Kirk Douglas on His 10 Best Big Screen Roles

The 95-year-old legend chimes in on THR's selections of his greatest performances.
Joe Pugliese
Kirk Douglas

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.”

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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!”

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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.”

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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.”