The dramatic cat-and-mouse thriller Beyond the Reach shows what happens when a high-rolling corporate shark named Madec (Michael Douglas) hires a young guide named Ben (Jeremy Irvine) to go hunting in the vast, hostile desert basin of the Reach. When the hunt turns tragic, Madec forces Ben out into the desert without clothing, food or water, pushing him to his limits to test his survival skills.
At the film’s press day, actor Michael Douglas spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why he enjoys playing a villain, how difficult the environment was to shoot in, how thankful he was for the professionalism of co-star Jeremy Irvine, when he started enjoying acting, how he decides which projects he’ll do, his desire to produce for television, and the projects that he’s most proud of. He also talked about why he wanted to play Hank Pym in Marvel’s Ant-Man, how his character is more the guy with the information and facts, and finally making a film that his kids are excited about.
Collider: Was this character fun because you could just unleash and do anything?
MICHAEL DOUGLAS: I could chew up the scenery. It just makes you very relaxed. You feel like you can’t do anything wrong. There’s no moral compass. You can rape and pillage without any responsibility. This guy just wanted to have a good time. He’s a trophy hunter. In his office, he’s probably got all of his plastic trophies. And he’s probably got a room full of horns at home. I liked the whole set-up. It was fun. And I lucked out with the car. We found this 6-wheel, double-axle Mercedes. It was the only one, and they flew it over from Germany. It cost $600,000. Middle Eastern sheiks use them for falcon hunting.
Was this also a difficult shoot because of the environment you were in?
DOUGLAS: The shoot was tough. We were at locations that were an hour and a half from the hotel, and then you’d have to get out and hike. There were no porta-johns or trailers. You might have gotten an umbrella to protect you from the sun. You were just there, all day. I’ve really gotta hand it to Jeremy [Irvine]. For most of my scenes, I was sitting in my air-conditioned truck with the massage running on the back of my seat. But, he was out there barefoot and in not much clothes. It was a hard shoot on a little indie. I was the producer, and I was eternally grateful to Jeremy for his professionalism. He knew what he was getting into and he had no attitude. He just took care of business.
This shoot was pretty much just you and Jeremy Irvine, which must have been a little intimidating for him. Did you say anything to him to ease his nervousness, or did he never come across as nervous?
DOUGLAS: No, he didn’t. He’s a sensitive man, and he’s very polite and hard-working. I didn’t have any sense that he was threatened, or anything else. Also, because I produce a lot, I always want the best movie possible. It’s not about my performance. So, I always encourage talent to make them feel like I’m really looking out for them. I say, “Go for it! Knock ‘em dead!” Once you do that, it makes them relax a little more. And then, you’re in the trenches with them. I really thanked him because he set an example, so that the rest of the crew had to really raise their game. One of the joys of shooting in New Mexico was that the crew guys were all mountain bikers and hikers. He and I were like, “This is the toughest picture we’ve ever been on,” and these guys were ready to take the 10K up the mountain. They’re like another species of human being.
Do you feel like you still learn from other actors, in that way? Do you still pick up things from your scene partners?
DOUGLAS: I try to. I don’t know. Probably less when I’m producing and acting. The acting is the joy, when it’s just the two of us doing something and forgetting everything else around. The producing is having to watch everything that’s going on, so I don’t quite get that chance. But, I love talent. I try to make it an environment that’s best for anyone that I’m working with to be as comfortable as possible. Some actors are afraid they’re going to be upstaged. I’ve never been worried about that. Sometimes you have the good part in a picture, like Behind the Candelabra or Wall Street, and other times, somebody else does, but you have the responsibility to make the whole picture work.
Do you still love the craft of acting, as much as you did when you started, or have you had to rediscover a love of it, at various points throughout your career?
DOUGLAS: Acting was not something I enjoyed, early in my life. I had terrible stage fright when I first started, both in theater and on camera. The camera looked like a doctor’s x-ray machine to me. And then, early on, somebody suggested, “You know, the camera can tell when you’re lying.” I had this whole period where I was method acting and ripping myself apart. This sounds stupid, but one day, I was like, “Wait a minute, I lie every day. Acting is lying.” That freed me up to not be so self-conscious. I’m at the point now where I just enjoy it, much more than I ever did when I was younger. Part of that comes from having some success, career wise. You get more comfortable with who you are. Part of it comes from having cancer and getting through that. I’m happy to be here. Other people’s opinions become much less important. And less is more.
