Interviews


Michael Douglas


Occupation: Actor, Director, Producer
Date of Birth: September 25, 1944
Place of Birth: New Brunswick, N.J., USA
Sign: Sun in Libra, Moon in Capricorn
Relations: Father: Kirk Douglas (actor); mother: Diana Dill (actress); brothers: Joel (producer), Eric; fiancée: Catherine Zeta-Jones(actress); soon-to-be-ex-wife: Diandra Luker; sons: Cameron (with Luker), Dylan Michael (with Zeta-Jones)
Education: Choate; University of California at Santa Barbara

 

LIKE some, but by no means all, of the more mature "Movie Star" movie stars, Michael Douglas is an impressively cool character. Maybe his composure comes from being the son of cleft-chinned screen legend Kirk Douglas (whom he favors in looks, incidentally). Or maybe his easygoing frankness is merely the result of having come of age in the '60s, when people were encouraged to "let it all hang out." In any case, Douglas, as one of the high-profile elder statesmen of Hollywood, now has the luxury of looking back on an illustrious and varied career.

Certainly growing up in the shadow of Tinseltown mammoth Kirk Douglas cannot have been easy. Kirk and his British actress wife, Diana Dill, divorced when Michael was just 5, and the boy and his younger brother Joel subsequently went to live with Mom in Connecticut; she eventually remarried. Douglas remembers watching his famous dad's chiseled features on TV, where the elder Douglas starred in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and in movie classics like Lust for Life (1956), in which he memorably played the emotionally disturbed painter Vincent Van Gogh. Probably the most important lesson young Michael learned from Dad was how to be a gracious celebrity. "The biggest advantage was that I got to see my father handle himself in public situations as a movie star. And I saw him with his fellow movie stars, acting like real people. That was a useful lesson," he says.

After graduating from the exclusive Choate Rosemary Hall boys school in Connecticut, Douglas enrolled at U.C., Santa Barbara, and majored in drama. He later came back to the East coast to continue his drama education at New York's American Place Theater, where he studied under acting coach Wynn Handman.

Although he managed to score roles in a handful of small features, the handsome young actor first gained wide and appreciative notice when he starred on the small screen as Inspector Steve Keller alongside veteran actor Karl Malden in the '70s police show The Streets of San Francisco. Douglas stuck with the series from 1972 to 1976, and his hip charm and good looks were in large part responsible for the show's success, a fact proved by the quick foundering of the series after he was replaced by pretty-boy cipher Richard Hatch.

While starring on Streets, Douglas made a foray into what would prove his consuming love for many years: producing. At 31, he pulled off a major coup, when he co-produced the madcap 1975 film adaptation of author Ken Kesey's lunatic-ward nightmare One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which grabbed the five top Oscars, including one he accepted for Best Picture. He also upstaged Dad, who had held the film rights for years but couldn't get the project off the ground?not to mention ever manage to win a Best Actor statue. (Michael would get his acting statuette in 1987, for Wall Street.)

In addition to an unforgettable, Oscar-winning turn by Jack Nicholsonin the lead role of cagy antihero Randle Patrick McMurphy, Cuckoo also featured a little-known actor named Danny DeVito.who had been a close friend of Douglas' for some years. In fact, the two men had been roommates in New York when Douglas was studying drama and DeVito was getting a little work here and there as an actor and otherwise making films on the side. When asked what kind of a roommate he was for Danny, Douglas replies, "Sick. Messy. Perverted." The friendship stuck, and blossomed into a many-years-long collaboration that yielded such movies as the wildly popular Indiana Jonesy adventure/comedy Romancing the Stone (1984); its sequel, Jewel of the Nile (1985); and the fabulously unpleasant black comedy The War of the Roses (1989), all of which paired Douglas to good effect with the sultry Kathleen Turner.

Smart, smooth, well-connected, and driven (often to excess), Douglas has produced many notable films, including the nuclear meltdown nail-biter The China Syndrome (1979), which he also co-wrote and starred in (incidentally, the film was released the very same week as the Three Mile Island accident?that kind of made people wonder); both Romancing the Stone movies; the Kiefer Sutherland- Julia Roberts thriller Flatliners (1990); The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), in which he and Val Kilmer battle man-eating lions; filmmaker John Woo's spectacularly action-packed Face/Off (1997); and Francis Ford Coppola's courtroom drama The Rainmaker (also 1997).

While he has exerted considerable influence behind the scenes as exec producer, it is in his acting roles as the frustrated victims of modern times that Douglas has made his most memorable marks upon the popular consciousness. He's played a kind of Everyman-at-the-mercy-of-the-world in borderline reactionary pics like 1987's Fatal Attraction (in which he's the victim of a man-eating Glenn Close), Basic Instinct (victim of a man-eating, bisexual Sharon Stone), Falling Down (victim of liberal government programs and social diversity), and Disclosure (victim of a sexually voracious and opportunistic Demi Moore). In the 1997 thriller The Game, Douglas shows us what straight-white male corporate America looks like when it's running for its life.

A resolute Democrat himself, Douglas took on a distinctly nonvictimized role when he played President Andrew Shepard in Rob Reiner's charming romantic comedy The American President (1995). In 1998's A Perfect Murder, a loose remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 suspense classic Dial M for Murder, his powerful middle-aged-man persona takes on a sleazy sheen when he plots to murder his rich, young wife. Interestingly, Douglas has known Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays his hapless bride in the film, since she was a little girl, as he has long been a friend of her parents, Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner. Also interesting is his life-imitates-art courtship of Welsh import Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is 25 years his junior  the couple is engaged and welcomed a son, Dylan Michael, in August 2000.

Douglas' own family has weathered some difficult storms in the past couple of years. He is in the process of finalizing an amicable divorce from his wife of 22 years, socialite Diandra Luker (he has already popped the big question to current companion Catherine Zeta-Jones). Their son Cameron entered a clinic for substance abuse, and his half brother experienced some problems with the law. Perhaps hardest of all to take, Douglas' granite-visaged dad suffered a severe stroke in early 1996. Though the octogenarian recovered well from the attack, witnessing the old actor so masterfully tackle the challenge of aging has inspired some serious reflections on mortality in his eldest son: "This has taught me that there are innumerable ways of having a life rather than retiring," he says. "He's a tough old guy."

As actors go, Douglas is relatively low-key and modest, preferring to look at his career in terms of striving to make quality films rather than as collecting a series of star-making roles. "Some actors really just look for their part, and turn the pages [of the script] and see how their part is," he has said. "I like movies. I want to be in a good movie. & I try to see what my responsibility is to the movie, because if the movie works, then we all benefit."

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