Growing up in his father, the great Kirk Douglas’ shadow, Hollywood veteran Michael Douglas says acting was not on his mind but he ended up in the profession on a whim.
Speaking at the HT Leadership Summit, where he was joined by wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, the 75-year-old actor said acting was a last minute career decision for him.
“I was a late bloomer in becoming an actor. It was not some passion I had. It was probably the rejection to my father and the fact he was gone a lot… So I was not one of those who always wanted to be an actor,” Douglas said.
It was during college that the actor decided to venture into doing theatre, which he said was just a whim.
“I was in college and I was undeclared. I didn’t had a major. This was in the 1960s and I guess you can call me a hippie. It was in the final year of that they said you have to declare a major. So I was like, ‘Okay man! I’ll do theatre.’
“So I was late and not good. My father came to all my college productions and the first time he saw me, he said, ‘Michael, you were terrible.’ So I began from there and sort of worked hard at it to became better,” Douglas added.
The actor said he worked his way up in the shadow of elder Douglas. Wall Street, for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1988, was the first film that made him realise that he had finally overcome his father’s shadow.
“I was always in the shadow. People used to say, ‘That’s just like your father.’ I used to appreciate but the reality is that you’re create your own identity. You don’t want to be told that you are similar to your father. So, for me, it didn’t come for 20 years. After I won an Oscar for Wall Street, I finally felt that the Oscar part was more important for me than for the other people. I felt like I have stepped out of my father’s shadow and have created my own identity.”
Douglas said his father’s perception about him changed when he successfully got the critically-acclaimed book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest made into the 1975 blockbuster film, which had bagged the five major Oscars, including the Best Picture, at the Academy Awards in 1976. My father had acquired a book called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He took to Broadway and made into a play at the height of career… Yet he could not get it made into movie. He tried for a while but couldn’t. I was out of college and was beginning to work. I had read this book and I told him, ‘Let me get it together dad! Just give me a chance and run with it for a little while.’ After a couple of years, I was able to get the picture made. After that, he looked at me with a whole new look in his eyes.”
Zeta-Jones, who has made a name for herself with films such as The Mask of Zorro (1998), Entrapment (1999) and Chicago (2002), also shared her own story of making it big in Hollywood.
“I had no family connections to the industry and so I was out there on my own. There was this fearlessness that I had of wanting to make it. Movies were so far removed from my life, growing up in Wales.
“For me, it was going to London for the theatre. I wanted to be on the stage in any capacity. My first professional engagement was when I was nine years old in the professional theatre at West End in London.”
The 50-year-old actor said she was driven by ambition in early days of her career, which was something that was not promoted by the industry.
“I had this fearlessness about ambition. As you get older that gets diminishes as you got more to lose. You wonder what people think, sometimes as a woman in any industry, the word ambition is something you are not supposed to say but I’m ambitious and I still am. ”
Her advice to people coming up is to never lose track of their dreams.
“Once you fulfilled what you think is a dream, then you have to dream again. You have to dream big. And there is nothing wrong in being ambitious. Especially as a woman,” she added.
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