Interview: Kirk Douglas on a Life in Movies

by | April 8, 2009 at 2:17 PM | The Movies

Kirk Douglas is a film icon, but don’t call him a legend. At age 92, he recently put on a one-man show entitled Before I Forget at his very own Kirk Douglas Theater, which regaled audiences with amazing tales of his incredible career. Despite the challenges with performing after having had a stroke, he played to packed houses every night and it went over like gangbusters. I recently got to ask the man himself a few questions about his life in the movies. Check it out after the jump.

Watch Kirk Douglas in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory in its entirety right here on Fancast.

Q. You are often and deservedly referred to as a “screen legend.” Do you feel like a “legend?” What does that term mean to you?
Kirk Douglas: I don’t like the term. It makes me appear like I’m dead.

Q. You once described the kinds of roles you played as being “sons of bitches.” Who was your favorite “son of a bitch” to play?
KD: I played many s.o.b’s. I loved them all. The best one was Charles Tatum, a role I played in Ace in the Hole. He was a bad guy who tried to make up for it, but it was too late.

Q. We’re now playing Paths of Glory as one of the free movies available on Fancast. What comes to mind when you think about that film? Can you share any stories of anything memorable that happened on that set?
KD: With Paths of Glory I feel I discovered Stanley Kubrick. He had been trying for years to make this picture without success. When I read it, I told him “this picture will probably not make a nickel, but we must do it.” And we did. The girl that sang the song at the end of the picture became Stanley’s wife.


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Q You worked closely and often with the great Burt Lancaster. Which of your films with him stands out the most, and why?
KD: I miss Burt Lancaster very much. We did five movies together, 3 song and dance routines and a play in San Francisco. He was a great guy. The last film we made together was Tough Guys. It stands out because I saw the signs of Burt’s impending illness. That made me sad. I talk about him in my one man show, Before I Forget.

Q. You still seem to carry yourself every bit like the tough guys you’ve played, despite all the adversity you’ve faced – things that could have really broken a lesser man. Would you consider yourself naturally tough or is it something you’ve had to really work towards?
KD: I don’t think I’m tough, but I can act the part of a tough man. I think my poor background and all the things that I had to overcome in life has made me strong, but not tough.

Q. The stories you tell in your one-man show – when Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire would get together and dance around for fun, or when Ava Gardner would come to you for help during dark times in her marriage – seem to show that Hollywood was once a very close-knit family of actors. Does it feel like a bygone era to you? Do you get the sense that the Hollywood community is vastly different than it was in your heyday, or has it not changed as much as it seems?
KD: People often speak of “the good ole days”. Of course, everything changes but, as I got older I look back with affection and gratitude for the many friends I worked with. Yes, “the Hollywood community is vastly different than it was in my heyday.” But is it better or worse? I don’t know. What remains the same is the intensity, that all actors have to get a job and to play a part.

Q. Aside from your family members, who do you like as far as actors and actresses working in Hollywood today? What have been your favorite films of recent years?
KD: When you omit my “family members” you omit a great deal because my son Michael and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones are my favorites. But it’s hard to list my favorite films, there are many of them, but one that comes to my mind quickly is the romantic movie Pretty Woman.

Q. What do you like about the movies today, and what do you dislike?
KD: Today I dislike in movies the emphasis they put on special effects. They dilute the relationship between people. There are so many good actors today who don’t need the crutch of special effects.

Q. In your show, you say you always wanted to be a stage actor, and you can do it now that you’ve got your own theater. What inspired you to bring your life story to the stage? Was it just a simple matter of that old line “write what you know?”
KD: During different intervals of my life, I have been taking inventory to find out who I am. For years I did that in books that I wrote, but at 92 years of age, with imperfect speech, I thought it was time not to write a book, but to do a one man show. My friends would laugh, they thought I was kidding, but I did it. It gave me a chance to look back on my whole life and see the things that affected me the most. I only played for 4 performances, but people liked it. So I’m going to make a DVD and TV special so that other people can see it if they want.


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