The new romantic comedy And So It Goes could be described as a love story for senior citizens, but don’t tell that to Michael Douglas. The 69-year-old Oscar winner looks the picture of virile health on this day in Los Angeles.
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He has a new lease on life after being given the all clear on stage 4 tongue cancer 18 months ago. He has recently reconciled with his 44-year-old wife Catherine Zeta Jones, after a separation and her subsequent hospitalisation for bipolar disorder last year. To top it off, he is also getting the girl on screen – even if she is a little older these days.
Where once he was romancing the (Sharon) Stone, his more recent on-screen lovers have included Mary Steenburgen, 61, in last year’s comedy Last Vegas, and Diane Keaton, 68, in his new film, from director Rob Reiner.
“You just don’t anticipate it,” Douglas says. “You start hearing all those stories about when you get older and what happens to your career, but I am working more than I’ve ever been.”
No wonder, then, that the silver-haired actor relishes the idea of being in a film that celebrates love coming later in life. “It should be seen more often, that adults and baby boomers make love too,” he says, grinning. “I really like the message that somebody can open their heart again at any age.”
It’s a brave man who can promote these themes in a film while also admitting he made mistakes that almost cost him his marriage.
“We did get some marriage counselling,” he says. “I think if both parties want to work it out, it makes it a lot easier, and Catherine’s been an amazing partner.”
And the biggest lesson he learned? “I would say I am not worried about what people think of me,” he says immediately. “A lot of people make a big effort with strangers to give a good impression of themselves, and they take for granted the person closest to them. My focus now is on my family and being more thoughtful and sensitive and compassionate to the people closest to me.”
Reiner, who first directed Douglas in the 1995 romantic comedy The American President, is impressed at his friend’s emotional makeover.
“Like all of us he ran around trying to be successful and I think he has got to that place where, after going through a very tough time with his health and with him and Catherine, he started to see what was really important and he became more present than I’ve ever seen him,” Reiner says. “I guess he started asking himself what the hell he was doing, running around trying to find whatever when it’s right in front of him.”
Born into Hollywood royalty, Douglas grew up in the shadow of father Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) but proved he could defy comparisons and carve out his own path as an actor. His breakthrough role was the TV series The Streets of San Francisco (1972-76) but in 1975 he won his first Oscar behind the camera, producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
He went into the 1980s starring in a string of hit rom coms including Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile and The War of the Roses, but ended up winning his second Oscar (this one for his work in front of the camera) in 1987 for his dramatic portrayal of Gordon ‘‘greed is good’’ Gekko in Wall Street.
Along the way, the showman has also embraced darker, more sexually explicit roles such as Fatal Attraction (1987), Basic Instinct (1992) and Disclosure (1994). “I like to call those films ‘the sex trilogy’,” he now quips. He even seduced Matt Damon in last year’s Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra.
“It’s true everybody is an expert when it comes to sex, but it’s a choreographed dance on-screen,” Douglas says of that particular skill set. “I always figured it out first with the actress, so she’d be comfortable. We’d sit down and I’d tell her the steps, like ‘kiss, kiss, hands go here to your blouse, I’m going to touch your breast now and my hand will move down to your ass and boom boom boom’, so she knew what to expect when the camera was on.”
His co-star Diane Keaton admits she was nervous about their love scene in And So It Goes. “But then he grabbed me and kissed me like a pitbull,” she recalls with a laugh. “He was fast on the draw and I didn’t expect it, but he was very good and it made the whole thing fun.”
She says Douglas was full of surprises. “He plays this loud-mouth jerk and he’s known as this macho movie star, but in one scene where he had to talk about love I was so surprised to see him literally tearing up. And it was very moving, because I didn’t know Michael had such a vulnerable side in person.”
Dressed sharply in a tailored blue suit, Douglas looks the part when he declares he feels like a new man. “When they tell you it’s stage four and all of a sudden you get a clean bill and there’s no surgery – because for me surgery would have meant taking out my jaw – I think psychologically and physically it gives you a tremendous amount of energy.”