You’ve talked about how you love to play villains, but why is it so good to be bad?
DOUGLAS: It’s just a much wider, broader stage. You’ve gotta be careful that you don’t eat up the scenery, but with some characters it works. It’s just not as restrictive. You have no moral compass. You can allow yourself to be more unpredictable. I think most actors feel the same way. And for most actors, they’ve probably had their best performances as villains. You look for great villain roles. I remember, going back to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest in 1975, we had five actresses turn down the part of Nurse Ratched because it wasn’t for women. You could not be a villain. You had to be politically correct. It was wrong to say that a woman could be a bitch. But, Louise Fletcher worked out fine. Much more well-known actresses were kicking themselves because they got caught in that politic time then.
Having just seen the latest Ant-Man trailer, that movie seems like it’s going to be so fun and have a great sense of humor to it. Was that part of the appeal for you?
DOUGLAS: I probably would have been happy with anything Marvel was going to offer me, just because I’ve never done one of these big CGI, green screen, effects movies. To me, it’s this fascinating other world. And most importantly, I did it for my children. They’re so excited. I’ve finally got a picture that they are so excited about. Dad is cool. You have to understand, for most of my career, I’ve done so many R-rated pictures. They can never see any of my movies. Just recently, at 14 and 12, they’re becoming more aware of some of the things that I’ve done. So, this is a lot of fun.
Have you gotten to see the full film yet?
DOUGLAS: I have not seen it yet. I’ve just been doing looping and ADR stuff, and they’ve run some sequences. It’s a lot of fun to see it. It’s much more like Guardians of the Galaxy, with the humor. It’s just funny, against all of this grandiose stuff, that there’s Ant-Man. It’s getting a great response.
Did you read a lot of comics as research for it?
DOUGLAS: I was never a comic book guy. They sent me stuff, so I became aware of how crucial Hank Pym was to Ant-Man, and how important Ant-Man was to The Avengers.
With people like Adam McKay and Paul Rudd involved, was there a lot of improvisation?
DOUGLAS: I’m not going to say any more because we could just keep going on. I’m going to talk my head off about Ant-Man in a couple of months. But, I think that freedom was given more to Paul Rudd and his character. I deal much more with the information in the picture and the facts.
Since you’re at a point where you really don’t have to do anything, how do you decide what projects you’re going to do now?
DOUGLAS: No, I don’t have to do anything. I really lucked out, after the whole cancer bout, with Behind the Candelabra, in terms of having this fabulous part. It was one of the best parts of my entire career. It was with [Steven] Soderbergh and Matt Damon, as my co-star, and it was just too good to be true. I was really, really happy. And it’s not as if there’s that much out there, but I’m enjoying it. I’m really enjoying working, and the kids are off into junior high school. I’m still trying to work my schedule out to be around, but I’m taking a little time to enjoy this chapter. I’m beginning my third act, and it’s nice to be wanted. I’m enjoying the production end of it. I’m getting much more into the television area. For me, I like to work fast. I can’t stand the developmental hell of making a movie. With television, they trust you much more. My old days in films were the ‘70s and ‘80s and, as a producer, you could go with it. You weren’t micro-managed or second-guessed, if you stayed within your budgetary confines. That was it. Now, it’s changed a lot, in the film area. But in television, like with HBO and companies like that, they go with the talent. It’s a shorter period of time, you see the result much quicker, and if you want, like with Candelabra, it can be exhibited theatrically, around the rest of the world.
Are you primarily looking to produce for television, or are you also looking to act in something for TV?
DOUGLAS: I’m producing for television. If there’s a movie or a mini-series, I might act, but it will mostly be in production.
As an actor, are you someone who can be satisfied with your performance, or are you someone who can always find something to pick apart?
DOUGLAS: I always find something to pick apart. I love the process. I’ll see the movie once, if I’m at a screening or a preview, but that’s it. I’m very self-critical.
Which of your projects are you most proud of?
DOUGLAS: The off-center ones, like Falling Down, The War of the Roses, Wonder Boys, Black Rain and The American President. I’ve got a lot of pictures, but I like those quirky ones. And I’ve done a couple little indie pictures, where you work your butt off and nobody really sees them. I like this picture that I did, called Solitary Man, that nobody saw.
Beyond the Reach is now in theaters and on VOD.