Kirk Douglas on His 10 Best Big Screen Roles

2012-20 FEA Douglas Kirk Douglas H IPAD
Joe Pugliese

Douglas was photographed May 23 at his house in Beverly Hills. "You have to speak up so my old ears will hear you," he said to THR.

This story originally appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

[The films are listed in chronological order.]

Champion (1949)

“I didn’t think I was so tough until I did Champion; then I was a tough guy… Virtue is not photogenic, so I liked playing bad guys. But, whenever I played a bad guy, I tried to find something good in him, and that kept my contact with the audience.”

PHOTOS: Kirk Douglas: Career in Pictures

Young Man with a Horn (1950)
“[Recently my son Michael Douglas called me from the United Nations, where he was attending a meeting.] And he said, ‘Dad, I met a guy from Africa who is probably the world’s best trumpet player, and he said to me, ‘You know, after I saw your father in Young Man with a Horn, I became interested in the trumpet.’”

Ace in the Hole (1951)
“I thought that Billy Wilder was such a brilliant director… [That character was a lot to handle, so I asked him if I should tone him down a bit, but he told me to do just the opposite.] ‘Both knees! Give it both knees!’”

Detective Story (1951)
Lee Grant played a small part—a shoplifter—in Detective Story, and she got an Oscar nomination. She’s a wonderful girl. And, years later, she directed Michael and me and all our bunch in a family picture.”

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
“You know, it’s tough to make a movie about movies… We’re all too close to it. But The Bad and the Beautiful was very good. And Lana Turner, I think, did her best job; she was very good. I was good, too!”

VIDEO: Full THR Interview with Kirk Douglas

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
“I sang in that! For a guy who can’t sing, I sang a lot. [sings] ‘Got a whale of a tale to tell you lads!’… All the young kids at that time knew that song. They made a disc of it professionally, and I said in an interview that my friend Frank Sinatra was jealous of me!”

Lust for Life (1956)
“Acting is make-believe. I never believe I’m the character; I want you to believe. But with Lust for Life, I got so involved with van Gogh… it really was frightening, because I felt like the character was overtaking me… It was a very, very interesting experience. I have never felt that way on any other picture.”

Paths of Glory (1957)
“I saw a little picture that Stanley Kubrick had done [the 1956 film The Killing], and I said, ‘Gee, he’s very talented.’ I called him and said, ‘Do you have any other projects?’ He said, ‘Yes, I have a project, but nobody wants to do it.’ And he sent me Paths of Glory. I said, ‘Stanley, this picture won’t make a nickel, but we have to do it.’”

Spartacus (1960)
“I was intrigued with the character of Spartacus, and I just had to make it. And, at the same time, we were going through a terrible period, the McCarthy era... I’m very proud that Spartacus broke the blacklist [by giving blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo screen credit], because that was very important… It happened at the right time for me. I was young enough to be foolish… It’s nice to make a movie that people enjoy and that does something.”

VIDEO: Kirk Douglas, 94, Cracks Up Audience at Oscars

Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

“I love that character and his relationship with his horse. And I always consider that my best movie. It was not a big success. It’s gotten to be more of a cult film right now… Again, Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay. It was the one time we never changed a word; it was perfect, like a hole in one.”