Interview : Michael Douglas

Oscar winner Michael Douglas has all reason to be smles these days: Another baby, an Oscar winning wife and to top it all off, he finally gets to act with his legendary dad in the new comedy/drama It Runs in the Family. Coincidentally, PAUL FISCHER was able to discuss all of these matters with the perennially charming actor/producer in Los Angeles.

Question: Do you regret that it’s taken you so long for you and your dad to get work together?

Answer: Not really, because then he wouldn’t have had the stroke and I think the stroke has been a – it’s certainly changed him for the better. There’s no question about it.

Question: How so?

Answer: He’s a kinder and gentler Kirk Douglas. He’s got a great sense of humor and, you know, much more spiritual minded and I don’t think that would have been in that format before. And also, I think it leaves a lasting impact on a lot of people and I think it’s actually a positive way to see him acting with a stroke – step up there and deliver.

Question: Would that suggest that the two of you had an interesting relationship prior to this story? How would you define your relationship with your dad in the story?

Answer: Oh no, really, we’ve been close and gotten on for ages. I guess the old issue of conflict was Cuckoo’s Nest was always talked about, but, no I think a little bit like it runs in the family. Every body’s just been in their own worlds, you know. I kind of grew up – I didn’t grow up in Hollywood. It was 5 or 6 years before my mother and father got divorced when I was 4 or 5. My adult life, I kind of lived back East or other places, and we see each other. We always kind of have gotten along fine. We really have not big conflict issues.

Question: How do you handle communication?

Answer: Telephones, usually I find – …

Question: Within your family.

Answer: Yeah – I think – well it depends on which members … I think families – you know, you love’m and you hate’m. I mean, you’re held together. It’s kind of a phenomenal thing. You’re held together by blood, which also creates guilt, and you, you know, sometimes it doesn’t mean you have to love your family members, just because you are, but you hope you can and will. So I guess what I’m trying to say as far as how we communicate, it depends upon which family members you’re talking about. If you spend a lot of time – I’m pretty good. We touch base once a week at least, usually all at a time, make a call, my mother, my father, my son, you know – my brother.

Question: Has Catherine changed the way that you communicate with other members of your family?

Answer: Well no … since Catherine’s come into the picture, I may hear a little more often from my father, who likes to call and we say hi, I’m fine, you’re fine – let me talk to my daughter-in-law.

Question: What is it like to be an Oscar-winning couple now?

Answer: Pretty cool – pretty cool. I’m just so proud of her. It’s something you never think is going to happen. I know how hard she worked. I was up there in Toronto the whole time they were doing the picture. And the fact she never thought she would sing and dance again, and here you are in the picture, and you get an Oscar. It was well deserved, and I really respect, because you know, acting is a craft. You know, singing and dancing, you can’t fake that.

Question: Has new and impending fatherhood changed your whole perspective on your work and life in general?

Answer: Well, it makes me want to do a movie that maybe my kids can see before the ages of 13, for openers. Catherine just finished doing a voice for Sinbad. So I mean that – work wise, we’re going to do a picture together in the Fall called Monkey Face directed by Steven Frears, and a large part of the reason of doing a picture then is because with the new baby, it gives us a chance to all be together before she takes off and I’m sure it’s going to be a busy active time for her after having two kids …

Question: Are you relishing the whole diaper thing all over again?

Answer: Yeah, I’m good at changing diapers. I’m good with kids. So, I’m excited about it. And this time around versus 25 years ago, 24 years ago with Cameron, where you’re at the height of your career as a producer, and still trying to establish yourself as an actor, and you get that all success until 1986, with Wall Street and Fatal Attraction, that kind of established the acting. So, I was a lot like my father in that I was pretty consumed with my career and my family kind of came second, so now you feel that you have accomplished what you had, you can really enjoy your family so much more.

Question: What do you do for fun?

Answer: I’m a golfer, you know, I play a lot of golf. I’m a sports junkie, I watch all sorts of sports on TV or in any other event. I like skiing a lot, I play cards.

Question: What makes you laugh?

Answer: My family makes me laugh for openers. Different things make me laugh. The In Laws make me laugh.

Question: How’ is that movie?

Answer: Really nice. It’s a great chance for me to do some very broad comedy, which I got a kick out of. Humor is an important part of my life. Catherine’s got a great sense of humor, and funny, and it’s just amazing to watch Dillon, a kid 28 months old, to see a sense of humor. It just amazes you. Where did that guy get it?

Question: I wonder what, today at this point in your life, are you able to look at your father and maybe see some things that you believe you share with him? Not just physically, but maybe emotionally?

