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Michael Caine Was Originally Intended For A Much Different Role In Zulu

In the nearly 60 years since its release, "Zulu" has been considered both a paean to British military glory as well as a critique of imperialism. In the classic war movie, that scrappy, ragtag underdog known as the British Empire takes on a force of Zulu warriors. No matter the film's differing assessments, one thing is for certain: "Zulu" launched the film career of Sir Michael Caine.

In the film, Caine plays Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, a posh stand-in for the British elite. The character is a far cry from the real-life Caine, a working-class bloke with a thick Cockney accent. Indeed, Caine was initially considered for the part of Private Henry Hook, a Cockney rogue pretending to be sick to avoid military duty, until they cast Jimmy Booth instead.

Luckily for Caine, his looks saved him. "[Director Cy Enfield] had decided that I could play the part of the officer instead," Caine recalled to The Guardian of his meeting the director at a bar. "He said: 'You look like an officer,' because I was 6' 2", blond hair, very slim." Caine credits the bar itself with helping him secure the role. "My entire movie career is based on the length of the bar at the Prince of Wales theatre, because I was on my way out and it was a very long walk to the door," he said. "And I had just got there, when he called out: 'Come back!'"

Caine credits Zulu's director with letting a working-class actor play an officer

Michael Caine may be known for his distinct accent, but it was his ability to shed it that secured his role as Bromhead in "Zulu." Once Caine was bumped for Jimmy Booth, director Cy Enfield inquired about the actor's accent work. "Cy Endfield called me back and said, 'Can you do a posh accent?'" Caine recounted to Esquire. "I said, 'I've been in [repertory theater] nine years, I can do any accent you want.' And then he screen-tested me and I got the part."

Despite its British historical subject matter, "Zulu" was directed by an American. According to Caine, were it not for Endfield's nationality, the part of Bromhead would have gone to someone else. "From a class point of view, I know that no English director would have called me back to play that officer," Caine continued. "Not one."

In addition to kick starting Caine's career, "Zulu" also broke British class boundaries. "They just couldn't imagine it, a working-class actor playing an officer," Caine said. "But Cy Endfield did." In later roles, Caine would deliberately lean into his Cockney accent. "It was to encourage other people from working-class backgrounds to say that they could do it," Caine told the New York Times.

"Zulu" wouldn't be the last time Caine and Booth vied for the same part. Ironically, Booth turned down the lead role in 1966's Oscar-nominated "Alfie," which went to Caine.