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Catherine Zeta-Jones, Douglas' wife, is filming Zorro in Mexico while Douglas spends time at home with their children.

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Eric Jamison © AP

Michael Douglas says he won't duck out of tonight's tribute to him at the 26th Aspen Filmfest.

Gilding a career

Aspen Filmfest to honor Douglas' role in movie history

By Robert Denerstein, Rocky Mountain News
September 29, 2004

It's hardly unusual for Michael Douglas to be honored for his acting career, but it's fairly rare for him to actually attend the ceremony.

But that will be the case when Douglas receives the Independent by Nature Award tonight at the opening of the 26th Aspen Filmfest.

Douglas is being honored at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House in recognition of a career in which he has produced, acted and transcended into the upper ranks of stardom in movies such as Wall Street, Romancing the Stone, Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct.

In a recent phone interview, Douglas, who turned 60 four days ago, said he accepted the tribute out of fondness for the community.

"I usually duck these events, but I love Pitkin County and Aspen, which was my second home in the mid- to late '70s.

"I got introduced to Aspen through Jack Nicholson from our Cuckoo's Nest days. (Douglas produced the Oscar-winning 1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). It was the movies that got me to Aspen in the first place, and I have a lot of great memories over the years."

Joel Schumacher (who directed Douglas in 1993's Falling Down) will interview Douglas as part of the two-hour proceedings starting at 6 p.m.

"I look at this thing as like an alumni gathering," said Douglas. "We'll reminisce and tell old war stories."

His Falling Down role may be one of his least appreciated. He brought both nuance and fury to the screen as an unemployed defense worker who loses control over his life, slipping ever deeper into madness.

"I'm proud of Falling Down. I've liked a number of pictures where the lines between the antagonist and the protagonist are blurred. I like movies that have ambivalence. Falling Down would fit in there. The War of the Roses had lots of different tones. So did a picture such as Black Rain. I liked that one particularly."

Oddly, it was a lack of ambivalence that earned Douglas a top acting honor. He won his best-actor Oscar for playing a greedy tycoon in Oliver Stone's Wall Street (1987).

"Gordon Gekko wasn't ambivalent, but that was a great part," Douglas said. "Maybe it's from my producing background, but I've always tried to be involved in good movies. I'd rather have an adequate part in a good movie than a big part in a movie that's not so good.

"I've also tried to be really excited about what I was doing. I always hoped it wasn't just a gig and that I was really turned on and had passion.

"But the business right now is clearly a business. It has changed dramatically within the last two or three years. It's not quite as joyful as it was. It lacks something of the independent spirit it once had. I came out of a whole generation when the studios were thought of as large entities. Now they're tiny divisions of large entertainment companies."

Douglas says he's spent the past year not working. He wanted to spend time with his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and their children, a 15-month-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.

"I'm a late bloomer to start a second family," he said. "To have an option to spend time with these kids is such a treat. Catherine got busy after having our second child. She did Oceans 12, and she's now in Mexico doing Zorro."

Another movie (not yet announced) looms for Douglas in February, and he's committed to appear in Down to Mt. Morgan. The movie is an adaptation of an Arthur Miller play that will be directed by Nicole Kassell, who most recently directed Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman.

"The script (for Mt. Morgan) is done. It's really good," Douglas said. "I was going to do that next, but Nicole is pregnant, so I'll probably start it in the fall of next year."

Douglas says the key to being both a good father and a successful actor involves a clear definition of priorities.

"You can't balance your career and your family. It's impossible. For a large part of my career, my family came second. (He has an older son from a previous marriage.)

"I recognize how relatively abbreviated women's careers can be. I admire that in the prime of her career, Catherine has had two children. I know she wants to work. I've accomplished just about everything I want to professionally, and I have this incredible opportunity to have a family again.

"When you have a 25-year age difference, you have to be respectful of where you were when you were at that point in your career. Catherine's a great mom, and she misses her kids when she's working."

At 60, Douglas says he's eager to act his age.

"I'm happy I'm not doing Basic Instinct 2. I feel great. I think I look young for my age. But I don't kid myself. You have a range, but there's nothing sillier than someone attempting not be his age or close to it."

On the day I spoke to Douglas, he was planning to take his father to lunch. You may have heard of him. His name is Kirk. He also acted.

"He'll be 88 in December. He's working on his 11th novel. He's doing pretty well. We had a tragedy last month (the death of Douglas' half-brother Eric from "acute intoxication" from alcohol and prescription drugs). He's weathering it."

On a recent edition of the Charlie Rose show, Douglas was asked whether he's happy. It was a broad question, but Douglas responded with humor, noting that unhappiness and being married to the beautiful and talented Zeta-Jones aren't compatible states.

"She's just great," said Douglas. "I lucked out. She's a wonderful lady."

Aspen Filmfest

When and where: Today through Sunday at locations in Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs

Program: A variety of pictures from the fall festival circuit, including Dear Frankie, Stage Beauty, I Heart Huckabees and Tarnation.

Tickets and information: 1-970-925-6882 or

Douglas on film

A selected look at the many roles of Michael Douglas, as a producer and actor, on TV and in film:

1972: The Streets of San Francisco (TV)

1975: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (producer)

1979: The China Syndrome

1984: Romancing the Stone

1985: A Chorus Line

1987: Fatal Attraction

1987: Wall Street

1989: The War of the Roses

1992: Basic Instinct

1993: Falling Down

1994: Disclosure

2000: Wonder Boys

2000: Traffic

2003: The In-Laws

2003: It Runs in the Family

Source: Www.Allmovieguide.Com

Robert Denerstein is the film critic. 303-892-5424 or

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