Answer: No, I mean, I see – what is so nice about my mother getting a little acknowledgement now is I see myself as a pretty even match between my mother and my father, you know. All those people who know dad, but I think I have inherited some of his tenacity, his endurance, his stamina. I’ve inherited the ability to hold a grudge, if need be, although trying to – I’ve inherited, I think we both agree, the use of anger as a false source of energy. Anger kind of keeps you going sometimes. It keeps you, as an energy source.

Question: What makes you angry?

Answer: Well, I’m saying used to. Both of us have found that. With all the success that I had, you must remember, even back with Cuckoo’s Nest, China Syndrome, Romancing the Stone, these were all rejected, time after time after time. So what you do, if you’re going to be an actor, you have to get used to rejection. But that doesn’t mean you don’t say … some day, one of these days, and that’s what helps keep you going a lot of times on those. But that gets to be exhausting, and so hopefully as you get a little older and wiser, and more successful, you don’t have to worry about that so much.

Question: When you were doing Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, etc a whole slew of imitators sprung up. What is your response to that phenomenon?

Answer: It’s a compliment, really. I mean, people call it my sex trilogy and all that. They’re good movies, and they were well executed. A lot of people attempt it. Sex in the cinema is not easy to do, because it’s one of those areas where every body’s a judge. Every body knows about it, so now kind of judge it by I was proud of those pictures and I guess imitation was the highest form of flattery.

Question: What has Cameron inherited from you that you know you’ve obviously inherited some stuff from your dad?

Answer: I don’t know yet. I mean I just don’t know. I mean his talent as a DJ I don’t know where that came from you know, I mean I like music but there’s nowhere in our family’s kind of background and he’s really good at it. So I think he’s still defining himself. I think whenever you’re the son or the daughter of successful parents or a parent it just takes you longer, I mean it certainly took me a lot longer to find out who I was and I think he’s well on the way, but I don’t, I can’t say that he’s, that I have a clear picture yet.

Question: Does celebrity come easy to you in dealing with fame?

Answer: Well success has been hard work I mean I don’t take it lightly. I’ve worked you know really, really hard for what I’ve achieved. I think handling it is probably the biggest advantage of being second generation. I mean growing up with Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Janet Leigh and people in your home as a kid or visiting them I mean it just helps you understand the foibles and insecurities that people as real people versus all this showbiz stuff. But saying that, I don’t think Catherine and I were quite prepared for what happens when two people get together you know the kind of attention that it brings and obviously there are so many more outlets you know both on the television you know and in the print.

Question: You and Catherine have just recently brought up this lawsuit? It must be a pretty painful experience to go through that kind of stuff?

Answer: Yeah it was not fun to have to testify in the High Court and all of that but we felt strongly about the privacy issue it entailed and we have already been instrumental in changing certain British privacy laws already and if we win, which we’ll know probably within the next couple of weeks and we will I think continue to change some of those laws.

Question: And when is the baby due?

Answer: April 25.

Question: Is Catherine here?

Answer: No she is in New York.

Question: Do you think you’ve removed yourself from your father’s shadow or do you still think you’re in your father’s shadow as far as show business goes?

Answer: No, I think for me probably you know winning the Oscar for the Wall Street for me was the time I clearly thought wow I got a nomination from my peers you know for acting, and then to win it I think was, that was about the time I felt I was off and running.

Question: Do you have a favorite film of your father’s that you enjoy?

Answer: Yeah I love Lonely are the Brave, it was written by Dalton Trumbo who you know dad got to use as he was blacklisted he also wrote Spartacus, but it was a kind of contemporary western and just a very different kind of role for dad. Actually he played a very kind of mellow character which is very different in a kind of, so I like that a lot and Lust for Life I remember forgetting it was my father and just wholly consumed with this character.

Question: What surprised you the most about working with your dad on this film?

Answer: The effortlessness I mean he just, you know he used to have a habit of sometimes when he’d get nervous, then he’d get angry and it’s just, it’s all gone he’s just such a loving, supportive generous person and did such a great job in the role so I thought he just acted his brains off, he made every moment count and I think for me it was just the reminder of the kind of discipline he has and it’s just old school compared to the young actors now and the work that he would do daily. Working over, looking over the script and the parts and trying to change it.

Question: Adlibbing?

Answer: We had notes, we did a little adlibbing in the very end. In the picture where we’re both kind of getting ready to down to the couch together. We were adlibbing there.

Question: The Seder scene?

Answer: No that was very orchestrated because you have to. That was part of to create that kind of overlapping and natural you know kind of quality people like talking over each other. It has to be, but you know we had some fun with Steven you know Chris who played his brother he was kind of could add him as the chorus we had kind of this nonsequitor, kind of pop in and out and kind of add a little insanity to the whole environment.

Question: Was there any downside to winning the Oscar?

Answer: For me?

