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Meeting wich Michael Douglas at Monte-Carlo télévision festival 2019

The American film and television industry will not be complete without the name Michael Douglas. The acclaimed film producer and actors born September 25, 1944) has received numerous accolades, including two Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, the Cecil B. DeMille Award, and the AFI Life Achievement Award.  We caught up with the father of three during the Monte-Carlo Television festival and sought to know the secret behind his tremendous success.

The last time we saw you on a TV show, it was the finali episode of Street of San Francisco in 1976. A few years later you come with Kominsky  Method. What is your take on the revolution of TV shows and TV series in the last few years?

Michael Douglas: Hmmmm you are right, it was just a few years (laughs). Its fifty years to be exact and its one of the reasons I’m honoured and happy to be here because it gives me a moment to reflect. When I began The Streets of San Francisco almost fifty years ago in the United States, there were basically two stations NBC and CBS. There was this new station called ABC where I began with a show called Kung Fu . That’s fifty years ago and I’m thinking of this festival being 59 years old and its very far ahead of its time. Television for me was the back bone of what started my career. It has been the character of my career because that first year on Streets of San Francisco and each year, we did 26 hour episode which was shot six days a week in a location in San Francisco. So it was eight and a half months straight filming. It gave me discipline, knowledge of scripts each week because there was a new writer and guest star each week. That became a basic of my career in terms of picking material and also being a producer. As successful as the series was as you people know, I left the television show after four years to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. People thought I was crazy leaving a successful show. And then the rest was history into the Academy Award. But the transition from a television actor to a movie actor in those days was very difficult. It was two separate tracks. As successful as you were in television, you’re not a movie star because the idea was television they see you for free . But a movie role they have to pay to see you . So that was the separation. Few years later, I had a little touch with a movie that I thought was going to do with Mark Daemon , The Story of Liberachy which I was at the Caen Festival few years ago. This was a movie that no studio wanted to make and as a result it became an HBO film . It was very well received by Caen and it gave me a new understanding. This a movie I thought no one could make it and HBO did it and it was a wonderful response. So as I started trying to do more independent little movies that have minimum releases. They were more difficult. This thing call streaming has been happening and it’s been God sent especially for actors or creative people involved in more character driven pieces that are not necessarily doing the entire tempo or arts man movies all the time. And it’s been this wonderful opportunity that Chuck Lurry, this fabulous Television producer and writer came to me with Netflix. This was a wonderful opportunity to come back to television. Although I think its been separated probably because of streaming, a wonderful opportunity, no commercials. A half hour comedy is 20 minutes long or 40 minutes long. It doesn’t really matter. And this brings me back here today with appreciation. I thank this festival for acknowledging my 50 year cycle back to television.

Do you think that the platform like Netflix allows more people to express themselves and show other people. Or other platforms will come with their own methods

Michael Douglas: When I began there only two networks. Now you turn on your cable and see hundreds of networks and stations. The difference with streaming is membership. You had before in broadcasting networks show that relied on advertisers. So you make show for the 25-45 year audience and that’s because the advertisers are there to pay for that show. And the big difference is membership. So in the streaming services people pay don’t pay for a show, they pay for membership. And as result, it has allowed much more freedom to the shows that are being made and are not being driven by just one small area. Also for all countries, Netflix for instance releases its shows the same time in every country. So it’s not as if we are importing a British show after it has been seen in the UK and another one here. Netflix releases in 40 languages which I’ve always said in my film career , I always made a point of taking my voice out to launch in any country I was in because it was a very integral part . I always tell the story of my first award I got On The Streets of San Francisco was the Bamby Awards in Germany . And I went for the awards, I accepted it . And all of a sudden I saw this audience was just woowed . And it turned out I had this fantastic, sexy,  deep  German voice. And it sounded like a little mouse. I have had a deep appreciation for your actors . I think streaming has allowed equality writing. It has allowed actors to go much more easily between television and film as ever before. It has tremendous assert for talent; writers, directors, producers, everyone.

You are going to receive the prize by Prince Albert II. And you are both sons of the Stars of Hollywood by Grace Kelly for him and Kirk Douglas for you . What do you think about that?

Michael Douglas: I have known Prince Albert for a very long time. I’ve been very impressed how he conducts himself. And I know him as the Prince and part of him in Monaco, African and also American. He went to college in the states . I think he enjoys touching base with some of his friends in America. My brother Joe use to live in Nice . I remember stories playing bowling with the Prince. So it’s really a pleasure to see him. And even more it has been about six years I’ve been in Monaco and it’s been extraordinary. I mean I couldn’t think any other place. And they keep finding new ways. The designs are spectacular. I think everything seems to be running at a very good shape. So it’s a treat to be here and catch up with him again.

