Actor Michael Douglas

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Oscar-winning actor-producer talks about getting older in Hollywood, whether there’s an advantage to being a second generation star, his new films and weighs in on the state of the union.

Academy Award-winning actor-producer Michael Douglas is best known for his roles in such films as Fatal Attraction, Traffic and Wall Street. The son of a film legend, he first made his mark on the small screen in the long-running drama Streets of San Francisco and has won an Emmy and two Oscars—one for producing the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. In '09, Douglas received the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award and, this year, stars in two new film releases. Douglas is a U.N. Peace Messenger and an advocate of nuclear disarmament.


Tavis: Delighted to have Michael Douglas on this program. The two-time Oscar-winning actor and producer has a busy year this year with the long-awaited sequel to Wall Street expected in September. Beginning today, though, in New York and Los Angeles, you can catch his latest project. It’s called Solitary Man. Here now a scene from Solitary Man.
Tavis: Good to have you on the program (laughter).
Michael Douglas: Thanks.
Tavis: Solitary Man is about?
Douglas: Well, it’s about a midlife crisis, about a very successful tri-state car dealer who thinks he’s got a serious medical issue, but rather than really following it up, he says, “You know what? I’m gonna live each day like it’s my last.” So he leaves his wife, Susan Sarandon, gets together with his girlfriend, Mary-Louise Parker, and basically watch this guy’s life kind of disintegrate. Beautifully written and very funny.
Tavis: While this is very different, you’ve played some characters that come to mind now by guys whose lives have disintegrated around them. What is it about disintegrating lives and Michael Douglas that go so well together?
Douglas: You know, Tavis, I try to figure out why my whole career is contemporary movies. I’ve only done one period movie out of 50. Somehow I seem to love these movies where we put a character in an impossible situation and try to watch him get out of it. For me, it’s sort of the challenge of flying without a net is that you take characters that are not inherently likable and you try to, you know, win the audience over.
Why I do it, I’d probably have to sit on a couch. I’m sure it has something to do with my father, you know, and childhood and trying to win his respect or something like that (laughter).
Tavis: (Laughter) I’ve been wanting to ask you that question because I could run the list by Romancing the Stone to Wall Street
Douglas: – I mean, Fatal Attraction
Tavis: Fatal Attraction. You like playing these guys who just self-destruct, man.
Douglas: Yeah. It just said, well, how is he gonna get out of this? I guess if you deal with only contemporary themes and you reach a certain age, then you got to cut out the ladies, so I guess it can only be you self-destructing.
Tavis: To your point, since you went there, this is a long way from The Streets of San Francisco. So as you get more chronologically gifted, how do you navigate this place called Hollywood as you get older?
Douglas: Well, I’m very fortunate to have a great marriage and two young kids. I wouldn’t wish on anybody if they had to rely on their life just for their career. Our business has changed dramatically. It’s not a lot of fun. Pictures of passion, pictures you want to do, you have to do for nothing.
This picture, Solitary Man, we shot it on a 27-day shooting schedule which, believe me, with the amount of dialog I had, was really tight. So I’m very fortunate. I pick my spots now. I’m enjoying my children. You know, Catherine, my wife, is a lot younger than I am, so whatever her choices are, I’ll kind of fold in and I’m very grateful for that.
Tavis: Fascinating. You guys are 25 years apart and your birthdays are both the same day, September 25, 25, 25.
Douglas: Yes, that was the closer (laughter).
Tavis: (Laughter) I like that. How could you not marry me?
Douglas: That’s what happened, I guess. I looked at her. We found out it was the same day and I said, “I’m gonna be the father of your children.” She said, “You know, I heard a lot about you. Nice to know it’s all true. Goodnight.” (Laughter)
Tavis: As I’m sure our staff told you walking you on the set, your father was here some time ago and we had an absolute field day.
Douglas: He’s a pistol, isn’t he?
Tavis: Your dad is something else, man. I was telling you before we came on camera, I’ve never seen a guy who has swagger after having a stroke.
Douglas: Yeah.
Tavis: He’s still cool.
Douglas: He is unbelievable. You know, he wrote that book about his stroke and everything, but depression, you know, that’s the big problem with strokes, whether it’s minor and everything else. He really struggled a lot and he got through it and was so helpful for everybody else.
