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Breaking the Mold

Actor and producer Michael Douglas defies leading-man expectations with bold creative choices.
Alysse Minkoff
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 6)

Walking to the beach at the Ariel Sands Beach Club, where his cousin Seward Johnson's sculpture of Ariel rises out of the waves, a soft-spoken, contemplative Douglas emerges as he explains why he has chosen to invest in the resort.

"I used to come to Bermuda when I was growing up, and I have a whole book full of memories and characters and family members down here. Ariel Sands was this cottage colony owned by the family. All the family were shareholders and it just chugged along that way since the 1950s. It paid dividends, and I took it for granted.

"Then in the late '70s, the world changed. The Caribbean got more popular and the airfares got cheaper and Bermuda changed dramatically. It became a bit of a burden for the family and as a result they hadn't really done the work they needed to do to this place. They gave me a call and I looked at it, and basically what I saw was an opportunity. At the same time I saw a lot of family members who were lost last year; and this relatively large family was going through the throes of generational changes. So it was a combination of elements, really.

"Given my selfish side, I see this place as something that could really be kind of fun. It is the right size--the kind of place I could bring friends and hang out. On the other side, I saw an opportunity where myself and my other two cousins, Seward Johnson and Elaine Wald, could give something back to the family and at the same time keep the family together. So these board meetings, which for the last five or 10 years have been sort of a pain in the ass, could now be a kind of family reunion. With an insurgence of money we could fix the place up, bring a little spin to it and have some fun. So it is something that has revived the family and brings us all a little closer. And of course, you can get Cuban cigars in Bermuda, and I've got a nice cigar bar at Ariel Sands."

One of the pitfalls of celebrity is an insatiable and intrusive tabloid press. Recently, Douglas's private life has been its target. "I try to protect myself a little bit from a certain amount of public scrutiny. And when you protect yourself, you pay a price, particularly from the tabloids. We have a phenomenon today that did not exist in my father's generation. They had polite gossip columnists, nothing like what goes on now. There was a civilized quality rather than this 'take no prisoners' attitude, and I'm disturbed by it. I certainly support the First Amendment, but when you look in our trade papers the largest classified ad is an ad that says, 'We pay for information.' Tabloids will pay cash to anybody who has any piece of information about a celebrity. And I find that incredibly disturbing. Now mind you, I might be more likely to buy it if they want to split half the money with me so that I could give it to my favorite charity, but they don't want to do that. They want to follow me around, stalk me with 600-millimeter lenses. They even have people who will go through my trash, just so they can sell a piece of toilet paper at the checkout lines once a week to prove, once again, that I have foibles just like everybody else."

Another drawback of fame is that it insulates a celebrity from making new friends. Most of Michael Douglas's friends have been close to him for more than 30 years, which speaks well of him; but he grapples with wanting to forge some new alliances.

"It's hard in my business to find new friends because you're always suspect of what their [motives] might be. And while I don't like that about myself, I tend to get a little more cautious about making new friends. The people that you knew either when you were starting out in your career or in college didn't take your success as part of the equation of your friendship. They are the ones you love and trust. I would like to be more open about meeting people, but it's hard."

Douglas shares a passion for cigars with his friend and collaborator, actor and director Danny DeVito, who proudly credits himself with Douglas's initiation into cigars.

"Michael and I have pretty much known each other since 1963 or 1964, so we're really what you'd call old friends," DeVito says. "And I think just about everything that I have done in my life, Michael has imitated. One of the most incredible things that he has ever done is when he started smoking cigars. He may not admit it, but I introduced Michael to smoking cigars," he says. "And Michael, you know, travels in really good circles where he can get all the good cigars. So whenever I need a good stogie, I know where to go."

DeVito takes the opportunity to throw in a little reminder. "I want Michael to know how much I rely on him to have good, fresh stogies whenever I arrive at his house."

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