Hollywood’s Wall St. Icon Michael Douglas

Making Sleazing Charming

Douglas tops the chart of any Hollywood A-List today, but the actor had a relatively late start in show business. Though he is the son of actress Diana Douglas and actor Kirk Douglas (whose most famous role is the very chiseled, rebellious slave Spartacus), he had no interest in becoming an actor growing up. “I was a hippie,” Douglas explains. “I had no major. I went to the University of California Santa Barbara in the ‘60s; it was a great time. But by the third year of college, you had to declare a major, so I reluctantly took theater because both of my parents were actors. I had no real strong interest. But then I started doing it, and I had the desire to do it better and better. And I started working at it, and worked in theatres away from college. Then I was hooked.“

With a few stage credits to his name, Douglas scored leading roles in four forgettable movies. His first big break came at age 28 on the small screen, with a four-year run of the T.V. show The Streets of San Francisco. Douglas then left the show to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), which won five Academy Awards and sealed his fate as a bone fide Hollywood man.

He had roles here and there but didn’t become a major movie star until Romancing the Stone in 1984 and in 1987 starring opposite of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. The same year Wall Street earned him the Oscar for Best Actor and his most famous scripted line: “Greed is good.” For the next two decades, Douglas expanded his resume, which included a detective role in Basic Instinct, business roles in A Perfect Murder and The Game, a sexually harassed computer executive in Disclosure, the president in The American President, a drug czar in Traffic, a novelist in Wonder Boys, and unstable dad in King of California. And if it’s a thriller, he is most likely your leading man.

Despite these roles, Douglas is known around Hollywood as a legit all-round nice guy. He is a faithful, loving husband to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and uses his celebrity status to advocate for nuclear disarmament and small-arms control. Yet he possesses a certain swagger on the big screen, one that has often casted him as a sleazy something—whether it’s a corrupt businessman, womanizer, or bad father.

But Douglas isn’t too concerned that his roles are not the typical “movie star” leading characters. They are, in fact, usually the odd balls, the recluse, the morally inept. “You have to pick your spots,” he says. “You can’t worry about being on the bottom or not. You find your spot. If you’re lucky enough, you find the right piece of material, the elements to go along with it… You don’t try to keep up with the business. You find what you like to do, and when you do, you execute it as well as you can.” Indeed, the man has perfected the art of making sleazy charming. He is the most likeable villain in the movies—and one of the most dimensional. Douglas has his own list of favorite actors—Albert Finney, Viggo Mortensen, and Jack Nicholson—but we’re pretty sure he’s at the top of other actors’ lists, too.