Michael Douglas is Hollywood royalty so when you’re in the same building as he – let alone the same room – you can’t help but stare at his easily recognizable face and listen to his legendary, graveled voice, completely forgetting that you’re supposed to be asking him questions.
His latest role, which weaves him into the web of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, isn’t too different from the roles he’s used to. He is a father to Evangeline Lilly’s character, a father-like figure to Paul Rudd’s character, and portrays the original Ant-Man, the superhero that was the start of The Avengers. So how does a Hollywood legend, whose movies are among the most quoted by film lovers, prepare for a role based on comic books?
Last month, we sat down with the Michael Douglas and once we stopped staring adoringly, we got to asking a few questions.
Q: How did you research to prepare yourself to portray the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym?
Michael Douglas: “Historically I’m not a comic book guy. I was not as a kid. There was one I kind of followed, but since it’s not in the Marvel world, I don’t think I necessarily needed it. But when they sent me this script, they sent me also a lovely leather bound book with about two years of the Ant-Man comics. So before I read the script, I opened that up and sort of familiarized myself with the different characters and a little of the back story.
And, of course, ironically for these kind of super comic books, there’s more character background than you get in most parts you ever play in terms of the loss of your wife, the relationship with your daughter. So there was a whole bunch of stuff to actually play once you read it.”
Q: With the technology in this movie, how is it different than anything you’ve ever done?
MD: One of the exciting things for me about doing this picture is I have never done a special effects movie before. My entire career has been all contemporary story lines except for one movie out of, I think, 50. It was a World War 2 [film]. Everything else was contemporary and there weren’t any kind of effects in them, there’s no green screen. So I was fascinated by that.
We were the first unit, then you had the second unit which was your stunt unit. Your third unit, which was your special effects, your green screen. Then your fourth unit was the macro unit shooting the perspective ant shots from all over. It was fascinating. I was just dealing with the first unit.
In the first unit – we were doing stunts and this and that – but to see how they put four units together using the story boards was inspirational. I mean, how often do you get to do a movie where you get to see yourself 30 years younger? I mean, it was wild.
Q: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
MD: I know the ones I liked least! Those were the heavy exposition. I had to carry a lot of the exposition of plot in terms of explaining how things worked and everything, and there’s no rhyme or reason for those, you know. You’ve just got to kind of get a momentum going and try to articulate them and the fact that Peyton [Reed], besides being such a good director, was an actor earlier in his life and knew my lines better than I did was a little intimidating. If I stumbled or flubbed he actually knew these technical names [of the ants].
But I, I enjoyed the Pym Technology scenes. I enjoyed seeing this huge picture of me up there on the wall, you know, Douglas laughs, as the founder of the company and just the beautiful work they did on creating the designs of that company.
Q: Who was the greatest joy to work with? Who did you have the most fun with?
MD: In this picture? Well, everybody. We just did a press conference and what I wanted to really say, which I didn’t get a chance, I produce a lot, too, so even when I’m an actor just getting hired in a movie like this as an actor, I kind of look at the whole picture. I certainly saw Kevin Feige and the great production team that they had, saw the job that they had been working on with the screenplay, and was really happy with Peyton as a director.
So those are all elements that you want to love going in; strong producing background, script, and your director. Everybody was solid. I think the biggest surprise was Corey [Stoll]. Corey was a great heavy. He was a great, great villain and he brought – in the scenes I had with him – he brought much more strength and dynamo than I ever had anticipated.
He was great and he had this whole subplot of kind of me being his father figure and reaching out for my acceptance, which was like, haunting… he played this and it had real depth to it. Paul, I knew from the beginning and he’s just as easy and wonderful as could be. He’s lovely. And then Evangeline – I did not know her range, and so you go ‘Wow!’ There’s no weak spots here. Everybody’s solid. So I felt really optimistic about this whole project, you know, right from the get-go, because I did not see a weak link anywhere.
Q: Going into a superhero movie, were you kind of wishing you were getting don some armor or a suit?
MD: “Well, yeah, I mean who’s to say I wasn’t in a few of those? Hard to tell with the helmets down. But, again, this is kind of the Marvel history of staying so true to the the time frame of all of these pictures.
So that, yes, this guy was Hank Pym, who was like leading in the 60’s, you know, late 60’s, 70’s, and now at this age – and if you get small that many times, it’s exhausting. And so we had to find somebody of the new generation, you know, to carry that on. So I was happy for that role and and limited amount of action, an action picture is fine by me.”
Douglas jokes through much of this, of course, which in itself is awesome to see. He’s played serious roles for so long in his career and it was awe-inspiring to see this legend making jokes and being lighthearted.
Q: Paul Rudd’s a funny guy. How was it working with him on set? Was it all laughs?
MD: Yeah, he’s just the sweetest. He’s a lovely guy. He’s very unassuming. Obviously, he’d done some rewriting on the script and was very helpful. Sometimes I would get frustrated where I’d have one of these five minute long monologues explaining everything and, of course, he would have a one-line punch line. Damn, you get a good laugh and all of that. I go, ‘Sure, I’m working my ass off.’ Yeah, you wrote the script, didn’t you?
But he’s got an elfish grin and quality about him. He was, you know, working out, maintaining, staying in shape, and then putting in the whole day. So my heart went out to him, but he was fabulous. I happened to see his work. Interesting casting on Marvel’s part. Every film is sort of interesting. I mean, Paul now looks to me like Robert [Downey Jr.] did before the first Iron Man. Also an excellent actor. And I’m sure this is going to be great for Paul.
Q: So now that you’re kind of part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where do you hope that you’re character evolves in the future?
MD: I don’t know. Listen, When I first read the script, I thought that I died on page 70. I read I had an accident and I went ‘Oh, my God.’ And so they called me to ask me my response on the script, and I said ‘Well, you know, it’s really good and everything, but you know, maybe my death scene, I could have a little bit more made out of it, you know, rather than just sort of passing over it.’
There’s this long pause, he says, ‘What do you mean your death scene?’
‘Well, you know, page 70 where I…’
‘You don’t die.’ I say, ‘What?’
‘You don’t die.’
‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Like the the classic actor, you know, I thought I died on page 70, I thumb through the rest of the script and, you know, not paying a whole lot of attention.
I have no idea [about my future with Marvel]. No one said anything to me.