What about the prize?

Michael Douglas: Well this was very nice and so appropriate a time coming back to a television festival fifty years I started after haven gone a full cycle. And it has made me to think about this whole cycle and what has happened to our small screens as they have gotten bigger. It’s a very exciting time and we will also increase the debate and the discussion of how film and television continue to overlap.

What is the most important advice your father gave you when you started your career and what advice would you like to give to young actors around the world?

Michael Douglas:  The best advice my father gave me is like the character of Mc Murphy in  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to try your best. Do the best that you can and then f**k it. (laughs) You have to walk away knowing that you did the best you can and move on. For me coming out of television, it’s been material. There are ten actors that can play my role. It’s just a question of being connected with good material with support around you to be able to find out who is a good director, who’s a good cast material. All my kids, Cameron, Dylan Michael and Carys Zeta are all actors and wanna be actors. And you can’t really know what our future is going to be, what jobs we are going to have in 2025 with artificial intelligence and everything. I must say the performing arts is excluded. It looks like a real job because I don’t think you can lose these opportunities in the future.

You are very funny and comedy savy especially in The Kominsky Method. But I think that’s a complete opposite of the real you in terms of your life and career. How do you manage that?

Michael Douglas: Well one of the things that attracted me to The Kominsky Method is comedy. I’m not known as a comedy actor. I have Romancing the Stone, The Wall of Roses., Wonder Boy. I have had a couple of roles. But I was really excited about this opportunity and new challenge in my career about doing comedy with someone like Chuck Lurry. The same reasons I’m doing arts man. I’ve never done one of those pieces of green screen movies before. I was really looking forward to have a new appreciation about how difficult that is. But if you are into Sammy Komisky’s unsuccessful actor me being an acting teacher. That’s part of the roles, one gets to play. I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s really good writing getting a new episode each week. We are in our second year.  The show comes out later this year. And you guys will be happy with it.

You mentioned earlier the fabulous Behind the Candelabra  and few years later you are battling stage 4 cancer. How has that changed your perspective of life? Does it give you a new outlook to life?

Michael Douglas: I think you could say that, (laughs) Well, it was crucial for me Behind the Candelabra because I think by law I was going to act again. First of all they were soo worried about my voice. And then having this fabulous piece of material gave me great motivation. Only to find out afterwards that Steven came up to me and said “Listen, I’m sorry, I’ve got a couple of other commitments. So I’m not gonna be able to do this now. Let’s wait a year.” Mark Daemon said the same thing . And I thought my heart sank. And I thought this was not gonna happen. What I didn’t realize is I was soo elated being alive and cancer free that I didn’t know I lost about 40 pounds and I didn’t look anything like Libarachy. And so those around my show said, “ Let’s give you a year for you to get in shape.” I will eternally grateful for how kind they were and how supportive they were to the show.

I will like to ask if you are usually a risk taker in your life and  career. And just out of curiosity where is your epi place. That a place where you find peace and quietness from the noise of the world?

Michael Douglas: For the first question, Yes I perceive myself now, I love risk . I like taking dangers, whether as a kid diving from high cliffs. People thought doing Cuckoo’s  Nests was a risk. I like taking paths that on a surface don’t look easy. I like those characters where you would not think the audience will like the character.  I like the challenge of winning them over. So I will generally say that, my career a has been with people with  risk taking. I enjoy that element , it is exciting. As afr as peace of mind, I do like golf. Every time I go to a golf course I have the same feeling I had when I was sneaking out of school. In my family I still have one adoring, caring sister she’s 16. I enjoy spending time answering her question.

Congratulations on your award. Your career has been very successful.  But how did you deal with the failures and hard times. Did you just want to give up?

Michael Douglas: Not really. You try to do with your failures the same balance as you do with your successes. Sometimes it makes you angry. I use failure to give me motivation. I analyze how and why I failed. Whether it was in the execution or the marketing, or whether it was my part in it. I’ve learnt to take a moment to live with your failures like a broken love rather than let it slide up your back and continue. I think it’s worthwhile if you want to analyze what happened. My father was a movie star. So the good and the bad of that is every success you had was expected. On the other side the numbers of second generation actors that have been successful are not many. It’s hard because, you try to establish your own identity. Whereas 50 % of genes is made up of someone who is well known and established in public. It took a while for me to establish a sense of who I was and being the bad man that people like.