I told you before, I don’t leave my wife alone in the room with him (laughter). You know, he calls. “Hey, Dad.” “Forget about you. Where’s your wife? Let me talk to your wife.” (Laughter)
No, he’s a pistol. He’s 93. He did a one-man show which he’s put into a DVD which is great. He’s got a new book he’s working on and then he sends me a script of a movie he wants to do. I said, “Dad, the insurance on you is gonna cost more than the movie.” (Laughter)
Tavis: This is funny because I went back and had to read this. I’d heard this, but I had to read it for myself. The last time your dad – well, maybe not the last time – but many years ago, your dad sent you a script and you didn’t cast your dad in the script. I’ll let you tell the story. There’s a great ending here, but I’ll let you tell the story. We all know the movie, yeah.
Douglas: I’m glad you brought this up because I’m gonna clear up one thing before we go.
Tavis: You clear this up. Yeah, you do this (laughter).
Douglas: My father had originally bought the galley and the rights to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He went back to Broadway and he did it as a play which didn’t work out (unintelligible), then hoped to make it into a movie. He tried for years to make it into a movie, right?
Then ultimately, when he was gonna sell it, I took it over to try to get it made. Eventually, after five or six years, we got it made with Milos Forman directing and Jack Nicholson playing the part and all of this.
So now dad always tells the story that, when he working with the USIA during the Cold War, he had gone to Czechoslovakia and spoken at a film school and Milos Forman said he talked to him about this project, you know, and he sent it to him, but he never got it. Well, he’s told this story now after we got the movie going and, needless to say, it undercuts me a little bit.
Now he starts up with me about “and son, you didn’t let me play the part.” I said, “Now wait a minute. First of all, the director has the casting approval and, if this is the guy you sent the book to 15 years ago, then why didn’t you talk to him about the casting?” (Laughter) We’ve got along really well. I do remind him that, as his share of the producing profits, he made more off that movie than any picture he’s –
Tavis: – and it won some Oscars too, and your first Oscar.
Douglas: It was. It was my first Oscar. But the reality is, it was a great part. Just like Wall Street with Gekko and this picture, Solitary Man, which I got a really good part. Good parts are hard to come by. I think the only blessing was that it all turned out great, so it happens a good piece of material turned out that well.
Tavis: I want to go back to Solitary Man and Wall Street, the sequel, in just a second here. One last thing about your dad, though. You well know and I think I’ve heard you even talk about this before. This town doesn’t have a really good track record for second-generation stars and yet you seem so well adjusted after all these years.
Douglas: Well, thank you. I think, you know, two things happened. Certainly the advantage of being a second generation growing up is to see when I would visit my father, you know, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis. Generally, all these people were at the house all the time, so you could see them as real people and their insecurities and their foibles. I think it helped you conduct yourself in a better way.
Having said that, my mother and father got divorced when I was four. My mother remarried – I grew up back east and then my mother remarried when I was 12 and she married a great man, my stepfather, Bill Darrid, who Kirk would be the first one to say was a surrogate father and also gives him credit.
I think my growing up in a regular kind of household in Westport, Connecticut all those years with a really thoughtful stepfather. Because stepparents never get any credits, both of them. You always hear the bad stories. But there’s a lot of stepparents out there, mothers and fathers, you know, out of the love for the spouse, assume the responsibility for kids from another family and he certainly did that for me.
Tavis: We’re talking about Los Angeles, you talk about growing up in Connecticut, you went back East, you took that beautiful bride to get away from all the paparazzi and all the craziness. You went to Bermuda to live. That experience has been or was good?
Douglas: It was. Well, my mother is Bermudan, so I had a lot of memories when I was a kid, used to go down to Bermuda a lot. Then when Catherine and I first got married, you know, it’s ten years now, it was all a little crazy. I went down there once with her on the holidays.
She’s from Wales and she says, “I like this place. They drive on the left side of the road. This is making me feel like home.” It’s an hour and 40 minutes. The next thing we knew, we moved down and we had our children and, you know, raised them down there until this year and have come back up to New York. It was a very nice experience.
Tavis: You said ten years ago, things were crazy. It makes me want to ask, as I will, I was flipping channels the other night and saw TMZ or something and caught you somewhere in Cannes or somewhere on TMZ. Since you raised it, what do you make of how crazy the media spectacle?
I mean, Hollywood’s always been under the spotlight and the glare and some stars like this stuff. They like being on TV all the time. But what do you make of the craziness now around any move that you make from your front door, they’re on you?
Douglas: Well, it’s completely out of control. I mean, I guess if you’re another generation, you’re kind of used to it. I’m not. I mean, even going back to my father’s time, you know, there was Louella Parsons, there was a couple of gossip writers. But everything, you know, was relatively kept under control.
In this digital age where everybody’s got a camera and everything and there’s an insatiable audience, that’s what makes me – you look at all these magazines. They all look the same, and these shows. They’re at a point now where they use the same photographs, the same clips. I have a tough time with it and so does Catherine. That’s why we’ve tended to live in places, you know, slightly away.
