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Actor back after layoff

Angela Dawson
Entertainment News Wire
Apr. 15, 2006 12:00 AM

HOLLYWOOD - After a pair of boxoffice disappointments ("The In-Laws," "It Runs in the Family"), producer-director-Hollywood scion Michael Douglas took a break from the movie business for three years.

He whiled away the days being Mr. Mom to his two children, Dylan, 5, and Carys, 3, with Welsh actress-pitchwoman Catherine Zeta-Jones.

"It was an extraordinary bonding time with our kids," the Hollywood veteran explains. "I just had a great time. Any dad would cherish being able to spend that kind of quality time with his children."

The usually clean-cut Douglas, 61, is looking a bit like Grizzly Adams with a scraggly beard and shaggy hair. Has this staying at home thing gone on a little too long?

"It's for a movie I've got coming up," he explains.

"It's called 'The King of California.' "

In it he plays a possibly mentally unstable jazz musician who leads his estranged daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood) on a quest through the Golden State for buried Spanish treasure.

"I like to call it a bipolar dark comedy," says Douglas, with a laugh.

He also recently shot "You, Me and Dupree," with Owen Wilson, Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson. The comedy is slated to open July 14.

The two-time Oscar winner also returns to leading man form in the political thriller "The Sentinel." In it, he plays a Secret Service agent with a big secret. Suspected of conspiring to assassinate the president, he goes on the lam and has to uncover the real traitor within the elite security organization before he gets nabbed and the plot is carried out.

Kiefer Sutherland ("24") and Eva Longoria ("Desperate Housewives") co-star. "S.W.A.T.'s" Clark Johnson directs.

Douglas says it was great working with his younger co-stars, although it was sometimes challenging keeping up.

"I have a bad knee and a pulled hamstring," he reveals. "So in this one scene where Kiefer takes off running, I suggested to Clark that my character look around for some evidence. I talked to Kiefer later and said, 'You're pretty fast, did you run in school?' and he said, 'Yeah, I had a state record for 400 meters.' Later, I'm running and Eva passes me in high heels and I'm like, 'How can she run like that in those high heels?' "

Douglas and Sutherland are both second-generation actors, but they didn't swap war stories on the set.

"That kind of thing goes unsaid," says Douglas, whose father is legendary screen star Kirk Douglas. "We kind of know we share that. There's a lot of pride. I'm proud of Kiefer and what's he's accomplished."

Douglas produced 1990's "Flatliners," that starred Sutherland. He also co-starred with Kiefer's father, Donald, in 1994's "Disclosure."

Why this sudden flurry of activity after a three-year hiatus?

"It was time to get out of the house," Douglas deadpans.

Just as he is about to answer more questions, Douglas receives a cell phone call from his wife, who happens to be the spokeswoman for T-Mobile. He briefly explains that he is in the middle of an interview and promises to return her call afterward. It's a scene cute enough to be a commercial.

"Anyone want to say anything to Catherine?" he inquires, before hanging up.

The two were married six years ago, just as Zeta-Jones' career was taking off. Though 25 years her senior, Douglas says the May-December relationship is flourishing.

"With my wife in her prime (of her career) allows me to comfortably say,'Go for it, honey. Go do what you want to do,' " he says. "That's one of the advantages of our situation. I've been there and done it. I like working, but my priorities have changed."

That said, he reveals that he is forming an umbrella production company to assist with developing some of her movie projects. He also doesn't rule out an onscreen collaboration.

"We've got one picture we're thinking about doing that's kind of in the spirit of 'Romancing the Stone,' which we would do together but we wouldn't be lovers. I would be the adversarial part. She would have her love interest and I would be there just kind of stirring the pot."

Set in India, the heist comedy is called "Racing the Moon."

Douglas, who has a grown son from an earlier marriage, admits he wasn't always as selfless about putting someone else's needs ahead of his own.

"Early in your career, ambition is what you need and feed first," he says. "Your career is first and your family is second. For me now, family is first and probably my work with the United Nations is second and then career."

His advocacy for social causes began in the late '70s with "The China Syndrome," a movie he produced and starred in that underscored the dangers of nuclear power. In 1991, he founded the non-profit Michael Douglas Foundation to promote peace and sustainable development.

Douglas serves as a "Messenger of Peace" for the U.N. He recently presented Secretary-General Kofi Annan an award for his effort to eradicate land mines, marking the first international day to honor the cause. He also has recorded public service announcements and voiced documentaries on behalf of the global organization.

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Suspected of plotting to assassinate the U.S. president, Secret Service agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) finds himself on the run in The Sentinal.

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