Question: Yes.

Answer: Can’t think of one. I can’t think of one. No it’s very elite group. I mean one of the real joys I got with Catherine on everything else with Oscar night was had this thing where they brought in all these past Oscar winners out, you know like 60 of us and I’m sitting up with dad up on top and he’s looking around I said what’s wrong he said am I the oldest one here. I said dad Ms. Louise Reiner, she’s 93. And Carl’s here he’s 91. He said you know how you can tell when you’re getting old? And I said no dad. When they compliment you on your alligator shoes and you’re barefoot. And then Catherine came out and they’re taking photographs and I said I can’t wait for Catherine how cool is it for you to be standing out in front with your Oscar with 60 Oscar winners just sitting up there behind you it’s going to be a great photograph I haven’t seen it.

Question: She’s so beautiful do you ever get to see a less beautiful side of her or is it just always?

Answer: No she is inside one of the things I think makes her so beautiful is she’s so unaware of it. You know she just you know gets dressed when she’s got to get kind of dressed up and then off she goes but doesn’t really have a self conscience awareness so I think it’s so such an attractive quality.

Question: Your parents neither encouraged you nor discouraged you to follow in theirs because what have you do, what about your own children, what advice would you give to them if they want to follow your lead?

Answer: Well Cameron’s off and running. You know we’ll see. I think the only advice you really got to give them is that you got to make sure that you love acting, because if the only reason you’re doing it is to be a star, then you’re going to be very disappointed, very disappointed. If it’s because it’s in your blood you got to do it and you’d be happy doing theater in New York or whatever then by all means. But, if the only reason you’re doing it is you want to be a movie star, then it’s going to be tough.

Question: Were you looking at other family scripts first before you found this one?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What were some of the other ones like?

Answer: I wish I could remember. I was trying to remember this the other day it was a while back you kind of forget them and I remember trying a couple out on dad and he you know he just, he was just different it was before the stroke and everything else and you always find a reason why not to do something and or this or maybe you know who’s going to be the bad guy in the movie who wants to see the play. And then you know I think this just all kind of, there’s a rhyme and reason for everything you know.

Question: Do you think his reaction would have been very different had he not had the stroke?

Answer: Why I think his whole life changed when he was 70. His last chapter really changed when he had the helicopter crash and questioned why he was still alive and other people died. And I think that’s the time when he rediscovered his Judeo roots and you know starting really working on the Old Testament and became much more spiritual.

Question: It didn’t translate to you though did it?

Answer: No, why I have no formal, I’ve had no formal religious education that’s for sure.

Question: We’re sending this picture out into the world and I think audiences are really going to see that it is a family story more than a dramatic picture are you pretty happy with that

Answer: You know I hope not. I was concerned it was going to become like a vanity production and then just all about our family and then I think everybody’s sort of plays their roles you know properly so hopefully, no it will be a story of this New York family.

Question: Are you going to be doing any work now with the United Nations?

Answer: I am, one of the other things I wanted to mention is I have a documentary coming out April 27 on Showtime called Sunday at Seven O’Clock on what’s going on. It’s a documentary I did down in Sierra Leone about child soldiers, you know the child soldiers that they use and drug up and they commit all sorts of atrocities and it’s a very powerful, very moving documentary.

Question: Does this Army commission this are you still doing this work?

Answer: Yes, yes well I was with the United Nations and the children soldiers so it comes under the disarmament issue.

Question: Are clearly concerned for the future of your child given what’s happening in the world at the present time?

Answer: Yeah, it wasn’t the way I sort of anticipated the new millennium was going to turn out to be but I’m optimistic, I’m hopeful that with new this disease that we’ll get a handle on this you know. I think the to try to bring this a lot closer but I think it’s a slow rough road ahead.

Question: You mentioned that Cameron’s tastes in music are so vastly different than you own. Do you ever have like a compromise there and both listen to the same kind of music?

Answer: No but he’s guided me through some of the different forms of techno you know in terms of there’s Jungle or Tramps and you know I, he knows the kind of ones that I like to listen to and even on hip hop at one time I just couldn’t get it because I had a tough time and I remember you know he was making me nuts in school you know but yet he could tell ten versus on a rap song, he knew every lyric. I said how can you know every lyric on a rap song and you can’t do your homework and all of that and I remember he turned me on to a tribe called Quest which was sort of like more melodic sounds. So as he DJ he’s got to serve his audiences too so he plays to a wide range of, most of those gigs now are corporate. He does a lot of corporate events. So he’s got to kind of smooth it out even for him.

Question: What’s the film you’re doing with Catherine about? What kind of a film is it?

Answer: It’s a kind of in the Elmore Leonard dark comedy spirit you know. We play adversaries kind of going at each other.