For Hollywood superstar and veteran actor Michael Douglas, the recent visit to India was a special one. The actor was conferred with the coveted Satyajit Ray Lifetime Award at the recently concluded 54th International Film Festival of India (IFFI). Accompanied by his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and son Dylan, the actor received the award amid cheers and a standing ovation.
In a career spanning over five decades, the 79-year-old has wowed the audience with several noteworthy performances in movies like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Wall Street, Disclosure, and The American President among others. Starting with television before moving to movies and then turning producer, Douglas has had a long journey to stardom.
The actor, son of late filmmaker Kirk Douglas and actress Diana Douglas, had a tough time finding a footing in Hollywood in the initial days of his career. “I did a couple of television shows. But, my career wasn’t going well. My father had rights to the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which he wanted to sell. I cajoled him to let me make it and he leads the film,” he said.
This was in late 1971. Douglas did make the movie, but Douglas senior stepped down and Jack Nicholson headlined it. Needless to say, the movie was a huge success and took home the coveted Oscar for Best Picture and Best Actor. “I was just 24 at that time. I had never thought of becoming a producer,” he shared.
The tables turned and Douglas became a household name with the TV series The Streets of San Francisco, which he headlined for almost four years. “I left the series and started as a producer with the experience I had accumulated while working on the series and writing plays. I realised doing a good movie with a small part is much better than taking bigger parts which aren’t good,” Douglas expressed.
Carrying forward his father’s legacy while sticking to his father’s advice, Douglas said, “My father advised me to be myself, as an actor. Being yourself is the hardest thing to do as an actor. You should always be humble, listen to people, and observe their body language. Their behaviour will help you respond well as an actor. As a producer, his best advice was give it your best and then put it away... move on.
Douglas comes from a broken family. His parents separated when he was just five years old. Talking about his father, the actor expressed, “I lived with my mother and visited my father during the holidays when he was making movies. I grew up in a middle-class family and we were kept away from the glam world. I love my father; he was a wonderful man. He made 90 films and his rags-to-riches is an inspiration for me.”
His children (Dylan, Carys, and Cameron — from first wife), too, were raised away from the limelight. “Raising children outside Hollywood is good. Most of my movies are R-rated. I don’t think such movies can be shown to children. My children knew me — as daddy makes pancakes and mom is an actress!”
Today, however, all of them have followed in their parent’s shoes and pursued acting.
Douglas met Catherine during the screening of the latter’s movie. “She was the lead and when I saw her I was like, ‘Who is she? She is stunning!’ We later met and had wonderful conversations. I learnt that she loves golf, is attracted to older men, and we share the same birthday! I took the opportunity and confessed, “I want to be the father of your children.” She looked at me and responded, “I have read all your stories.” She bid good night and walked away. We got married in November 2000 and we have two children — Dylan and Carys.
The actor has battled oral cancer and several personal upheavals. But, the most difficult phase of his life was Cameron’s arrest.
“The hardest time for me, personally, was when my older son, Cameron, was in prison for seven-and-a-half years; he was a drug addict. I was heartbroken then. He was charged with possession of drugs with intent to distribute it. The journey during that time was stressful but it made me more aware of addiction… You do anything to hang on to that addiction,” he signed off.