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July 25, 1993|JEFF KAYE | Jeff Kaye is a frequent contributor to TV Times and Calendar

LONDON — Eddie Murphy did it with "Beverly Hills Cop." Sylvester Stallone with "Rocky" and "Rambo." Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis with their "Terminators," "Lethal Weapons" and "Die Hards." Now Michael Caine wants to get in on the act.

"I've never had a persona to go on, something which was a Michael Caine film," says the actor, taking a break on the set of a movie he hopes will change all that.

Early in his career, realizing he was neither the dashingly handsome leading-man type nor the tough, sinister sort, Caine decided "that I'd better learn how to act different parts if I was going to have any longevity."

He's achieved longevity with a massive body of work that ranges from "Alfie" to "Zulu" with high points including "Educating Rita" and his Oscar-winning role in "Hannah and Her Sisters."

"But what I would like now, after all these years," he says, munching a nectarine in his dressing-room trailer, "is what Clint Eastwood had, like a 'Dirty Harry' to fall back on."

Caine actually tried on such a character briefly in the '60s as espionage agent Harry Palmer, which took him through "The Ipcress File," "Billion Dollar Brain" and "Funeral in Berlin," but Harry Palmer didn't turn out to be quite the money machine that the later "Dirty Harry" series was.

Now, Caine hopes to find that firepower in yet another Harry: retired British Intelligence assassin Harry Anders, the focal point of HBO's "Blue Ice," which premieres Saturday. Caine plays the tough Anders, who has opened a jazz club called, cleverly enough, Harry's, in London's Soho district. Naturally, international intrigue and impassioned romance dog him.

"The character has been designed to be ongoing," says Caine. "I would like to hang in there with him for a couple of years. It was written for me."

Playing opposite Caine as the mysterious love interest is Sean Young, the newsmaking actress whose casting apparently has been an endless source of discussion around the set.

"We were so nervous when she came on. What's she going to do? She had this mind-blowing reputation," Caine says.

But he says working with her has been "wonderful. None of us can see what all the fuss was about."

If Caine seems more concerned about the success of "Blue Ice" than most actors would be, it's because his involvement is far greater. He also is producing the film through his own company in an innovative deal with Home Box Office.

For putting up the money to get the film into production, HBO gets to premiere a movie in the United States featuring an Oscar-winning star. Caine and his producer-partner Martin Bregman ("Sea of Love," "Serpico," "Scarface") also own the international rights and plan to release the film theatrically around the world; it has already opened in Europe.

The key was to come up with an exciting action film that could play in movie houses, yet cost a fraction of a typical Hollywood thriller. In this case the tab was $6.1 million, according to HBO.

"We don't have $30 million to spend on stuntmen and explosives like they do on the 'Lethal Weapons' and the 'Die Hards' "... so what we have to spend our time on is imagination," says Caine.

Certainly, there's nothing shabby about the jazz club set constructed on a soundstage at the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Ealing Studios. With its dark, intimate atmosphere enhanced by brick walls lined with cool, blue-neon arches, Harry's could easily be one of the hippest clubs in town. And the house band isn't bad either, with Rolling Stone Charlie Watts on drums and the Carlyle Hotel's Bobby Short on piano.

In the scene being shot today, Caine, as Anders, is wooing Young. As director Russell Mulcahy ("Highlander") sets up the camera angle, Caine and Young sit across from each other at a candlelit table near the back of the club.

As the scene opens, Caine is telling Young about the diverse clientele his club draws. A fight breaks out and Caine, as agent Harry, rises to take care of it.

"All right lads, take it easy," says Caine, calmly surveying a table that flipped over and broke. "Leave the furniture out of this." Caine steps into a tangle of brawling drunks. Ultimately, he has to knock one out. The crew and extras applaud when the scene ends.

"I'll tell you what I have a dream of," Caine says later. "I want to write a fiction book which I turn into a screenplay myself, which I direct myself and produce. It will be a feature film with a budget of about $15 million. I would star in it, but what I would do is find a young male star to play alongside me so I could bring in a younger woman star. And I'd like to find young British people who I think could star.

"I've already got the outline for the plot," he says. "It has to do with criminal elements in London and on a wider international basis. But I don't want to say anything else. Otherwise you leave the game in the locker room."

"Blue Ice" premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. on HBO.

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