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Entertainment Story
New comedy is a Douglas family film
Canadian Press
CREDIT: (AP/Chris Pizzello)
Actors Michael Douglas, left, and his father, Kirk, pose for a photograph at the senior Douglas' home. (AP/Chris Pizzello)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- Kirk and Michael Douglas may be father and son, but they tease each other like children.

The 86-year-old star of Spartacus and Champion sits in his living room goading Michael about why it took so long for them to perform together in a film. "Well, first he had to become a star. I'm not just going to work with anyone," said Kirk, speaking slowly both to minimize the speech damage from a 1995 stroke and to sharpen the mock insult. Michael, 58, shakes his head, content to play the straight man. He has bragging rights when it comes to Oscars -- one for producing 1975's best-picture winner One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and another for best actor in 1987's Wall Street -- while Kirk has three nominations and an honorary award.

Michael said the pair -- who star in the new film It Runs in the Family -- wanted to work together for many years.

"We had a couple of projects and fooled around for a little bit, but they weren't necessarily right," Michael said. "If you want to talk yourself out of something you can. You can see what's wrong with something rather than what's good."

Most acting stars whose children become famous choose to work together much sooner. Martin Sheen and son Charlie Sheen have appeared in a handful of films, while Jeff Bridges and his father, Lloyd Bridges, co-starred in 1994's Blown Away and 1988's Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made working with his father a priority, Michael said. "I felt this overwhelming need to bond with my family. As always, the script wasn't right, but I said, 'We can work on it,' and dad took a look at it and said, 'You're right. Let's go for it.' "

Kirk plays an aggressive, aging lawyer with a less successful lawyer-son, played by Michael, who prefers public service.

It Runs in the Family also features a third-generation Douglas -- Michael's 24-year-old son, Cameron (from his marriage to Diandra Douglas) -- as the troubled, drug-dealing grandson and son of their characters. (Michael also has a three-year-old son with his second wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and she gave birth to a daughter, Carys, on Sunday.)

"Acting is a curiosity that has been on my brain for the last three years," Cameron, a nightclub disc jockey, said in a phone interview from New York. "I can't really try to live up to their kind of talent, but just being able to show up to work with them every day was a real nice feeling for me."

Kirk said Cameron's lack of film experience wasn't a problem: "I worked many times with young actors and I would make a mistake -- 'Oh! ... I'm sorry' - to relax them. But Cameron didn't need that."

Meanwhile, Michael's mother, actress Diana Douglas, agreed to play Kirk's wife in the film -- more than 53 years after their real-life divorce.

"We had a good time; in between takes we'd sit around reminiscing, and laughing," said Diana, who appeared with Michael in the 1970s TV series The Streets of San Francisco and with Kirk in the 1955 western The Indian Fighter.

"Normally," Michael said, "you're doing a family movie and you meet the person who's going to play your father the day before. You introduce yourself. You meet the kid who's going to play your son. 'Hi, how are you?' Now they say, 'Go be a family.' "

Working with his real family "makes it more effective. You can have the overlapping dialogue ... we knew each other's timing."

Michael, whose parents divorced when he was barely five, was raised mainly in New York and Connecticut by his mother and her second husband, Bill Darrid.

Kirk continued to live and work in Los Angeles, and Michael and his brother, Joel, who was an associate producer of It Runs in the Family, would see him during vacations.

Kirk's sons with his second wife, Anne, also went into show business. Peter became a producer of films such as Fletch and Something Wicked This Way Comes, while Eric pursued acting and appeared with Kirk in a 1991 episode of HBO's Tales From the Crypt.

Going with his father to movie sets was like "visiting the circus," Michael said, with stuntmen, horses, exotic locales and beautiful women.

One of his favourite memories is catching Kirk on the set of 1952's The Bad and the Beautiful in a love scene with Lana Turner.

"He was in this big embrace and he looked up and I was looking at him and he went, 'Michael ...' " Then he gestured with his hand: Get out of here.

Kirk said he had hoped Michael would become a lawyer, and when he saw him in his first play at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he said: " 'Michael, you were terrible.' I thought, 'That will cure him.' "

However, Michael continued to act -- with Kirk's eventual support. The challenge became distinguishing himself from his father's teeth-gritting, tough-guy image.

"I was taking roles that were the exactly the opposite," he said. "I was doing 'sensitive young men' roles ... and it was a conscious gesture. As a young actor, you're trying to establish your own identity, so God forbid they tell you, 'You know, that looks just like your dad.' "

As for It Runs in the Family, Michael said he had been most concerned that it not be seen as a vanity production. "It's just a bunch of actors playing a family, which doesn't have a lot of similarities to us. ..."

"Well, Michael, you know that's not quite true," Kirk interrupted. "The element that was autobiographical in the movie was when I say as the character to him, 'You're a much better father than I was.' And he answers with a smile, 'Well, Dad, you didn't raise the bar too high.' And he said it with so much conviction that I have a feeling he was telling me something!"

 Copyright 2003 The Canadian Press

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