Catherine’s now doing a Broadway show, so her schedule is really regimented. They can sit there because they know exactly when she’s coming out the door. She’s been doing it for seven months. You’d think every day they’d get tired of taking pictures.
Tavis: She is kind of cute, though (laughter).
Douglas: She’s real cute. She’s got to go to just do her show, get into her wardrobe. Normally, you wear a pair of sweatpants, but because she’s got to walk from the apartment door to the car and get photographed, she gets dolled up every day because she never knows when they’re gonna get a bad picture.
Tavis: That’s crazy. That really is crazy.
Douglas: I know it is.
Tavis: Back to Solitary Man and Wall Street. This is an inside baseball question, but when there’s so much hype on this Wall Street sequel, how do you even get people to focus on this project?
Douglas: Well, it’s hard on Solitary Man which is this very little independent picture, beautifully written, a great cast. Originally, they were talking about having Wall Street come out in April and we were gonna like piggyback Solitary Man, but now they’ve moved it to September.
I mean, we’re getting really good reaction, so with whatever other personal adversities I’ve had this year, I’m talking about my son, I’m really rewarded that, you know, these two pictures are coming out.
So with the little picture, there’s no advertising dollars. There’s no money to spend for a commercial on television or even for newspaper ads, so you really personally have to go out and talk and, you know, beat the bushes and try to share with people how enthusiastic you are and excited about this little movie.
Tavis: When you’re out trying to do that, Michael Douglas, and people won’t let you forget about your son, how do you process that?
Douglas: Well, now it’s a little easier because he’s been sentenced and he’s off. He’s assumed responsibility for what he did. He’s sober, so I think he’s got a much better chance of evaluating it. But it was a rough time.
I mean, this is the bad side of celebredum in terms of when a bad situation or incident happens, people are always concerned about whether you’re getting special treatment or not. But the reality is, you know, you’re getting creamed on a story that, you know, nobody else would be normally interested in.
Tavis: You know, we think that we ought to have access to you. We think we ought to be able to get in your business because we’re the ones that buy the movie tickets. Whatever reason, people think they have a right to this. I guess the question is do you think that this is any of our business?
Douglas: No. I mean, it’s nobody’s business, but I understand because it’s free stories. So for the same reason that you have reality television where you don’t have to so-called pay writers or pay actors, if you have a real life story, it simplifies everybody’s life in terms of filling up those pages.
But I’ve always felt – understand even as a second generation accepting that – that I have a right for our family and everything to have a certain privacy. We entertain – the fact is that people, you know, believe that they know you. They’ve seen you. I mean, I’ve been doing this 40 years, so people think that they know you. They’ve seen you and they know you.
I got a smile because you’re talking about dad. Dad was telling me the other day, he said, “You know, son, I was watching one of my old movies on television. I couldn’t remember the movie. You know, I kept looking and looking and I couldn’t remember the movie.” Then I said, “Wait a minute. That’s not me. That’s Michael.” (Laughter)
Tavis: To your point now, is it a blessing or a curse, good thing or a bad thing, that you favor so much your father?
Douglas: It was hard in the beginning, you know, kind of stepping out of his shadow because obviously half of your genes are your father’s, so any gesture that you make or how do you establish your own identity, and I kind of went for those sensitive young man parts early in my career because [showing fists].
But ironically, I took a look. In dad’s career, he was the sensitive young man for many pictures until he did The Championwhich was like his eighth picture where he played a boxer and a really nasty and he got an Academy Award nomination. That sort of set his sort of persona.
I guess for me, to some degree, the year of the first Wall Street and Fatal Attraction – they came together – has led me or the parts that are offered to me to play these kinds of rascals.
Tavis: What do you make, to your point now, Michael, about the proximity of those blockbusters? That’s a rare thing in this business.
Douglas: Yeah. Well, that was a big year for me, you know. I mean, I’ve been a producer before with Cuckoo’s Nest and Romancing the Stone and The China Syndrome. But being second generation and getting a nomination, because the nomination comes from the acting branch of the Academy, everybody, once the nominations are made, the whole Academy votes.
But, you know, to get a nomination from your fellow actors, being second generation and all that, really was a tremendous thing and really helped my confidence and helped me kind of step out of his shadow.
Tavis: When you have – I can see on the one hand your point how it boosts your confidence and allows you to step out of his shadow. On the other hand, you were still a relatively young guy at that point. Any thought ever given to how I move beyond this moment? I mean, you don’t want to peak too soon.
Douglas: Well, but, you know, Cuckoos’ Nest, going back as a producer, that was the first picture I ever produced. I remember telling Milos, “Well, –
Tavis: – this is it (laughter).
