Contender Q&A: Michael Douglas’ dark chuckle

It’s not easy to sum up a life as rich as Michael Douglas’, but start with the interior of his sprawling Central Park West home. Tucked away in a corner cabinet are three Academy Awards, almost lost amid a forest of similar trophies. Pictures of his children and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones (responsible for one third of the family’s Oscar haul), crowd for space. And on the coffee table at his feet are copies of “Anti- Cancer” and “The Only Answer to Cancer,” along with bottles of lidocaine and cotton swabs he uses to soothe the sores on his tongue from chemotherapy and radiation.

In theory, Douglas should be out pressing the flesh, doing his part to add another statue to that cramped cabinet. Instead, he’s at home, talking about reprising the iconic role of Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and his career-best turn as an oily car dealer in “Solitary Man.” His voice starts to go after a half-hour or so, and his white hair and thinned-out face serve to make him look more than ever like his father, Kirk.

First off, how is your health?

I think well, fine. I really won’t know the results until January, when I’ll get my first PET scan. That will tell me if I’m completely rid of it or not. It looks highly unlikely that I’ll have to have surgery. I’m five weeks out after treatment and starting to get my energy back. They warn you that even when you stop, the next few weeks you’re still getting knocked out by the radiation, so it’s a slow recovery. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It’s a haul. But I’m feeling hopeful and just trying to get my energy back. That’s the biggest problem.


Movies don’t change, but the context in which they’re seen does. Looking at “Solitary Man” now, in which a car salesman starts swindling customers and having affairs after getting a questionable EKG, it’s impossible not to think of your illness.

There’s a reason you pick your pictures. At least, I’ve always had one. I’ve always picked the movie, rather than the part. Brian Koppelman wrote this wonderfully dark but comedic story of this helpless guy who had a complete running fear of mortality, and lo and behold. I’ve been accused a lot of making pictures that are current or on a theme, and I thought the picture certainly reflected a character that I could play at that time. I didn’t, obviously, know anything about the cancer when we started doing it, but it has made me darkly chuckle a few times since.

In “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” Gordon Gekko’s son died of a drug overdose while the father was in prison, and your son Cameron was recently sentenced to five years in prison for drug possession. Were you uncomfortable when you saw that in the script?

I didn’t take it personally. For that character, and for those years in jail, it provided the pain and torture that Oliver wanted for Gekko coming out. For those who remembered the first one, that there was a son, it was a way to get rid of him if you wanted to focus the story on the daughter. From when I first agreed to do the picture to the point we were shooting, it took on an increasingly personal tone with my son’s arrest and ultimate incarceration. It goes along with the mortality thing. There’s some things that are just more likely to happen.

“Solitary Man” is a very easygoing, almost jazzy performance. It swings like nothing you’ve done since “Wonder Boys.”

That’s the beauty sometimes of independents and a short, tight schedule. It was really just a question of trying to get that car-dealer rhythm and pace in the shooting schedule that we had, to get to that point where you could almost throw it away, where you don’t see a guy thinking, you see a guy just going off with his instinct. I liked it a lot. I thought it was one of my more truthful ... I wasn’t very self-conscious in the picture.

You’ve chosen to work less frequently since your marriage to Catherine Zeta-Jones, and especially since you had children. Given that you take fewer parts now, does that affect the experience when you do choose to work?

It’s just more selective. My wife, Catherine, and I, we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary next week, and with the two kids — it’s where you find your happiness, where you find your joy. That combined with the fact that you’ve gotten older, there are fewer parts and the business has changed. The business has gotten nasty. I was really fortunate this year, and now it looks like I’m going to do Liberace with Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon, and Jerry Weintraub producing. I’m excited. At this point, at my age, that’s enough for me.”


You say the movie business is “nasty” now. What do you mean?

It’s nasty. It’s tough. Before, you always felt there was a little balance between art and commerce, it kind of kept things going. Now it’s strictly commerce. It’s all commerce.