TORONTO—For Michael Douglas, nice-guy parts finish last. Although he started his career as a straight-shooting cop in The Streets of San Francisco, his most acclaimed movie roles have been, as he puts it, “not very nice guys”.
Watch the trailer for Solitary Man.
His new role is as Solitary Man Ben Kalmen, a car salesman who has fallen so far from grace that he’s alienated everyone except his devoted childhood sidekick (played by Danny DeVito). Kalmen definitely comes from the same charm school as the adulterous lawyer Douglas played in Fatal Attraction, or Gordon Gekko, his Oscar-winning role from Wall Street (which he’s revisiting in a sequel being released this fall). The movie, which opens on Friday (July 23), also stars Susan Sarandon as his ex-wife and Mary-Louise Parker as the lover whose daughter he seduces.
“I enjoy grey characters,” says Douglas says in a Toronto hotel. “I don’t know any heroes, really, in my life. I like that area of ambivalence—people who try to do the right thing, people who make mistakes—that kind of interests me”¦.Gekko was a great, great character. I mean, he was the villain, but if I get one more drunken investment banker coming up in New York saying, ”˜You’re the man! You’re the man!’ ” Douglas says, laughing. Twenty-two years later, there was a reason to do a sequel, based on what’s happened around the world in the past two years.”
Douglas doesn’t just approach a new script as an actor, he also looks at it with a sharp producer’s eye. Thirty-five years ago, while making the transition from TV to film, he produced the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This showed that he wasn’t an actor looking to start a vanity production company, because he didn’t take a role in the eventual best-picture Oscar winner. He went on to produce several other acclaimed films in which he didn’t have an on-screen role, including Starman, Radio Flyer, and The Rainmaker. “Because I do have a producer’s background, I’m kind of cold and analytical.”
Douglas said that since the birth of his and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones’s two children, his priorities have shifted from career to family, so when he chooses any role today, “everything is for fun.” Douglas says his passion besides family and acting is the work he’s been doing to maintain awareness of the issues of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.
Douglas says he saw Zeta-Jones on-screen in The Mask of Zorro, then he met her at the Deauville American Film Festival: “I told her I was going to be the father of her children. And she said, ”˜I’ve heard a lot about you.’ ”
In Solitary Man, which Douglas describes as “a black comedy”, Kalmen mentors a young college nerd played by Jesse Eisenberg. Asked if he’s ever given advice to a younger man, Douglas grins. “I do remember once I was very generous to my stepbrother—my youngest stepbrother. I remember at 14 or 15 sitting at the beach and drawing with a stick in the sand: “This is a vagina”¦and everything else,” and giving this young man an education. He was very appreciative about it.”
Douglas says that if any of his children want to follow the family path into show business, he’ll try his best to remain neutral on the subject. He recalls doing a play in college and his father—matinee idol Kirk Douglas—coming backstage afterward and saying: “ ”˜Michael, you’re terrible.’ And he was so relieved he said, ”˜Well, I don’t have to worry about him becoming an actor.’ ”