Douglas: “It’s all downhill from here, man. I’ll take this. It is all downhill from here.” Then after, people say, “Well, why are you acting? What do you act for? You know, just be a producer.” I said, “Well, I think I got something to offer.” So there you go. Then just at a point when you think you’re in your twilight, we’re having a nice year here with Solitary Man and Wall Street, so who knows?
Tavis: There’s a lot of hype, as you know, on Wall Street. Everybody is looking forward to this. The timing couldn’t be more propitious, given what’s happening in the culture. Can this thing live up to all the hype?
Douglas: Yeah. Well, we got a really good response. I mean, to your point about it being propitious – that’s a good word. Is that right? Propitious?
Tavis: Yes. It’s hard to spell on the Scrabble board.
Douglas: Is it?
Tavis: You need a lot of letters to do that (laughter).
Douglas: A lot of letters. Sometimes, you know, people think that they saw the movie on television on the news. This happened with The China Syndrome when we had the Three Mile Island happen and people think that they see it at the same time. So I think, though, from the response that we’ve gotten, it’s a big studio picture, they got a lot of marketing dollars behind it so they’ll be able to do fine. I’m not worried about it.
Tavis: You’re not worried about them, yeah (laughter).
Douglas: I’m not worried about them.
Tavis: Are you generally a fan of sequels? Because you haven’t done a lot of them.
Douglas: Just did it once. Not really. I mean, I’ve never had these kind of big action adventure things. I guess it’s nice to have a little cash cow that you can pull out every three or four years. I’m not a real big moviegoer, Tavis, actually. I love making them. I love working on them, but I’m a news junkie and a sports guy. I enjoy seeing you on CNN when you get over there once in a while.
Tavis: I appreciate that. Another inside baseball question. Because Wall Street is such a classic now, when did you know, what was your barometer, for whether or not the script was right to bring you back to do it? Because you don’t want to mess with something that’s –
Douglas: – yeah. Well, we went through – first of all, Oliver was not interested initially, you know, about doing a sequel, but did a few drafts. Initially, Stephen Schiff and Allan Loeb. Then we got a handle on it. We had a really good handle on it. Then Oliver agreed to come on in and then I felt good.
It was like bookends and I knew he was angry and hungry. He’d been whacked a couple times the last few years. I think he still had a really good picture in him, and it stepped up. Everybody’s wonderful in the picture too. This young guy, Shia LaBeouf, I mean, he’s 23 years old. He’s wonderful.
Tavis: The girls like him (laughter).
Douglas: I’m glad to hear it. They should. But I loved him because I was like, you know, you hear all these stories about these young actor kids and this and that. You know, he was an animal. He knew what he had and he delivered. And Carey Mulligan was excellent too. You know, they’re 22 or 23 years old. I know what I was doing when I was 22 and 23 years old. It wasn’t this (laughter).
Tavis: Since you mentioned that you’re a news junkie – I’m deliberately not coloring this question any more than this – what do you make of the state of our union?
Douglas: It’s debilitating. I’m so proud of the president that we have, the leadership. I think he does have a Lincolnesque, you know, quality to be able to see sort of a long range. But just the economics of this – I mean, I don’t think we’re over anything, you know. I think we got another two, three, four years here that are gonna be pretty brutal.
Maybe hopefully we can resolve, you know, a couple of issues in the world. But I travel. I’m outside of our country more than most Americans and they have to really understand the impression that President Obama has had in representing this country as to before, you know.
With all due respect to President Bush, he was running it like a 17 percent, you know, factor overseas where the president even now is close to 70 percent. You know, his popularity is much more outside this country than it’s even in.
Tavis: With all that we’re going through, though, you are hopeful?
Douglas: I’m on the fence, you know. I’m starting to look about it is it true that you kind of look like – was the last century, the American century, like the century before? Was the English the century before that? Then the Spanish? Now it’s the Chinese this century? I mean, I don’t know.
Tavis: I mean, every empire eventually falls.
Douglas: Every empire eventually falls. Our infrastructure, we got to put a fortune into our infrastructure. Too weird. It’s getting – sorry I’m not –
Tavis: – no, I love that. No, please. I just love hearing your political insight. Michael Douglas commentary courtesy of Michael Douglas. Speaking of falling, Gordon Gekko failed, but he’s back. That’s later this year in the sequel to Wall Street. But prior to that, you can see Michael Douglas in Solitary Man, a great film. Michael, good to have you on. I enjoyed our conversation.
Douglas: Thank you, Tavis, my pleasure. Nice to see you.

Tavis: Oh, I enjoyed it. Thank you so much.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm