Sharing an optimistic health prognosis, the Oscar contender for ‘Wall Street 2’ and ‘Solitary Man’ tells the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter he’s looking forward to the ‘third act’ of career. It’s a cold, wintry day, on Nov. 16, as this reporter approaches the looming edifice overlooking New York’s Central Park where Michael Douglas has lived on and off for the past 20 years. It’s hard not to be nervous. For months, the tabloids have been filled with how Much Money Did Michael Burry Make tales proclaiming his imminent demise, following his surprise announcement in August that he had cancer of the tongue.
The actor, 66, hasn’t yet been seen in public — except through the lenses of paparazzi who wait outside his building — since the premiere of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps on Sept. Last time I saw him, when he received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 2009, he was glowing. But recently he’s been recuperating from three chemotherapy sessions and seven weeks of radiation, so it’s inevitable that dark thoughts cross my mind as I enter his rather nondescript lobby and approach a slightly bemused doorman. Is this where Michael Douglas lives? He nods suspiciously before letting me into a lofty elevator, swishing shut a metal gate and whisking me to Douglas’ floor — and suddenly, there he is. Standing behind him is his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Douglas smiles, looking surprisingly well, with his trademark thick hair all there on his head. Forget everything you’ve read about Douglas. Hollywood to speculate about his health and future. The man is fully alive, alert, deeply intelligent and in person nothing whatsoever like the haggard figure that graces the National Enquirer and its kin. He has to sip frequently from a drink to ease the dryness in his mouth, but that distinctive voice is seductive as ever. Gordon Gekko he resurrected in Wall Street 2 and even to the embattled figure he plays in his other Oscar contender, Solitary Man. His intensely loyal publicist has warned me in advance of this, his first major interview since announcing the cancer, that Douglas might have trouble speaking.
On the other hand, it also has brought him closer to many people, including his famous father Kirk, with whom he once had a contentious relationship. I was worried about my father — and he couldn’t have been sweeter. He was back here almost 10 days. He and my stepmother, they’re a tough, strong bunch. That was reflected in the way he and his publicist, Allen Burry, handled the news of his illness, going public early, giving an interview to People and making a TV appearance on David Letterman. But since then, the treatment has made it difficult for Douglas to talk, even with two performances in Oscar contention and movies he’s so proud of.
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So we had to move things up. Normally, they do a pre-interview with one of the producers — he couldn’t because it was a really difficult day. Even setting up this interview has been delayed because Douglas wasn’t feeling well enough. Following the initial spate of publicity for Wall Street 2, there has been no word from him — at least publicly. And yet he’s been hiding nothing, characteristically. Fatal Attraction producer Sherry Lansing says. Our friendship is something I can count on in good times and bad.
When this happened, my respect and admiration, if possible, only grew. Amazingly, Douglas expresses a certain gratitude about his current situation. It has indeed been an annus horribilis. 50 percent of his earnings from the Wall Street sequel, dismissed in court the day before we meet. I wish I got out a little earlier.
His current marriage couldn’t be stronger, according to friends. The day after this interview, the couple will go to a nearby spa for a few days to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. Right now, they seem utterly at ease. Zeta-Jones, looking just as beautiful in person as onscreen, dressed in an elegant black outfit, fixes me some very British Tetley’s tea, casually laying her hand on Douglas’ shoulder before leaving us alone. But predominantly, he’s a very strong man.
This has really helped through these last months. He has never lost that strength. It’s amazing that they almost have to try and kill you to bring you back. Even while recuperating, he’s kept up with the world outside. I try to read up on stuff and stay current. I know a little bit about a lot of stuff, but not in any depth.
But the movie business remains fascinated by him. Would you ever think about doing a reprise of Wall Street? Stone prodded him relentlessly to go darker. At one point, he even told Douglas he was acting like someone who’d never performed before. While he maintains that Stone has mellowed, there were some difficult moments, especially when they came to shoot a long speech Gekko delivers at Fordham University. I kept changing the dialogue and rewriting. He was upset because he wanted to get it down, and he likes time to prepare.
I’d love to, but you can either go the old way or the new way, and the new is more accurate. Doing so has earned Douglas some of his best reviews. But it’s another film he shot before Wall Street that he cherishes just as much. These writers that I worked with on Ocean’s Thirteen, one of them, Brian Koppelman, has written this piece, and I thought of you. It was such good writing and such a great character, flying without a net, in terms of a guy not very attractive. It was two days — it was packed.
But you know, sometimes just that silence between two people who really know each other, you believe. Looking back, he says he’s proud of the picture and pleased with the way Anchor Bay handled its release. I like the movie a lot. It has taken Douglas time to find the sense of accomplishment he has now.
But you’ve always got some anger. He accepts that his father, now beloved, wasn’t always so. Kirk didn’t have a lot of friends. A lot of that rage you saw onscreen came from the heart. For many years, I also used anger as a false sense of energy. Eventually you find out this is exhausting.