I’ve been interviewing actors for a while, but there’s always a different vibe in the room when you’re speaking to a legend. Michael Douglas has been working in Hollywood for over forty years, and he’s still turning in great performances. When some other movie journalists and I got to interview Douglas last year on the set of Ant-Man, I paused and thought to myself, “I’m talking with President Andrew Shepherd.” It was a very cool experience, and Douglas couldn’t have been more gracious answering our nerdy questions.
During our conversation, we talked about his de-aging to play a young Hank Pym in flashbacks, the character’s attitude towards the Avengers and the larger Marvel universe, signing on to play such a major character, his son finally thinking his dad is cool, and much more. However, before he came in, we had watched him do the same take for about half an hour where he asked Martin Donovan’s smarmy character, “How’s your face?” so naturally, being hard-hitting reporters, we led with that question.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS: Well, we haven’t shot it yet and he insulted my deceased wife in an office scene, and it calls for a punch, but I’m thinking, you know, I had a little military background, so we haven’t told Martin yet, but I think I’m either going to grab him by the tie, so his face goes right in to, either that or behind the head, something, you know, a little more ooh. This is the only sequence flash back, of Pym when he was 40, which I can’t wait to see, because actually I’m starting a new career. I’m going to get new glossies made, sort of like Andy Kaufman. Remember Andy Kaufman. Andy sort of did this sort of thing. Michael Douglas, isn’t he in his ‘70s. No, no, he’s 40.
What goes into that process of you playing the younger…
DOUGLAS: I don’t know anything. I know that they shot the last day, they could do it, which is really scary. Well, we can do it with the beard and mustache, you know, but we’d prefer not to, so it worked out the schedule, and we’ll do it on the last day. We’re shooting it on a Sunday, because it involves, I don’t know how much I’m supposed to, you know, you’ll police me. So, I’ll shave this off for the last, the sequence, and then whatever, hey, I’m dying to see it, you know.
In that scene you were just filming, it looks like you had a fairly chilly reception from you daughter, Hope. I was hoping maybe you could elaborate on that a little bit.
DOUGLAS: Well, she’s chairman of Pym, of the company, and as chairman, she was the deciding vote to oust me a while ago, a long time ago, because personal reasons involving her mom and family, but we now are kind of maintaining, she now understands where Darren is going and so we actually have had a new reconciliation, so we’re acting a little bit.
We heard a little bit about Hank’s history with S.H.I.E.L.D. and being Ant-Man. Now he has a distain for superheroes.
DOUGLAS: He has some what?
A distain for superheroes in general. Can you talk about that?
DOUGLAS: I can’t, as far as a, historian on comic books, I mean before I got this, I grabbed two or three of Ant-Man and took a look about Pym. I was looking for a little hair on my face, but I’m not as knowledgable to know…
In the movie, like what is his attitude towards the larger Marvel universe?
DOUGLAS: Pretty dismissive. I mean, there are serious problems. I feel like I’m doing the American president now. There are serious problems, and you know, I mean, some of the things that they do, Iron Man, is kind of silly compared to what’s going on in the real world.
Do you think at this point in the Marvel franchise it’s important to have a main character who has that negative cynical slant on superheroes, because all these previous movies have put them on a pedestal.
DOUGLAS: That’s a really good question. I just, I don’t know, you know. These guys are batting a thousand. They seem to have fallen into a real rhythm from the ones, from all the pictures that I have seen, this one is probably more I would say more humane, I mean, in terms of, tied into characters into real characters. The whole ant process is relatively unique, and there are some special powers, but nothing compared to the stuff some of the other Avengers are capable of, and this one seems to have, you know, more personal stories, vis-a-vis my relationship with my daughter, Evangeline and also Scott’s relationship in the script with his daughter, trying to get them more of a family.
Aside from Marvel’s obvious track record, what was is about playing Hank that drew you in?
DOUGLAS: Well, I just wanted to do one of these pics, you know. Just I’ve never done, you know, my entire career, is a lot of movies has just been contemporary stories, with no special effects, no nothing, just kind of psychological real kind of stories. [phone vibrating] So… it records and answers the phone? So, you know, I did only one period picture that will remain, you guys will find it. Its not a really good picture at all. So, this to me was just the excitement of saying hey, this is great. I want to get into Marvel world, you know. I want to taste the kool-aid.
And how’s it been so far?
DOUGLAS: It’s great. It’s great for a lot of reasons. One, you have so many people who have done a lot of these Marvel films. You have so many departments, where this is there fifth, sixth, seventh film. So, just like actors enjoy the comfort of familiarity, when you know each other, makes it easier. Cruise had the same thing. Me and Cruise know each other and so that aspect is special, and then just all this crazy shit. You just, you know, macro shoot and the second unit is just coming in. I mean, today, the opening scene, you know, where I walk the thing and Scott, you know, as the ant hops on. You alright? That wasn’t your back? And then, you look and you sort of get into it after awhile. You look and you can see, you feel like you can see him, or his training process, where he’s learning, trying to go underground, stay small as an ant or every once in a while he breaks out of it, out of the lawn as this full sized adult, and so, you have this sequence, you know, where he can run, go to the size of an ant, get through a key-hole and then get big again. So, you have to watch him and see it and there’s nothing there. It doesn’t matter.
From what I understand, Hank is a bit lost in time, like he lives in this Victorian house. Is there kind of a Miss Havisham/Great Expectations thing? What really explains that kind of behavior?
