Key mo­ments

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY - Be­hind the Can­de­labra opens next week

There’s a lack of pri­vacy.”

In­deed, Michael and his wife, Cather­ine Zeta Jones, had to take ac­tion against a stalker some years ago. He has, in fact, passed through all of the key crises that as­sail the aver­age movie star. In 1980, he had to with­draw from act­ing af­ter a se­ri­ous ski­ing ac­ci­dent. A decade later, he un­der­went re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for al­co­holism and drug ad­dic­tion. In Be­hind the Can­de­labra, Michael gets to de­liver one of Lib­er­ace’s great trade­mark quips: “Too much of a good thing is . . . won­der­ful!”

That can hardly be Dou­glas’s own catch­phrase to­day.

“It might have at one time. But cer­tainly not any more,” he says. “Be­cause you get a lit­tle older and a lit­tle more con­ser­va­tive. You don’t nec­es­sar­ily push your­self to the bound­aries as you might have when you were younger.”

The can­cer ex­pe­ri­ence must also have in­flu­enced his de­ci­sion to slow down.

“You emerge a dif­fer­ent per­son,” he says. “The ill­ness it­self is one thing. You have to mon­i­tor your al­co­hol. You choose not to be around smoke. That helped with the joy in per­form­ing that Lee had. For me the joy came out of be­ing can­cer free, from be­ing able to work again. I’m so grate­ful this gift had been handed to me. It’s one of the best parts I have ever had.”

At an ear­lier press con­fer­ence, Dou­glas broke down when dis­cussing his plea­sure at bounc­ing back with Be­hind the Can­de­labra. The team was ready to make the film when he was di­ag­nosed and (Hol­ly­wood does oc­ca­sion­ally deal in loy­alty) de­cided to shelve the pro­ject un­til he re­cov­ered. Look­ing at the re­sult, one can un­der­stand why Dou­glas was so keen to per­se­vere. Yet there was a time when ev­ery A-list ac­tor would run a mile from play­ing a gay role.

“As ac­tors, we earn the right to do what­ever we do,” he says. “I don’t owe any­body any­thing. I am sure Matt feels the same way. He’s a lot braver than I am. He’s in he prime of his ca­reer.” Now this is an in­ter­est­ing comment. Can it still be the case that play­ing a gay role puts ac­tors in a “danger­ous” po­si­tion? Well, it has been re­ported in many places that all the ma­jor movie stu­dios turned down Be­hind the Can­de­labra be­cause it was “too gay”. HBO even­tu­ally took up the film for ca­ble TV, but it will not go on the­atri­cal re­lease in the United States. (One hopes its ap­pear­ance at Cannes and sub­se­quent cin­e­matic un­veil­ing in Europe will cause those scep­ti­cal stu­dio heads some em­bar­rass­ment.)

I won­der whether Dou­glas would have ac­cepted such a role 20 years ago.

“No, not in the prime of my ca­reer,” he says, with ad­mirable frank­ness. “I wouldn’t have taken this role. I would have been scared in terms of where ev­ery­thing was at in the gay sit­u­a­tion 20 years ago. We’ve come a long way. I don’t know. Matt is in the prime of his ca­reer and he didn’t even think about it. But there are not a lot of guys who, in Matt’s po­si­tion, wouldn’t blink when of­fered that part even now.”

But why, ex­actly? Is the in­dus­try still so blink­ered that play­ing a gay role could rule you out of fu­ture ro­man­tic leads? It seems ab­surd.

“It’s an iden­tity that you might still be ner­vous about,” Dou­glas shrugs.

The role also pre­sented more than a few tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. Lib­er­ace may have pro­duced the cheesi­est mu­sic imag­in­able, but there is lit­tle doubt that he knew his way around a key­board. In the open­ing sec­tions we see Michael zip through a boo­gie woo­gie with as­ton­ish­ing dex­ter­ity. It looks as if he’s now a bit of a mae­stro him­self.

“I am not an ac­com­plished pi­ano player,” he laughs. “Steven orig­i­nally gave me a pi­ano teacher. But I said: ‘Prom­ise me you can use a piece that we have Lee play­ing on film, so that I can copy it.’ So, I spent hours get­ting that right. I reck­oned if the hands were in the right place only a few peo­ple would re­alise that I wasn’t do­ing it.”

Though he still looks a lit­tle del­i­cate, Dou­glas seems to re­gard Be­hind the Can­de­labra as his first step on a new jour­ney through life. There have been a few of those. It rather takes one aback to note that he has now been mar­ried to Zeta Jones for well over a decade. They have two chil­dren.

“I drifted away from act­ing. I have been mar­ried for 13 years, but I still con­sider my­self in a new mar­riage,” he says, rather quaintly. “I never an­tic­i­pated start­ing a new fam­ily and I have re­ally en­joyed rais­ing my kids. My pri­or­i­ties are com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

One can’t help but re­turn to that bout with can­cer. Such an or­deal must colour ev­ery sub­se­quent ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I lost sev­eral peo­ple I know re­cently. Larry Hag­man died re­cently from the same can­cer,” he says, glanc­ing at the vast car­pet of blue be­hind my shoul­der.

“Yeah, yeah. You smell the roses a bit more.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.