Following in the footsteps of such previous career achievement honorees as Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas is being recognized “for the longevity of his career, the quality of his achievements, and his overall striving for excellence,” says AARP’s Robert Love. “He’s also a great activist and well-known as an all-around good guy.”
Ironically, in a career spanning more than 50 years, the actor-producer and Oscar winner has enjoyed his biggest successes embodying bad guys, anti-heroes and jerks. And even a short list of his greatest hits — “Wall Street,” for which he won the lead actor Oscar, “Fatal Attraction,” “Basic Instinct,” “The War of the Roses” and “Disclosure” — reveals just how good he’s been at it.
The actor, who’s always had a gift for playing ethically challenged and morally ambiguous characters, fully inhabited the reptilian Gordon Gekko — his most iconic role, in the “Wall Street” films — and the conflicted, tempted men in “Fatal Attraction” and “Basic Instinct” with apparent ease.
“Playing ‘bad guys’ is always a lot of fun,” Douglas admits. “I guess the appeal is also that with conflicted characters, you get to look at the issues from both sides. I don’t see things as black or white. Life’s not like that.”
While the actor started his career playing sensitive young men-type roles, “in a sort of strange parallel” with his famous father, Kirk, he gradually gravitated toward darker characters. “Dad didn’t get acclaimed until he did the ‘Champion,’ where he played a jerk — and got an Oscar nomination,” he notes. “That changed his career direction. It was the same thing for me with ‘Wall Street.’”
|“I don’t see things as black or white. Life’s not like that.”|
While Douglas saw little of his legendary father as a kid, he admits that the elder Douglas’ shadow “was hard to step out of.” But he inherited his father’s “tenacity and stamina, and my mother’s diplomacy,” and did a few films before “sliding into episodic TV” and getting his big break with “The Streets of San Francisco.” “That show (which ran from 1972 to 1977) was the most important development moment in my life,” he recalls. “And then also having a great mentor like Karl Malden. It was a great training ground.”
Douglas parlayed that experience into a successful film career, starring in such hits as “The China Syndrome,” “Romancing the Stone” and “Jewel of the Nile.” But it was as a producer — of 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which won Douglas his first Oscar at age 31 — that he first tasted real success. “Everyone said, ‘Just focus on producing,’ as transitioning from TV to movies was much harder back then,” he notes. “But acting was always my first love.”
For Douglas, the key to a long, successful acting career “is always good material well-executed. I never really look at the part, which probably goes back to the 104 episodes I did on ‘Streets.’ Sometimes you get the good part, sometimes it’s a supporting part. I’ve been pretty lucky in finding good material and never really having a slow point in my career, but the business has changed a lot since I began.”
Currently, Douglas is developing more TV projects, following his Emmy winning triumph as Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s HBO biopic “Behind the Candelabra.” “I have a first-look deal with HBO and we’re working on a number of things over there,” Douglas says. “I’m also developing some movie projects, including remakes of ‘Starman’ and ‘Flatliners,’ which I produced years ago, over at Sony.” He’s also looking at various projects to act in, “but I don’t have anything coming up right now.”
At 71, Douglas says he’ll “never retire. I love what I do. That’s the funny thing about the AARP and the over-50s. So many of us are ‘retired,’ but the reality is we’re busier than ever.”