DOUGLAS: The company, everything is in San Francisco. He’s sort of a northern California, you know, formal guy. He’s, you know, lost control of this company. He lives sort of in a time warp. He was always a bit of a tinkerer. He’s got a lab, plays a lot of other stuff in his basement, that we find out about. He’s just, he’s certainly bitter about what’s happened with his company, and deeply scared about what the future might hold, and so, because he himself, after having, I feel like Steve Martin, having gotten small, so many times, it’s difficult, you know, he looks and tries to find his, you know, a guy that he can work with, and has the right characteristics, whose Paul.
We were told yesterday that the costume that Scott gets was the old Hank Pym costume. Did you get to put that on the past scenes.
DOUGLAS: No, I didn’t think that would be fair to you. I mean, what happens if it fits Scott really well and didn’t fit Hank, you know. I’d feel like shit, you know, and I know the costumer built it for Scott, so, no I mean, I certainly touched the leather, stroked the leather and a couple of other costumes that play a special part in this too.
How’s it been like working with Paul so far?
DOUGLAS: Well, he’s great, you know. He has his thing. You know, once you get somber or sober or schmaltzy, you know, he’s going to find a humorous way to end it and he’s not afraid to, you know, put his face in the pie. You know, sometimes an ending goes, that’s sucks; you can’t win all the time. He’s very brave, you know, he’s very brave, funny, and he’s in great spirits now, because he’s a fanatic Kansas City Royals, he’s from Kansas City, and so he’s ecstatic.
Just as a pure, I asked Corey this too. Just as a pure actor’s exercise, what are you getting doing this film, that you haven’t done before that you’ve enjoyed doing?
DOUGLAS: It’s larger than life. There’s a certain theatricality about it. It’s arched to a degree, I mean not comedic, not off the charts, but there’s a you know, a slight theatrical quality to it. Also, Peyton, I must say, is great, and they’re very religious with the script has been written and rewritten a number of times, but, you know, encourage you once in a while, more than most films to try, usually it’s the tail, you know, the tail end, see if you can come up with, you know, something a little different and for instance, when we put together our heist team, you know, the other actors, have three actors that were in prison and we did a scene with these guys, just looking going this is not going to work. This is not going to work, these guys, and they exited and I say, you know, what a team, and it works, you know. So, I mean, that kind of freedom.
We talked to Corey and Evangeline and Paul who wrote a portion of the script and they all said they had an opportunity to mold the character to mold the character to be what they want it to be Did you have a chance to do that with Hank. Did you say we should do this more this way or this?
DOUGLAS: No, I came in and got it. They were working through, we had a couple of issues with directors. They were going through a few drafts. Paul was brought in, that was certainly not initially part of the whole thing, for him to write. I did raise my hand a little bit, because I didn’t know Paul that well. I said, excuse me, but the leading actor writing the script, uhhhh, you know, no, no we’re watching, alright fine. So, no, you know, I kind of assumed that there were the parameters from the comics and I mean, you have to get used to playing somebody your own age, you know.
They aged you up in the movie?
DOUGLAS: They, no, we got realistic about it, you know. They were going to go up to 75, and then it was like try to stick with the comics ‘60s and then it was 50 years, and then I said look, I don’t want to be vain, but I’m worried, I mean, I look ok for my age. I’m worried people are going to start to say, was he 9 when he made the serum? So…
Has such a deep relationship with ants, so did you have to do research. Did you opinion on ants change throughout the film?
DOUGLAS: Well, you know, I used to like those chocolate covered ants. I found that was a real special.. I have a new appreciation for them. No, I’m fascinated by them and I’ve done a little bit of homework now, as we talk of the different types of ants that there are, and I think this is pretty cool. This is really clever how they can find this spectrum of support, and this whole idea of being able to communicate with them, you know. One thing to get down to their size, but literally treating them with battalions, and moving them and orchestrating them in walls and all of that is a gas. It’s going to be fun to see, and I finally got a picture my son is proud of. It’s taken me 40 years. Everything, I’m cool, now I’m cool.
Kevin Feige shared an interesting story about your character’s relationship with Darren and he said that you said you saw a lot in him, but then you abandoned him and you used the phrase, I saw too much. What is this darkness that Hank and Darren share that frightened you away from him?
DOUGLAS: Well, I think it goes back to the initial serum that I developed and what I saw and there is a, there’s a dark side to Hank. He is a, he has a, kind of a military background, besides his whole science abilities. He wants to make a world a better place, but in doing so, I think he realizes just how dark it is, so he sees that. He picked this guy. He picked Darren. He picked Darren as his protege early on for this company, just like he’s picked Scott for this particular job. So, there’s just as there’s a bit of thievery maybe in Pym, in terms of how he picked Scott, there’s a darkness also that makes him understand where someone like Darren can go and where he is going to go, and he feels guilty for evolving and developing this and now seeing how this can be used in a negative fashion.
Ant-Man opens July 17th. For more of out set visit coverage, click on the links below:
- ANT-MAN Set Visit: 106 Things to Know about Marvel’s Big Tiny Superhero
- ANT-MAN Set Visit: Paul Rudd Talks Suiting Up, Rewrites, and More
- ANT-MAN Set Visit: Kevin Feige Talks Expanding Mythology and More
- ANT-MAN Set Visit: Evangeline Lilly Talks Ambiguity, Script Changes, and More