Thesp looks back on highlights from his 30-year film career
The China Syndrome
The 1979 drama co-starred Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon, and was directed by James Bridges. “I don’t think we would have gotten that picture made now,” Douglas says of the anti-nuke subject matter.
“The first thought about the movie was the end result. Because of the coincidence with Three Mile Island (which occurred two weeks after the film opened), I have no formal religious training, but that picture … was close to a religious experience for me. It affected me in terms of working on disarmament, in working with the United Nations. That’s where all that came from.”
Romancing the Stone
The 1984 romantic comedy saw Douglas co-star with Kathleen Turner (marking the first of three collaborations). It was directed by Robert Zemeckis.
“I first think about Diane Thomas, who wrote ‘Romancing.’ She was a waitress at Alice’s Restaurant, and it was her first script and everyone said I was crazy to spend so much on someone’s first script — about $350,000. But I’m very grateful to Sherry (Lansing), and then the picture itself was an incredible experience between what’s on the page and the screen.
“(There’s an old joke about having) like two words in the script, ‘Rome burns.’ In this thing, it was ‘A mudslide.'”
Oliver Stone’s 1987 drama won Douglas an Oscar, making him the only person other than Laurence Olivier to have won best picture and actor Academy Awards.
“That’s where I learned that a director doesn’t have to be a patriarch. He can just be a tough director and get the best work out of all the actors. Oliver Stone tests his actors rather than console them. And as a result, you look at all of his films and in almost every film his male lead has probably given the best performance of their life. The ‘greed is good’ thing, that went all day.”
Douglas co-starred with Glenn Close in the 1987 thriller, which was directed by Adrian Lyne.
“Again, that was a project with Sherry Lansing, who has been a dear, important part of my life. It was a picture nobody wanted to necessarily make. ‘Who do you root for? How do you have a leading man who’s an adulterer?’ Again, a well-made movie.”
The 1992 Paul Verhoeven thriller made Sharon Stone a star — and marked Douglas a consistently savvy reader of the Zeitgeist.
“‘Basic Instinct’ was a slam dance, and we all wanted to do it for that reason. Politically, it was a conservative time, and I felt a need (to do it because of that). Paul told us right from the beginning, ‘There will be nudity, there will be nudity.’ And off we go. Sharon was fantastic. We got to know each other. The so-called fuck of the century — we were shooting it for six days. Doing sex scenes is not easy, because everybody’s like a judge.”
The film also stirred up political turmoil because Stone played a gay criminal. “We had all the gay militants on the picture who were nuts that a lesbian was playing a murderer. So we had like 400 San Francisco police in riot gear surrounding us with shields and batons. I remember that as a real landmark moment in gay militancy. It didn’t go anywhere, but it was wild there for a while.”
The 2000 drama won Steven Soderbergh an Oscar for director.
“It was just fun to see the style it was shot in. It was a refreshing time to see how Steven (films), how quickly he could move, how mobile it was. (My role) was a small part in really a trilogy. A three-way story, but very proud to be part of it.”