The Sentinel - Michael Douglas interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
MICHAEL Douglas talks about returning to movies, spending time with his family, working with the UN and how Eva Longoria proved the sharpest shooter of The Sentinel cast…
Q. Did you enjoy playing alongside Kim Basinger in The Sentinel? And do you know what the penalty is for committing an indiscretion with the president’s wife?
A. I don’t know, I just know that everybody wished The First Lady looked like Kim Basinger [laughs]. Honest to goodness, that whole storyline was in the original book – it wasn’t anything I invented! But I’ve always wanted to work with her. We offered her Basic Instinct way back when we were trying to get a star, before Sharon [Stone] became involved and was made a star. But she’d just done Nine & A Half Weeks. So it was a treat to finally work with her on The Sentinel.
Q. It’s been a while since your last substantial leading role. Was that an accident or didn’t you find anything that engaged your interest sufficiently?
A. Well there was something that engaged my interest sufficiently – which was a new bride and two new kids. As most of you know, this is not a 9 to 5 profession. There’s very few people that I know that have been able to juggle a career and a family equally. Something’s got to give. Certainly, for most of my life and for most of the people in this room who have a family, it’s hard starting careers and starting families at the same time. I’ve spent a good part of my life working hard and my priorities were clearly career first, family second. Things worked out pretty well work-wise, but not so well marriage-wise first time around. It’s the price you pay. So once you’ve decided to start a family at my age, it’s something to really cherish and enjoy. You get those first early years with children that you’re never going to be able to get back – so I was happy to do that.
At the same time, Catherine is in the prime of her career and she was working so I knew something was going to have to give. But then I like working with the United Nations a lot. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a Messenger of Peace for a while, working in the disarmament area and doing documentaries in Sierra Leone and a lot of voice-over things that I enjoy. So, next thing you know a couple of years go by… But during that period of absence you’re also working on material with your company – The Sentinel being one of the pictures. So, one day you decide to go back. The reality is, fortunately I like my work, I like making movies, producing and acting, so you take a look at what’s around on the outside, then internally within your company, and decided this was in pretty good shape.
Q. I believe all the principal cast members were required to do weapons training. Were you surprised at who actually won that competition among the cast?
A. Yes, we were very surprised. We were fortunate enough to have a couple of retired agents working with us and, of course, you know from 24 that Kiefer is going to be fantastic. I’ll also look okay because I’ve been doing it for a long time – ever since The Streets of San Francisco. But Eva [Longoria]... we had FBI agents with us and Secret Service agents and they all conferred and said: “She shoots better than 90% of the police officers we have.” It was scary. There I was really patronising her about being a desperate housewife and how much of a stretch it was to play a Secret Service officer and she was a dead eye shot. But then I found out that women generally shoot better than men.
Q. With your role at the UN do you choose carefully your roles regarding firearms?
A. As far as being interested in disarmament at the United Nations and working on small arms trafficking and the concerns of handgun control, which I am, yes I look fairly carefully at the roles. But guns have been an integral part of movie-making for a long time. It’s the easiest way to create tension. We try not to do it gratuitously. I’ve had my fair share – but I’ve murdered people in films a lot of different ways to just shooting them! So, my answer generally is that handgun laws are completely different and that’s really the issue. People can separate movies from reality but it’s the accessibility to handguns that makes it an issue.
Q. There’s a scene in The Sentinel after the big chase sequence where you look absolutely knackered. Did you have to think about this in terms of making it age appropriate?
A. I did say to myself that I’m of retirement age in the movie and that I should remember that this guy should be knackered. I also had some problems with my hamstring, which can be a pain to try and heal. But we pulled it off the best we could.
It didn’t help that Kiefer [Sutherland] is a 400m High School record holder at his Canadian High School and he takes no prisoners when it comes to running scenes – he took off like a bat. I found myself stopping to look for evidence along the way whenever I could.
