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Michael Douglas wishes he had written more of his life down. Reflecting on his life and career at the Paley Center on Thursday afternoon, the actor spoke thoughtfully about the last 50 years, from his television debut on The Experiment in 1969 to his Golden Globe win and Emmy nomination for The Kominsky Method.
“If you’re not careful, you don’t really cherish that moment or that time, and next thing you wake up and it’s 50 years later and you go, ‘Whoa, what happened?'” Douglas said in a conversation with Juju Chang at the Paley Center. “I wish I’d kept a diary a little more as a sense of a reminder. But I think you just rush along, and when you reach an age where your life slows down, it’s too late.”
Douglas was honored at the talk and luncheon, and he was joined by his wife of 20 years Catherine Zeta-Jones on the carpet before the conversation. Douglas spoke about wanting to be remembered as a “good husband,” recalling the night he first met Zeta-Jones at the Deauville Film Festival. Douglas was at the festival promoting A Perfect Murder, while Zeta-Jones was promoting Zorro.
“I looked at her, and I said, ‘Catherine, I’m going to be the father of your children,'” Douglas said as the audience “aw”ed. “The first time I met her! You think that went over big?”
Douglas also spoke about the importance of his producing and directing background in selecting acting roles. He left his first hit job on the series The Streets of San Francisco to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which won the Oscar for best picture.
“It’s all about material — if it’s comedy [or] tragedy. I don’t look at the part; I really look at what’s going to be a good project, movie, television show,” Douglas told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve got a producing background, so I’m used to looking at the whole project.”
He also spoke about following in his father’s footsteps and differentiating his work. However, he noted that they’ve had a similar career trajectory.
“My dad had a very similar arc. His first eight or nine pictures, he played the sensitive man. It wasn’t until 1950 he did a movie called The Champion — and he was nominated for an Oscar — that he played a bad guy,” Douglas said. “For me, it was Wall Street that changed my arc.”
He changed his arc again when he played Liberace in the HBO miniseries Behind the Candelabra, for which he won the Golden Globe, Emmy, and SAG Award, and again with Netflix’s The Kominsky Method. His role as aging acting coach Sandy Kominsky earned Douglas the Golden Globe, and he’s nominated for an Emmy Award.
“I look at Behind the Candelabra, which came after my stage 4 cancer. I didn’t think I was going to work again,” Douglas said. “Now with The Kominsky Method, television has been an important part of my life.”
Even though a sitcom and Netflix were somewhat new territory, he wasn’t daunted by the prospect and was excited to take on a show where he gets to make light of the aging process.
“I’m excited about streaming, which has allowed this opportunity for people from film to go to television and vice versa, so that part’s been great,” Douglas said. “And when you’re with people like Alan Arkin, Chuck Lorre, this coming year Paul Reiser’s taking a place, you’re with great writing surrounded by wonderful actors. When I read that first script, I thought it was great. Takes about the same amount of time as a feature film does. They compensate you decently. Why not?”
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