In Basic Instincts: Michael Douglas Has Relied on His Gut and His Tenacity during the Ups and Downs of Life and 45 Years in Showbiz

By Levitt, Shelley | Success, July 2014 | Go to article overview

In Basic Instincts: Michael Douglas Has Relied on His Gut and His Tenacity during the Ups and Downs of Life and 45 Years in Showbiz


Levitt, Shelley, Success


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To remind yourself of what makes Michael Douglas a great actor, search YouTube for some highlights from his 50 or so movies. Start with the "greed is good" speech from Wall Street, the 1987 film that earned Douglas a best-actor Oscar. Follow that with the Fatal Attraction scene in which he threatens to kill Glenn Close if she tells his wife about their affair--and somehow still seems sympathetic. Watch Douglas interrogate Sharon Stone in the notorious leg-crossing scene in Basic Instinct for proof he brings out the best performance in everyone around him. His seductive charm is on full display when lie dances with Annette Bening in The American President, while he abandons likability in Falling Down and turns ordering a restaurant breakfast into a stunning depiction of impending madness. And in his recent triumph in HBO's Behind the Candelabra, Douglas dons sequins, rhinestones and ermine--then sheds them all to expose the fragility behind Liberace's flamboyance when he gazes at himself in the mirror without his toupee.

To understand how Douglas has sustained A-list longevity for decades in an extraordinarily fickle industry, you'll want to look at a couple of YouTube moments from real life. Receiving the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 2009, he sits beside his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, throwing kisses at the Hollywood luminaries--Bening, Stone, Kathleen Turner, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito--who are paying homage to him. Then his father, Kirk Douglas, takes the stage, his speech impaired from a 1990 stroke but still a commanding presence at 92. "I'm so proud of my son Michael," he says. "I don't really tell him that very often."

The camera turns to Douglas to catch his reaction. His eyes water; his jaw trembles; be swallows hard a few times. He's like every son who has struggled to win the approval of an adored but difficult father.

Two years later, Michael Douglas walks onstage at the Golden Globes. He's gaunt, the toll of his recent battle with cancer apparent. The celebrity audience rises and cheers, standing for minute after minute. Douglas takes it in, then hushes the crowd and lightens the moment with a deadpan delivery of the perfect line: "There's got to be an easier way to get a standing ovation."

The drive to step outside the shadow of his legendary father and the ability to confront hard times with grace are two themes that have characterized every stage of Douglas's life, from his early days as a TV star and upstart producer to now, one of the most prolific periods in his career. He is currently hitting theaters in And So It Goes, a romantic comedy directed by Rob Reiner where he discovers late-in-life love with Diane Keaton. He is producer and star of the upcoming thriller The Reach. And next summer, in his first foray into the world of comic-book superheroes, he plays scientist Hank Pym, who invented the size-shrinking serum in Marvel's Ant-Man.

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But as Paul McCartney sadly noted after losing his wife, Linda Eastman, to breast cancer: Nobody gets to live a perfect life. R's a belief that Douglas shares. "In movies or in life, you can't control everything," says the actor, chatting from the home he shares with Zeta-Jones and their two children in Bedford, N.Y., an affluent hamlet about an hour north of Manhattan. "Things happen. When there's a good wind behind you, sailing is a breeze. But how you conduct yourself during the difficult times is what's really important. That's what separates people."

A lot has happened to Douglas in the past few years. While he was going through his grueling treatment for stage 4 cancer (although first reported as throat cancer, Douglas later revealed it was tongue cancer), his older son Cameron was sent to prison for dealing drugs. Ex-wife Diandra Douglas sued him, demanding half of his earnings from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the 2010 sequel to Wall Street (the case was eventually dismissed). …

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