Q. A lot of The Sentinel is about hero worship or admiring people that you work with. Who were your heroes and do you have any today in the business?
A. Well, I’m a big fan of Albert Finney as an actor. I’ve always admired him. Jack Nicholson also comes to mind – he’s someone I always enjoy tremendously. And I’m dear friends with Danny DeVito in terms of admiring how he’s conducted himself through a long career that we started at the same time. It’s a good question but it’s the curse of being second generation where success is just expected; it’s not a surprise. So I can’t say that I’ve ever had any heroes…
I’ve had mentors. Karl Malden was clearly a mentor and one of the most important people in my professional career. He was a tremendous influence on me in so many areas – such as work ethic . But I think that’s probably why I do all these grey characters, I don’t see a lot of heroes around.
Q. As a father of young children, are you interested in doing a family-friendly movie such as an animated one?
A. Well, the first part of the question is desperately because, unfortunately, my career is made up of movies that my children cannot see. I’m reaching a point now where they know mommy acts, “but what does daddy do?” So, yes, I would be.
The animation issue has always bothered me because – and I’m going to get into trouble for saying this – it has generally been a licence to steal as far as the studios and everybody were concerned. They don’t treat it like an actual performance either in salary or in your profit sharing – it’s like an animated film. So, they get to make a likeness of you, they use your voice and they usually go after you when you’ve had your first child, saying: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a picture that your kids can see?” It’s a racket in my mind, so I’ve been down on them for a long time. Things might have changed now but I don’t think so since the last time they asked me. For the sake of my child, I’d love to do one; but not for the sake of the studio.
Q. Is it true that you and Catherine have plans to make a movie together called Racing The Monsoon?
A. Racing The Monsoon is a project that’s a take off in the spirit of Romancing The Stone and, yes, I’ve been developing it. We hope to [do it]. Unlike Romancing The Stone, I will not be playing the love interest [laughs]. If Catherine so chooses to do the role, we will find a nice young hunk for her and I’ll be the villain who will try to kill one of them.
Q. How do you feel generally about working with your nearest and dearest?
A. The history of married couples playing love interests on-screen is not great. So I don’t think that would be on the cards.
Q. What are your future ambitions in terms of dramatic acting roles?
A. I’ve got a couple of projects I’ve been working on but it’s rough out there; it’s kind of mediocre going. The big corporate towers seem to be winning out. I don’t see a lot of good stuff. You get tired, too, developing. That’s so tough. But I have a picture I like a lot called The King of California which I’ve done with a first-time writer and director called Michael Cahill – it’s produced by Alexander Payne. It has a beautiful script.
I’m working but it just gets harder looking through all the drafts and doing all the re-writes, especially when your little girl says “daddy” and you find your mind wandering…
Q. But do you think you’ve left your mark or is there something else you want to do?
A. Well, I definitely want to do more work with the United Nations. I’d like to put more energy into that. I was impressed by An Inconvenient Truth and what Al Gore has done there. I’m thinking of doing something that could be informative and entertaining that deals with the issue of disarmament.
Q. During your acting and producing career you’ve worked with some great directors like Ridley Scott, Curtis Hanson and Soderbergh. Have you never been tempted to get behind the camera yourself? And are there any other directors you’d still like to work with?
A. I’m too lazy. Directing is so lonely, it’s so long – you’re the first person there in the morning and you’re the last to leave. You’re on that project for a year, even more. I’ve been fortunate enough as a producer, having the final cut, to always give it to the director – I guess vicariously I’ve been able to do that through the directors.
I don’t know which director that I’d like to work with. You blink one day and there’s another generation that’s up there, so I have to familiarize myself a lot more. I’d love to do a picture over here – I’ve got a couple that I’ve been dealing with that would be great to do over here or in Europe. I’d also like to see David Fincher working some more because he’s a talented guy – I enjoyed working with him on The Game; even though it was tough. And Ridley was great, especially working in Japan…