You said years ago that if anyone will make you nervous, it will be Angela Merkel. Have you met her and who or what makes you nervous today?

Michael Douglas: If I said that, it was in a very positive sense. Because,  I find her intimidating in terms of her intelligence and her knowledge.  She’s very impressive and I love the fact that, she comes from Eastern Germany originally. And she has a good understanding of what is going on. What makes me nervous today is our President (laughs) . He’s an unpredictability which is difficult for one of the leaders of liberal democracy and the free world. I just a difficult time trying to second guess which direction we are going.

  In Kominsky Method , there is a reunion with Danny DeVito in an episode. How was it? Was that too painful because of the prostatite?

Michael Douglas: No no. Danny was good. He was soo happy for that part. Danny De Vito was  one of my oldest friends who plays a neurologist. And in the movie he had to give a prostate examination. We had a really good time on that scene. But acting is believing.

You guys were roommates in New York right?

Michael Douglas: We were, we were. When I got out of college, Danny and I were the ideal couple. We were roommates in New York  before I left for California. So he has been a good friend of mind.

Who would you like to be the next President in your country?

Michael Douglas: I am a Democrat. But I had not committed myself to one candidate. There are a lot of things about Joe Biden that brings a sort of continuity. And yet as I watch our party move more to the left, I’ve been very impressed personally with the Mayor of Indiana who is a very impressive guy, a great speaker, Ex military, very smart scholar and it’s interesting to watch him move up the polls. And Elizabeth Warren is one who speaks about policies in a specific way. It should be exiting with candidates that will begin to narrow down the field. It’s a lucky time for the western world and I hope we all find some peace of mind in the future.

I will like to know the criteria of refusal or choice of a role in a film. And are you interested in taking part in a film in Africa?

Michael Douglas: To go in reverse, I have filmed in Africa. I did a movie called “The Ghost and the Darkness” in South Africa with Val Kilmer. It was about the Lions of Tsavo . I had a wonderful experience. I was there for a long time. I base my roles on the material. And I started in theatre working with young playwrights. And everything was about the material. And when I did my television series, I did 104 episodes. So I learnt more about prologue and epilogue and ad breaks. And so for me it’s all about the material. If the material is good, I don’t care about my part. If I have a small part in a good movie, I’m very happy. I’d rather have a small part in a good movie than a big part in a bad movie.   So many actors just turn the pages looking for their role. I am always interested in the movie because I’m also a producer. Even when  I’m hired as an actor, I think this has maintained my career and the longevity of my career. If you look at my resume there are lots of good movies. Some of my parts are not memorable as the movie was. But when you look at the number of movie, you can say “yes there’s a pretty good average.”

When you meet the fans, what are the movies that are coming back?

Michael Douglas: Interesting Chute Libre , Falling Down is one I hear more about. Romancing the Stone, The Game,. It’s always give me attraction with the fans saying “Hey you are the man”

You are a high profile star and whatever you say there’s impact. What would you say to the world today that you hope would have impact?

Michael Douglas: I am at a television festival being honoured for my 50 years. That’s the joy. I don’t support a candidate. I have suggested the concerns I have for liberal democracy. I am concerned sometimes as I see certain western Governments heading in different directions. We also have to look at what some of the issues are. And there’s a terribly large discrepancy of wealth in a number of our countries and its trickling down making a the poor restless and reverting back to old forms. But not necessarily looking forward to the future.

The Kominsky Method you are working with a lot of veteran actors. How is that different from working in the early part of your career or with younger actors?

Michael Douglas: Because I started on the TV series. Because we were the regulars on that series and because we would have guest stars coming and directors every week with something new, you learnt about how to make other actors comfortable. To make them as comfortable as they can be with the two regulars. It has been always important for me, for other actors to be as good as they possibly can. And I’m not threatened by that. I welcome them because if everyone is good, the project is going to be good. I’ve had very solemn opportunities to work with actors before which allow your comfort factors of not having to worry about stepping on each other’s lines. There’s a comfort element to it. I work very hard to make an environment that is the best working environment for all actors.  Most of the time, I set the tone.

You mentioned Cuckoo’s Nest several times. What memories do you have of the director?

Michael Douglas: I miss him very much. It was a tragic loss. Milos’ loss reminded me of how old we get. Milos came out from New York and sat down in my house in Los Angeles, opened a film script one and he talked us through each page of how he wanted us to do. And we were soo overwhelmed and grateful that this man who was a director wanted to share with us. And he knew how important this project was to us.

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