Michael Douglas: 'As a cancer survivor you look pretty specifically at how you want to conduct the next year of your life'
Michael Douglas could never have anticipated he would be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, let alone be stepping out for a sequel. But he's enjoying the freedom Ant-Man has brought, he tells Gemma Dunn
Michael Douglas knows exactly who to go to for advice. Three years ago, the two-time Oscar-winning actor was discussing his decision to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe with youngest son Dylan.
Specifically, stepping into the shoes of Dr Hank Pym - the original tiny superhero and founding member of the Avengers - in Peyton Reed's revival of Ant-Man.
"He was 15 at the time, he's an actor himself," recalls Douglas (73). "He was looking (at me) very seriously, and he went, 'This could be good for your career'.
"I said, 'Oh thank you' and he said, 'You don't understand, dad, there is a whole new generation out there for you. You should think about doing a sequel'. And he was right, you know.
"It's just a whole bunch of new kids out there, these Marvel films. And the scope and the size of their successes is staggering," he reasons, the Ant-Man debut having since garnered over $500m worldwide. "The character-driven pieces I've done all of my life, successfully, are nowhere near the mass scale of these."
Fast forward to 2018 and the Hollywood veteran - who also shares daughter Carys with his famous actress wife Catherine Zeta-Jones - is primed and ready to walk the red carpet ahead of follow-up, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
He's reunited with Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, who return as Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Hope Van Dyne/Wasp respectively.
This chapter will reportedly find Lang - in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War - grappling with his choices as both a superhero and a father.
It's an adventure Douglas - eldest son of screen legend Kirk Douglas - was only too happy to re-join. "The best part about returning for a sequel is the opportunity to again work with Peyton, Paul, and Evangeline," insists the New Jersey native.
"There's that feeling of familiarity that informs the film-making process." Moreover, Ant-Man marks Douglas' first green screen movie. "I've never done it before and it's quite amazing," he says.
"They show you the pictures of what it's going to look like when it's all done; they coax you into trusting that you're going to have to overact - because these meteorites and monsters or whatever it is are coming at you. Every other picture I've ever done, I know how the scene ended. It went well. Here you go to the theatre for the first time and there it is."
The thespian and producer - whose resume includes titles in the independent and blockbuster genres - has enjoyed almost 50 years in the job, from his first credited gig in 1969 film Hail, Hero!, to Oscars for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Wall Street, and stirring performances in such cult hits as Traffic and Fatal Attraction.
For someone with a career as lengthy as his, the tidal wave of change in the industry is no doubt palpable. "It's changed a lot in terms of the movies, because of these tent pole pictures and all the successes," he says.
"But because of streaming, because of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu - my wife's (even) doing a series now for Facebook - those smaller character-driven pictures that I used to do, you can do in that genre. But for feature films, it's the joy of the IMAX screen and seeing these things in 3D or on the big screen that's so special."
Speaking of his wife, could he see Catherine taking flight in the Marvel mayhem too? "She may do. Who knows?" he responds. "You never know when you're going to get a knock on the door - I didn't anticipate it, it wasn't something I was looking for.
"My agents, one day, presented me with the first Ant-Man, along with a big batch of comic books, because I had no idea what any of this was about," he confesses. "And there's a freedom to this Marvel world that I must say is a lot of fun. It's refreshing."
Have the goodwill themes that permeate Ant-Man made him reflect on his own past?
"The past? I'm pretty positive about it," Douglas insists. "We've all made our fair share of mistakes, but I've got a pretty good track record.
"I'm looking now at about 50 years in the business," he adds. "And I like my track record; I mean, the films I said no to, I didn't make many mistakes. I was pretty right on those.
"And as for the future, as a cancer survivor and somebody at this point in his career, you look pretty specifically as to how you want to conduct the next year of your life," he confides, having successfully battled tongue cancer following a 2010 diagnosis.
"You want to have direction," he finishes. "I choose when I want to work, when I want to spend time with my family and when I want to play golf."
- Ant-Man and The Wasp is in cinemas now