Douglas’s piercing blue eyes light up as he confirms Zeta-Jones has moved back into their family home in Bedford, New York. “We’ve been back together for a while,” he says casually. “It’s the first time I have been out here in LA since it happened, but on the east coast we don’t get this [media attention] any more, because people see us around and it’s old news.”
Douglas has come to Los Angeles, where he is spruiking his new film, for two important milestones. The night before our interview, he presented another second-generation icon, Jane Fonda, with the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award (marking the only other time the award has gone to the offspring of a previous winner, as was the case with Kirk and Michael Douglas).
And on the evening after our chat, he was throwing an elaborate party to celebrate the 60th wedding anniversary of his 97-year-old father Kirk and his step-mother Anne. “Dad just asked me, ‘Can I give my little speech at the beginning of the evening?’,’’ Douglas says fondly. ‘‘Because he likes his vodka and he gets a little tired early, you know.”
He looks further bemused when asked if his children, Carys, 11, and Dylan, 14, could follow in the family business. “There’s no question they are both really good,” Douglas says. “Carys is a very good dancer and has a lot of Catherine in her, and Dylan has no fear, which is unlike me when I was his age because I didn’t start acting until I was in college.”
Smiling widely, he continues: “The other day Dylan said, ‘Dad, I’ve been on the honour roll now for two years straight and I’m president of my school class the past two years and you saw me in Oliver and I was pretty good, so do you think you could throw me a bone?’ So I will keep my eyes open to see if I can get him a little something to keep him interested.”
Following a family vacation to Israel and Italy, Douglas will return to work in the Marvel comicbook film Antman, starring Paul Rudd, playing a biochemist who learns to control insects.
The man who has absolutely nothing left to prove admits the job offers one big incentive: “As well as the fact they pay you well and there are usually sequels, I’ve finally found a picture that my kids really want to see.”
Michael’s leading ladies
Before his recent on-screen romances with Diane Keaton (And So It Goes) and Mary Steenburgen (Last Vegas), Michael Douglas had locked lips with an array of Hollywood greats.
They fell in love in two romantic adventure films, Romancing the Stone (1984) and The Jewel of the Nile (1985), but fell out of love with tragic results in their third film together, The War of the Roses (1989).
She crossed and uncrossed her legs to seduce his detective character and make the 1992 hit film Basic Instinct one of the most talked-about films of the decade.
Bening played a lobbyist who captured the heart of the widowed US President in the 1995 rom com The American President.
Close played the psycho mistress from Hell who cooked his bunny after realising he only wanted a one-night-stand in the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction.
The Aussie connection
There are no love scenes with his 23-year-old Australian co-star Hanna Mangan-Lawrence in the coming indie thriller The Reach, but Douglas proudly claims as producer and star that he cast the actress best-known in Australia for Bed of Roses (2008) over much bigger American names. “The Aussies do American accents extremely well and whatever their technique is, they seem to be doing a much better job than the American actresses I met with,” he says.
The man who taught Meg Ryan how to fake it
It is one of the most celebrated scenes in cinema history, but it seems Meg Ryan needed help faking sexual excitement from a man.
Rob Reiner, the director of When Harry Met Sally, has disclosed that he had to coach the actress in how to simulate an orgasm.
He said Ryan was ‘‘nervous’’ on the set of the 1989 comedy and he wanted to put her at ease during the scene, in which her character feigns sexual ecstasy while sitting opposite her co-star Billy Crystal in a diner.
Speaking ahead of the 25th anniversary of the film last month, Reiner said: ‘‘Obviously you’re in front of extras and all the crew members and everything. The first few times we did it, she did it kind of weak. It was a little tepid. I said, ’Look, let me show you what I want’ after a few takes that weren’t so good.’’
The scene has become one of the most celebrated in Hollywood history, and has been parodied countless times in other films.
Reiner added: ‘‘I sat down opposite Billy [Crystal] and I’m sitting there and I’m pounding the table and, ’yes, yes, yes’, I’m doing the whole thing. Meg then did way better.’’
The Telegraph, London