Michael Douglas Acting On Instinct
Sunday Express 24th November 1991
Summer came early to the streets of San Francisco this year and the evenings were warm. Now, inside the Tosca Cafe the atmosphere is even hotter. They are filming a scene from Basic Instinct, destined to be one of the most controversial films of 1992 and a landmark in Hollywood's treatment of gay and lesbian issues. The film is also about creative control, minority-group pressure and politics. And about sex for sensation - is it there to sell tickets or tell the story?
The arc lights are blazing and the sound booms are in position as a voice barks, "Action!" Michael Douglas, Oscar-winning actor and producer, with his Douglas dynasty dimpled grin and shiny slicked-back hair, a man who can ask Monopoly money for the hire of his talents, moves on cue. He is Nick, a detective involved in an obsessive love affair with Catherine, a woman writer suspected of murder. He is a straight, in the sexual sense, San Francisco cop but one far removed from the nice chap he played opposite Karl Maiden for five years in The Streets Of San Francisco. Catherine, played by Sharon Stone (Schwarzenegger's conniving wife in Total Recall), is a bisexual temptress. She and two other women - one a lesbian, the other heterosexual - are in the frame for the ice-pick killing of an ageing rock star. They all have motives. But are they what they seem? Certainly, a woman-hunt is on for a lesbian serial killer who wears leathers and hates men.
And that's why many in San Francisco, the gay capital of America, hate Basic Instinct, its makers and Michael Douglas. Evening filming was repeatedly disrupted by protests with crowds carrying placards reading: "Michael Douglas: Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay". Militants paint-bombed the film set. The star had to be discreetly guarded as he left the set each day.
"This has been a strange shoot," says Douglas with wry understatement. "It's been strange from the very beginning."
This evening was no exception. Even after a court order prohibiting excessive noise and the use of flashlights was issued, the protests continued by activist groups like Queer Nation and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), whose executive director Richard Jennings says, "The characters embody all the negative stereotypes about lesbians."
Writer Joe Eszterhas was paid a record-breaking $3miflion for the Basic Instinct script. Douglas' fee is upwards of $10 million and director Paul Verhoeven, who was in demand following Total Recall, received $5 million. But as filming went on, so did the protests. Something had to be done. A meeting was arranged between the movie makers and the protest leaders. It all smacked of "politically correct" censorship. No one can argue against any group's right to boycott a film but should any pressure group be allowed to stop a film being made?
This thought seemed to get lost in the craziness of the situation, which angered the normally placid and diplomatic Douglas. At the meeting, Joe Eszterhas immediately agreed to make changes in the script. The other film makers were aghast. The gay groups were happy and Eszterhas was their hero!
Michael Douglas has always maintained one view about Basic Instinct and it is this: "It's a sexy script - a hot, sexy thriller. That's why I wanted to do it."
Sharon Stone agrees with him. Her role, she says, is not all nudity and moan-and-groan screen sex. "What the script really does is reveal its characters tremendously on a psychological level. Catherine is so complex - the nudity is not the role's greatest demand."
But the gay groups weren't worried about the actors' views. They wanted changes. First, Douglas' cop Nick would be a woman and a lesbian. Wouldn't Douglas' regular co-star Kathleen Turner be good for the role? And if the characters are going to murder men they must murder women, too, so that women of alternative choice sexuality would not be regarded as man-haters.
Eszterhas came up with script changes. Carolco Pictures, who invested huge amounts in the film, rejected them, but the writer of Jagged Edge, Music Box and Betrayed argued that his changes would only "add to the integrity of the movie". He also said a disclaimer might run at the start of the film . . . along the lines of "This is fiction . . ." But the controversy rages on.
Michael Douglas is a tough 47 years old, a veteran of the producing and acting wars. He's a brilliant businessman, a clever craftsman and not one to be put on the spot. Disclaimer? "Sure, we'll run that. Why didn't we have a disclaimer for Wall Street that said: 'This doesn't mean that every Wall Street banker is a crook.' Or for Fatal Attraction: 'This doesn't mean every woman is a psycho.'"
Douglas has lost a couple of stone in weight since you last saw him on screen. The son of Kirk Douglas and his British wife Diana Dill decided nearly two years ago to take a break from Hollywood. He had won an Oscar for his sartorial sinner Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, and followed this up with the Japanese thriller Black Rain, then the matrimony acrimony saga, War Of The Roses.
When we met he told me, "I don't have to prove anything to myself, to the industry, or to my father. I'm now at peace with myself on a lot of different levels and areas. I'd just like to improve my golf game and play some tennis. I've been working for 20 years now. I'm just taking some time here to have some fun."
His eyes are piercing green, and grey is making inroads along his hairline. He's a chatterer but packed with tense-fisted energy. The thought of him going 18 holes, let alone 18 months, without making a deal is ludicrous.
So, as you might expect, Michael Douglas is coming back not with one movie but with two. Shining Through is a sort of Working Girl meets the Nazis. Melanie Griffith plays a German-speaking New York secretary, the daughter of immigrant parents, who goes to Berlin to get secret information on a high-ranking Nazi officer played by Liam Neeson. Sir John Gielgud is her contact and Joely Richardson plays the German girl who becomes her ally. But Douglas is her knight in shining armour as an American intelligence chief who goes behind enemy lines to find her.
He regards it as good, romantic fun. Which is also how we might regard Radio Flyer - yet another Douglas project, although this time he stays behind the scenes in dual roles as producer and executive producer. Those titles mean he carries the can for the movie. Richard (Lethal Weapon) Dormer is the director of the fantasy story -a million-dollar tale by David Mickey Evans -about two brothers who create their own world after their mother remarries. It's all about toys and a train set that flies ... and to say more would spoil the magic.
Magic is what Douglas says he is in the business for. He can cope with the anxiety attacks going on around him in Basic Instinct. As a producer-actor on projects like Romancing Tlie Stone and Jewel Of The Nile, and co-producer of the Oscar-winning One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest he has always had to cope.
By the time he was 45 he was a superstar, and he is the most in-demand actor of the new decade. He'd proved himself to himself and, more importantly, to the father who had left home when he was just six years old. Brought up in the belief that you can never be friends with your son, Michael moved from New York to Santa Barbara, California, in an attempt to keep his family close. His son Cameron, 13, goes to school in the town where his father, in rather wilder times, attended university.
When Majorca-born Diandra Luker attended an inauguration party for Jimmy Carter in 1977, it was at the invitation of Michael Douglas. At the time, he was bearded and long-haired after an 18-month globe trot with Jack Nicholson. She didn't know who he was (she'd missed The Streets Of San Francisco) and at first didn't want to know. But he followed her and her date to a nightclub and finally persuaded her to attend the inauguration with him the next day.
"She looked like a Botticelli madonna. I don't believe in reincarnation but I felt we'd met in a different life. There was a timelessness about her, it was as if she'd crossed many generations and qualities."
It rained on Inauguration Day. "We fled to my hotel room and we haven't been apart since." That's more romantic than accurate. There was a brief separation brought on by the toll of producing and acting, and he says: "I knew I had to change a lot of things if we were going to survive together.
"I owe Diandra a tremendous amount of time. She's been very patient. All I saw with my father was a tower of strength. Cameron and I have the ability to play, be intimate. He tells me secrets. I think he sees my foibles and vulnerabilities a little more than I saw my father's.
"When I'm working, I'm working. When I'm not, I devote all my time to my family. I'm there when Cameron wakes up and when he goes to bed. I'm a romantic at heart."
Which is, of course, a basic instinct of a much less controversial nature.
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