Michael Douglas: "CGI could lead to a second act in my career"

The screen icon reflects upon his career, characters and escaping his father's shadow

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At 70, Michael Douglas is trying his hand at something a little different as he joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe to play Dr Hank Pym in Ant-Man.  

In town for its release, we sat down with the film star to discuss his time as both Oscar-winning producer and actor as well as why – thanks to visual effects – he could enjoy an acting second wind. 

One minor spoiler for Ant-Man follows.

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How is Hollywood different now to what it was 20 years ago?
20 years ago, you had the head of the studio and that was it. Now a studio is one small division of a very large vertically integrated media empire. There’s little room for what I do – the character-driven, smaller type of film.  

But you also have this cable area – HBO, Showtime – which allows a lot of the great screenwriters to produce and make more money. I had this whole experience with Behind the Candelabra [the Liberace biopic for which Douglas won an Emmy] which was turned down by every studio – even with Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh attached. Then HBO made it and they syndicated it theatrically around the world.

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What would you say are the most proudest moments of your career so far?
The San Francisco series was a tremendous break in my career [Douglas starred in The Streets of San Francisco from 1972 to 1976]. Those 104 hours I spent acting alongside Karl Malden were where I learned everything – he was my mentor and a super important part of my career. Then getting One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest made and becoming an Oscar-winning producer. Then, for me personally, Wall Street – winning an Oscar as an actor really did get me out of the shadow of my father [screen icon Kirk Douglas]. Even up until then, people would say “oh, you look just like him."

In terms of characters, which have stayed with you for the longest?
Well, the ones I get hit on the most about are the characters D-Fens from Falling Down, Gordon Gekko – and I hear a lot about Wonder Boys and Liberace.

You’ve starred in a few sequels throughout your career. Would you consider any more?
I don’t know if I would, but saying that, I produced the pictures Flatliners (1990) and Starman (1984) and am developing sequels to both of those. I obviously did Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile – but after looking at the CGI work on Ant-Man and seeing myself look 30 years younger, I’m gonna try and talk them into doing a prequel. I could actually wear the suit.

What are your future Marvel plans?
I don’t know. You get a hint there’s going to be another Ant-Man – and based on the positive reaction, we are. You also get a big hint they're going to introduce the character of the Wasp played by Evangeline Lilly. So somewhere between my daughter and my protégé, there’s gotta be some place for Hank Pym.

It seems like you've jumped on board at the right time – quality-wise, the second phase is outdoing the first.
If you asked [Marvel president] Kevin Feige, he would say this was the end of the first phase. I think they’ve tested the boundaries a little bit with Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. You’ve got to take your hats off to these guys. [Ant-Man director] Peyton Reed said it well, in terms of the storyline: they use classic concepts – but shroud them in all the magic they create. For Ant-Man, they were going for a heist movie.   

What’s your favourite city in the world?
New York. It’s just a worldly, internationally friendly city with a good culture. Everybody I know feels comfortable there.

What’s the best night out you’ve ever had?
Our wedding night was one blast [Douglas married actress Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2000]. It was at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and the next day they congratulated us on the longest wedding in the history of the Plaza. 

You’re stranded on a desert island. What’s your book, album and film of choice?
You’ve got to have a big book so I guess it’s gonna have to be Moby Dick. Revolver by The Beatles and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What’s your wardrobe item of choice?
I will always bring a blazer with me. It’s comfort clothing. You can just take it off or put it on and either way you’re okay.

Are there any actors or directors you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I've never acted with Jack Nicholson. I produced him in ...Cuckoo's Nest but I’d love to act with Jack. I’d like to do a movie with the Coen Brothers too.

What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
I would remind myself of the cliché that youth is wasted on the young. Please don’t waste your time and savour every moment. It goes fast. There’s this weird moment that happens when you’re a teen and you want to be older faster. But when you finally reach that point, you want it to slow down and that’s when it starts picking up steam – it starts going faster and faster; the years pass you by. That’s why I’m gonna look into the CGI stuff. I think I could have a whole second act in my career!

Ant-Man is released 18 July


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