet Street, at that time the headquarters of the Brisith newspaper industry. Cy directed and Stanley came and did the scenes with me. I was suddenly petrified. Joan Littlewood's advice did not work that day; fear and panic were the rehearsal and abject terror the performance. Cy and Stanley could not have been more helpful and patient, and at last we got the take that Cy wanted and the ordeal was over. I stumbled up the stairs into the daylight still sweating with fear, knowing that it had not gone well.
I now had to wait the entire weekend before getting the result. Fortunately I was invited to a party on the Saturday night and I accepted with the idea of going there and getting absolutely bombed, missing out Sunday altogether and waking up on Monday morning ready for the result. I walked into the party and the first person I saw was Cy Endfield, with his wife. I tried to catch his eye but he ignored me. Obviously the film was not back from the laboratories yet and he hadn't seen it. Now I was faced with a quandary. I couldn't get bombed as I'd intended, or Cy would notice and think I was a drunk and unreliable. So I spent the evening politely sipping beer and keeping tabs on Cy. He was one of the first to leave, and as he went by he caught my eye for the first time and came over. "I've seen the test," he said casually. My heart sank. "That meant I had not got the part, or he would have told me earlier. "It's the worst one I've ever seen," he added. That was it. All over, I thought. "But you've got the part," he carried on. "We go to South Africa to shoot in three weeks. Congratulations." He shook my hand.
"Why did you give me the part if the test was so bad?" I asked rather stupidly, pushing my luck.
"I don't know, Michael, but I have a feeling that there is something there. Goodnight." He walked away.
I also had a feeling there was something there. In the pit of my stomach. When I could no longer hear the sound of his shoes, I threw up all over mine.