Lincoln Center Gala: Michael Douglas
It's a testament to Michael Douglas' professionalism that, in the week when his son Cameron was sentenced to prison on drug-related charges, he maintained his commitment to speak with The Hollywood Reporter. It's also an indication of his complexity -- a man driven by his work, a person of "extraordinary energy and great ambition," as he told The Hollywood Reporter's Janelle Tipton.
The Hollywood Reporter: Have your son Cameron's troubles affected your work?
Michael Douglas: No, they haven't really -- well, I shouldn't say that. This whole crisis started when I was starting "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." It certainly adds a lot of pressure, and you just want to get some resolution to it.
THR: How was working with Oliver Stone again?
Douglas: I guess we've all aged, although I can't say we've changed. You don't call it a walk in the park with Oliver; he always tests you, in a positive way. He pushes you. But Oliver really appreciates the verisimilitude, the details that make something special.
THR: Is there a reason you haven't worked twice with other directors?
Douglas: You'd have to ask them. (Laughs.) No, in hindsight I probably should've cultivated a closer relationship with them. One of the disadvantages of not being in Los Angeles is you lose touch with each other. And especially if you start a new family and your priorities change and you're just not as closely involved in that scene.
THR: But you are reteaming with "Traffic" director Steven Soderbergh.
Douglas: Yeah. I just did (the Soderbergh-helmed) "Knockout" with this Ultimate Fighter actress Gina Carano and myself, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor. And then we're working on "Liberace," with Matt Damon. Years ago, (Steven) said he wanted to do "Liberace" and we kind of laughed, and then, lo and behold, a really good Richard LaGravenese screenplay came in, and there it was.
THR: What's your prep like?
Douglas: I don't know yet. I haven't really done anything like that -- try to balance personalizing it versus just trying to do an imitation. I haven't really figured it all out.
THR: Do you play the piano?
Douglas: No. Maybe that's one of the things I figure out. (Laughs.) I'm sure I'm going to have to learn some, but I don't think I can master Liberace. He's awfully good, so I don't expect to.
THR: Soderbergh was also connected to "Solitary Man." How did that come about?
Douglas: Steven called me up. He said, "I just read a script Brian (Koppelman) wrote and wants to direct, and I think it'd be a great part for you." He sent it over, and I loved it. It was great writing and a good acting workout.
THR: What drew you to it?
Douglas: Well, my career is dotted with these gray-area people that you have to kind of earn the likability. But it was more the tone of the movie; it was that kind of "Wonder Boys" dramedy, dark humor. And I enjoyed the vanity of the character.
THR: Were you concerned the movie wouldn't get distribution?
Douglas: Yeah, I was a bit. A couple years ago I'd done a little picture called "King of California," which I also liked a lot and pretty much went directly to video. Everybody thinks I'm more knowledgeable than I am because I produce and act, but being out of the loop, living in Bermuda for so many years, I'm late realizing how difficult it is for U.S. distribution on these pictures. An American movie can't get an American distributor. It's all because of the marketing costs.
THR: Do you still love the job as much as you did when you started?
Douglas: I do when I find a good piece of material. But that's changed a lot. So many film writers have gone to television; it's much more lucrative in terms of producing/writing deals. Studios in general have narrowed their menu, and then you had to rely more on the independent route, but the last few years economically that's dried up. Being blessed to have two young kids and a wonderful wife (actress Catherine Zeta-Jones), it's tough to get me out of the house.
THR: Are you deliberately working less?
Douglas: Yes. For the last six, seven years, raising our two kids and allowing Catherine to focus on her career, and finding less interesting projects as the business has changed -- it's been kind of a combination.
THR: Is it always the role itself that you go for?
Douglas: No, it's always been the movie and quite secondarily the role. Sometimes you've got a supporting role and sometimes you've got the lead, but every time I thought it would be something I wanted to see.
THR: Which of your characters would you say you're most like?
Douglas: I remember being struck by "Fatal Attraction," when I was working on my character, and there was a moment this light bulb went off. I said, "Wait a minute, you could be a lawyer in New York City, you could be married, you could've had a one-night act of indiscretion and this nightmare could happen."
THR: Which are you least like?
"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"
Douglas: I wish I was Jack Colton in "Romancing," but either that or the drug czar in "Traffic."
THR: You've often produced films you've starred in. How do you keep the jobs separate?
Douglas: Your first responsibility is to producing, looking at the whole picture. As a producer, with all the support from other people, you're constantly looking at the whole picture rather than the joy of just being an actor. You're thinking a lot more than you're emoting when you're doing both jobs. It's like an out-of-body experience. "Romancing the Stone," as an actor, was tough for me because I was dealing with a lot of logistical problems. That whole series, they were complicated pictures we made for a budget without a big support system.
THR: What do you do when you're not working?
Douglas: I work a lot with the United Nations; I'm a Messenger of Peace and have been focused on the area of nuclear disarmament. I've been involved the last 30, 35 years, traveling around the world and working on the board of an organization called Ploughshares. With the United Nations, I'm trying to do what I can to restore the United States' support for the organization, which took a beating during the Bush administration.
THR: What would you have done if you didn't act?
Douglas: Oh boy. I just don't know. When you grew up in a family, your mother's an actress and your father. I mean, I was a late bloomer. In college, it wasn't a burning passion of mine. I liked art history and anthropology.
THR: Was there anything that surprised you when you became famous?
Douglas: I was blessed to be second-generation, so I had an opportunity to see how people behaved. But there's more outlets than when I grew up. The whole phenomenon of digitalization -- phones, telephone cameras -- have created much more exposure. One of the reasons I don't live in Los Angeles is those people have to deal with celebritydom and live their lives fulfilling this insatiable appetite that the pop media has for celebrities.
THR: Do you have a role model outside the business?
Douglas: I'm pretty impressed with our president. I was heavily influenced by Buckminster Fuller, who was a multitalented scientist. I admired his thinking.
THR: Do you have any regrets?
Douglas: I prided myself on my first instincts, and there's a couple of times I wish I'd thought through them in terms of commitments that I made, both in personal relationships and/or work. I mean, time's really all you've got, isn't it? It's a question of how you spend it.