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Caine won't give himself a break

He's made an average of two movies a year for the past 25 years, but the only time we're going to see Michael Caine on a movie screen in the near future is in a small supporting role _ albeit as the title character _ in the fable Mr. Destiny. That doesn't mean he's slowing down.

"I'm not idle," he reported from his home in London. "Now I'm a secret workaholic."

Caine is actually busy writing his autobiography _ his sixth book _ which will be followed by a script for a movie he would like to direct.

An avid gardener, he spent much of the summer fending off the effects of a drought so severe that watering, even of vegetable gardens, was prohibited. So he lugged water from a river that runs near his home _ legal, but a lot of work.

A gourmet cook, he also is part-owner of four London restaurants.

Why does he work so hard?

"I've never been to a psychologist, so I don't know," he said. "Maybe it's my background (He was born to a working-class family during the Depression.) or maybe it's because I didn't become successful until late in life. I was in 15-odd movies before Alfie became a box office hit in 1966. I was 33. I felt like I was never going to get another chance, so I had better take advantage of it while I could."

The fear that his success was a dream that would evaporate at any moment continued to drive him until he won the Academy Award in 1986 for Hannah and Her Sisters.

"I did relax a little after that," he admitted. "I didn't think of it consciously at the time, but that sort of accolade _ your peers saying that you are not exactly hopeless in your profession _ makes you realize that maybe it (the success) will last."

True to form, Caine couldn't pick up his Oscar because he was in the Bahamas making a movie at the time (Jaws IV).

Professionally, Caine has run the gamut of characters from hero (Ipcress File) to villain (Dressed to Kill) to buffoon (Sweet Liberty). He likes to think of himself as a gentle person with a sharp but sympathetic sense of humor.

He agreed to tackle the small role in Mr. Destiny, in which he plays the embodiment of fate, because "it's a nice, warm family picture at a time when everything is a bit violent. Plus, I'd never played an angel before.

"I always like to come out of a different box as a way of making things interesting for myself. If you get stuck with one personality, not only does the public get bored with you, but you get bored with yourself."

Jeff Strickler is a staff writer for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.