×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Michael Douglas Shares Secrets of His Long Career, From ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ to ‘Wall Street’

Oscar-winner Michael Douglas revealed the ups and downs in his film career during a live conversation with Ben Mankiewicz at the eighth annual TCM Classic Film Festival on Saturday. Held at Hollywood’s historic Montalban Theatre, the two-hour discussion covered everything from Douglas’s early television roles to his work on Marvel’s upcoming “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Here are some of the surprising highlights.

Hairy Beginnings

In 1969, Douglas made his feature debut in “Hail, Hero!” an obscure anti-war drama about a college student who joins the army during the Vietnam war. “Arthur Kennedy played my father, and in the movie he takes my long hair and he chops it all off,” Douglas said. “So I’m showing it to my dad (Kirk Douglas) and he said “You should go to my barber. There’s a way to do that so it looks halfway decent, so you won’t look like a total dork.” Things didn’t go quite that smoothly, however. “For continuity, I had to wear a wig, a longhair wig, throughout the movie,” Douglas said. “So I go to put my hippie wig on and I look like Veronica Lake.” Despite his shaggy appearance, the role earned him a Golden Globe nomination as most promising male newcomer.

Filling the Nest

“Casting was crucial,” Douglas said about his Oscar-winning adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Douglas, who produced the film, worked closely with director Milos Forman to fill the fictional Oregon mental institution with the perfect rogues’ gallery of patients and staff. Several stars were approached to play the lead, including Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando, both who turned the part down. According to Douglas, Forman lobbied hard to cast Burt Reynolds in the role because he had what the director described as “cheap charisma.” Casting Nurse Ratched proved equally difficult. “With all due respect to the ladies out there,” Douglas said, “the woman’s movement at that particular time said that a woman could not play the bad guy.” Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury passed on the role before Louise Fletcher was eventually cast.

Silent Meltdown

Douglas learned a valuable lesson about sound (or the lack thereof) while producing his next hit, “The China Syndrome.” The film depicts a series of accidents at a fictional nuclear power plant, culminating in a tense near-meltdown sequence. Yet in the editing room, something just didn’t feel right to Douglas. “We were doing our final mix, putting things together, and I was really impressed with our sound editors in terms of all these unique sounds they found for the control room,” Douglas said. The problem came with the addition of music. “We’re doing the final mix and we had music by a very good guy, and this weird thing happened,” Douglas said. “All of a sudden we add the music and it became melodramatic. It lost its vitality.” The risky solution was to remove the entire score. Without the music, “it became taut,” Douglas said.

Tragic Jewel

“That was the lowest point in my producing career,” Douglas said, referring to “The Jewel of the Nile,” the trouble-plagued followup to his blockbuster hit “Romancing the Stone.” The film’s difficult production was marked with repeated tragedy, including a plane crash in Morocco that killed six production team members, as well as the death of 39-year old screenwriter Diane Thomas, who wrote “Romancing the Stone” and consulted on the sequel. To thank Thomas for her contributions to the film, Douglas asked her what type of car she liked. “She said a Porsche, and so I got her a Porsche,” Douglas said. “The last time I saw her was when she took me out to the parking lot to show me the Porsche. And then she got killed in a car accident in it two weeks later.”

Stone’s Gambit

Douglas earned an Oscar for Best Actor in Oliver Stone’s 1987 financial drama “Wall Street,” in large part thanks to Stone’s psychological method of direction. Two weeks into shooting, Stone came to Douglas’s trailer with a serious problem. “He said, ‘Michael are you doing drugs? Because you look like you’ve never acted before in your life.’” Douglas, though concerned, had no idea what Stone was talking about. “I never look at dailies,” Douglas said, “So I assumed I’d better go take a look. And he said ‘yeah, you’d better.’” Not surprisingly, what he saw “looked pretty good.” The confrontation was a ruse on Stone’s part. “Oliver wanted just a little bit more anger,” Douglas said. “He was willing to forgo our relationship to get that performance, and I went to town and worked my ass off after that conversation.” According to Douglas, Stone’s “Vietnam mentality” is what made all the difference. “He wants you in the trench with him.”

Courting Controversy

The gritty 1993 thriller “Falling Down” gave Douglas one of his most memorable roles. “It hit on the zeitgeist,” Douglas said. “It’s a picture that’s constantly brought up as one that people genuinely like.” That’s not to say it wasn’t without controversy, however. The film’s edgy violence and dark subject matter drew complaints from some ethnic groups. “I remember for instance, there was a Korean grocer’s scene where I go in and go ballistic,” Douglas said. “Soon after the picture was released, I got a call from Warner Brothers, saying, ‘Mike can you come down here? We’d like you to meet the head of the Korean grocers association.’” The group objected to the sequence, which they felt portrayed Koreans in a negative light. Douglas did his best to address their concerns. “I tried to explain that there’s a reason why the writer took the scene and made it what it is,” Douglas said. “And as a result of that meeting the Korean grocers association put those smile buttons on everyone’s shirts.”

More Scene

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. “I’ve seen more smiley symbolism lately, and I’ve [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content