Michael Douglas: You never know when you're going to get a knock on the door
Michael Douglas could never have anticipated he would be part of the Marvel blockbuster universe, let alone be stepping out on to the red carpet for a sequel. But he's enjoying the freedom Ant-Man has brought, he tells Gemma Dunn
MICHAEL Douglas knows exactly who to go to for advice. Three years ago, the two-time Oscar-winning actor was discussing his decision to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his youngest son, Dylan.
More specifically, stepping into the shoes of Dr Hank Pym – the original tiny superhero and founding member of the Avengers – in US director Peyton Reed's revival of Ant-Man.
"He was 15 at the time, he's an actor himself," recalls Douglas (73). "He was looking [at me] very seriously, and he went, 'This could be good for your career'.
"I said, 'Oh thank you' and he said, 'You don't understand, Dad, there is a whole new generation out there for you! You should think about doing a sequel'. And he was right, you know. It's just a whole bunch of new kids out there, these Marvel films. And the scope and the size of their successes is staggering," he reasons, the original Ant-Man debut having garnered over $500 million since its release in 2015.
"The character-driven pieces I've done all of my life, successfully, are nowhere near the mass of scale of these."
Recent high school graduate Dylan had hit the nail on the head. Fast forward to 2018 and the Hollywood veteran – who also shares daughter Carys with his actress wife Catherine Zeta-Jones – is on cinema screens worldwide once again in follow-up Ant-Man and the Wasp, which opened at the weekend.
In high spirits and looking decidedly laid-back in sunnies and open-toe sandals ("Its summertime – I should be on holiday"), Douglas, who successfully battled tongue cancer following a 2010 diagnosis, has been reunited with co-stars Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, who return as Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Hope Van Dyne/Wasp, respectively.
It's an adventure that Douglas – the eldest son of screen legend Kirk Douglas and Bermudian film actress Diana Dill – was only too happy to rejoin.
"The best part about returning for a sequel is the opportunity to again work with Peyton, Paul, and Evangeline," the New Jersey native says.
"There's that feeling of familiarity that informs the film-making process," he notes, having won a whole new legion of fans via the franchise. "And you also get to define your character more. Hank Pym is the straight man who keeps the story grounded."
Moreover, Ant-Man marks Douglas's first green screen movie.
"I've never done it before and it's quite amazing," he says of the filming process, now standard for many sci-fi, fantasy and action movies, which involves actors performing in front of a blank screen, with other elements of the final image added later.
"They show you the pictures of what it's going to look like when it's all done; they coax you into trusting that you're going to have to overact – because these meteorites and monsters or whatever it is are coming at you... And then you don't really know how it's all turned out," he says.
"Every other picture I've ever done, I know how the scene ended. It went well. [Here] you go to the theatre for the first time and there it is."
The thespian and producer – whose diverse resume includes titles in the independent and blockbuster genres – has enjoyed almost 50 years in the job, from his first credited gig in 1969 drama film Hail, Hero!, to Oscar-wins for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which he produced) and Wall Street, and stirring performances in such smash hits as Traffic and Fatal Attraction.
For someone with a career as lengthy as his, the tidal wave of change in the industry is no doubt palpable.
"It's changed a lot in terms of the movies, because of these tent-pole pictures and all the successes," he says. "But because of streaming, because of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu – my wife's [even] doing a series now for Facebook – those smaller character-driven pictures that I used to do, you can do in that genre.
"But for feature films, it's the joy of the IMAX screen and seeing these things in 3D or on the big screen that's so special."
Speaking of his wife, could he see Catherine taking flight in the Marvel mayhem too?
"She may do. Who knows?" he says. "You never know when you're going to get a knock on the door – I certainly didn't anticipate it; it wasn't something I was looking for.
"My agents, one day, presented me with the first Ant-Man, along with a big batch of comic books because I had no idea what any of this was about," he admits. "And there's a freedom to this Marvel world that I must say is a lot of fun. It's refreshing."
Has the goodwill themes that permeate Ant-Man made him reflect on his own past?
"The past? I'm pretty positive about it," Douglas insists. "We've all made our fair share of mistakes, [but] I've got a pretty good track record.
"I'm looking now at about 50 years in the business. And I like my track record; I mean, the [films] I said no to, I didn't make many mistakes. I was pretty right on those.
"And as for the future, as a cancer survivor and somebody at this point in his career, you look pretty specifically as to how you want to conduct the next year of your life," he says.
"You want to have direction. I choose when I want to work, when I want to spend time with my family and when I want to play golf."
:: Ant-Man and The Wasp is in cinemas now.