Over the course of his 50-year career in show business, Michael Douglas has capably stepped out of the long shadow cast by his father, Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas. But early in the game, he admits that it wasn’t easy: He even psyched himself out during his first performance.
“When I finally started acting in college, I was a junior,” Douglas told Vulture at the premiere of his new Netflix series The Kominsky Method. “I had declared a major as theater, and I think that my first part was a messenger speech in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” And as would happen, I had to come down the aisle and deliver my speech right at the row my father was at.”
“And I was so nervous,” he recalled of his first public line of dialogue. “‘My Lord …’ and I had to take a deep breath and …” At that point, Douglas blurted out the remainder of his Midsummer’s Night line in one frenzied barrage of incomprehensible words. “And I ran back up the aisle! And everybody said, ‘What did he say? What did he say?’”
After the play, he recalls, “Dad came back and said, ‘Son, you were terrible. You were absolutely terrible.’ He was so relieved that he wouldn’t have to deal with me as an actor. And bless him, as busy as he was, he came to almost every production that I did over those years.”
Along the way, Michael, who plays a legendary acting teacher in The Kominsky Method, found the instruction he needed to find his own path as a performer. “I had a wonderful teacher in New York named Wynn Handman, who is still teaching. He’s 92 years old — actually, my son Cameron was working with him — and he was known for dealing with younger actors who were struggling with their confidence, which I was at the time,” he said. “And I had a couple of scenes, and I remember I totally lost myself. It was actually a comedic scene, and the joy of getting laughs and totally being unselfconscious of what you’re doing is the first step of really true, true acting.”
Eventually, Douglas found a stage role that he was able to excel in, and even his old man agreed that he was impressed. “He came and he said, ‘You’re good. You’re really good. Persevere. It’s not just out of pure talent. Sometimes you’ve just got to slog away.’”