Michael Douglas goes crazy again in ‘King of California’

[20 September 2007]

By Joe Neumaier

New York Daily News (MCT)

NEW YORK—For a guy who spent years hitting the hot button on pop culture, Michael Douglas sounds, at 62, like he’d be just fine sitting back and watching the wheels go round.

“At this point in your career and life, you’re looking for challenges, different sorts of things—otherwise you stay home with your lovely wife and children, and that would be that,” Douglas jokes. “Like, `And he was never heard from again. ...’ It’s come close to that! My priorities have changed since I fell in love and started a new family seven or eight years ago. I never anticipated that. Comparatively, I haven’t done that much.”

Of course, Douglas has too hungry a mind and serious a career to chuck it all for a hermitic life with his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and their children Dylan, 7, and Carys, 4 (the couple have homes in Bermuda, Manhattan and Canada). And he was clearly enthused about diving into playing a crazy, shaggy and ragged guy named Charlie in “King of California.”

The low-budget indie film features Douglas, in full Manson-esque beard (“Catherine said, `It’s great to wake up next to the Unabomber’”), as the unhinged dad of Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood), a teenager who’s grown up fast since her old man’s mind went south. When Charlie thinks he has located ancient bullion, Miranda watches as he digs the booty up—through the concrete floor of a Costco.

“The fun thing about playing crazy is it gives you a license to do anything,” says Douglas. “You can go from tragedy to comedy, and the audience is with you. It was a fast shoot, so we were flying without a net basically while filming. You had to trust your instincts—which is basically what got you there in the first place.”

Douglas got into acting thanks to his dad, film legend Kirk Douglas. Born in New Jersey, Michael was raised on the upper West Side and in Westport, Conn., by his mother, Diana, after his parents divorced when he was 7. He attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, to study theater, and nabbed a co-starring role with Karl Malden on TV’s “The Streets of San Francisco” in 1972.

Then he bought the rights for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from his dad (Kirk turned Ken Kesey’s novel into a Broadway play in the `60s, playing mental institution troublemaker Randle McMurphy). Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning 1975 film got Douglas an award as a producer (he still counts that career move as the biggest surprise of his life), and he shepherded several of his next movies, including 1979’s “The China Syndrome” and 1984’s “Romancing the Stone.”

But it was overcoming his inherent nice-guy quality—ironically, the trait he thought would set him apart from ultra-tough guy Kirk—that made Douglas a star in two 1987 films: In “Fatal Attraction,” he was an adulterer, and in “Wall Street,” he was Gordon Gekko, lizard king of corporate raiders. Douglas won Best Actor for the latter, and his “Greed Is Good” speech became an `80s-montage staple. Buzzed-about films like “The War of the Roses,” “Basic Instinct,” “Falling Down,” “Disclosure” and “The Game” followed—and “Kirk’s nice son” found his niche.

“Bad guys are great! You can eat up the scenery, and people love villains because you get to do all the things that society inhibits people from behaving like,” Douglas says. “I’ve been fortunate, because playing these characters who you don’t inherently like or are pleasant, you have the chance to win the audience over.

“Gordon Gekko was so repressed, all the scariness was banked,” Douglas says. “That sense that there could be an eruption—rather than just erupting—is more exciting. The tension came from something maybe exploding with this guy.”

Douglas has tackled softer characters lately (“Wonder Boys,” “It Runs in the Family”). But between film projects and doing volunteer work for the UN, he looks at his dad—who survived a tragic helicopter crash and a massive stroke and, at 90, has just published his third book of memoirs—and his kids to keep things in perspective.

“With all of Kirk’s accomplishments and his movie career, I think I’m most proud of him in how he’s conducting this third act in his life,” says Douglas.

“Not many people are fortunate enough to have their dad around at 90, much less a guy as active as he is. It’s scary how strong he is.

“And the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my kids is, `Work on your lower back,’” he smiles.

“They’re having a bit of a hard time understanding that their father’s 62. When I’m chasing them around and can’t catch them, they think I’m kidding. But I can’t get my 7-year-old.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/michael-douglas-goes-crazy-again-in-king-of-california/