In 1939, he was sent by his father to London to become a Lawyer. He graduated from law school and joined the BBC World Service, soon taking charge of its new Cyprus Service. His deputy was Beba Clerides, sister of the RAF fighter pilot and Future President of Cyprus, Glafkos Clerides. However, after producing Greek-language programs for the BBC World Service during World War II, he ended up at the Old Vic school, and enjoyed a brief stage career there under the name Michael Yannis before he began working on films. After having trouble finding a directing job in the British film industry, Cacoyannis moved to Greece, and in 1953 he made his first film, Windfall in Athens.
He was offered the chance to direct Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando in the film Reflections in a Golden Eye, but he declined. Between 1959 and 1967, he was in a relationship with Yael Dayan, a progressive Israeli Politician and author. Cacoyannis translated some of Shakespeare's plays Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus and Hamlet into Greek, and Euripides' play The Bacchae into English.
Michael Cacoyannis died on 25 July 2011 in Athens, aged 90.