Michael Douglas on His Early Career Struggles and Overcoming Stage Fright

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Michael Douglad in the Kominsky Method

“I just don’t have any patience for people who are so self-centered, either in front of the camera or behind the camera, they make it difficult for other people.” – Michael Douglas

Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas continues to receive accolades for his performances, including earning two Emmy nominations for his final season of the Netflix series The Kominsky Method (one for his lead actor performance in a comedy series and another for producing the series). In an interview with Vanity Fair, Douglas spoke about what he learned about acting throughout the career and how his first starring television role, Streets of San Francisco, forced him to overcome his stage fright.

Douglas admits that starring on The Kominsky Method made him nervous, especially because he felt that his co-star on the first two seasons, Alan Arkin, was such a natural. He explains, “We’ve been doing this for so long—actors create a persona, whether it’s really them or some variation of them. That’s what they do. I like characters, I hide behind characters. This was more of an effort to be truthful to yourself and to trust it. And it’s scary, it was really scary. I was really elated at how it turned out because I had doubts. I thought I was doing nothing. I mean, I’ve worked with Jack Nicholson earlier and other people—they do nothing. It’s internalized and they just react. They listen and they react.”

In fact, Douglas confesses that he struggled with stage fright early in his career. He continues, “I had stage fright when I first started this business, when I was on stage and everything moved. Early on with cameras, it looked like they were extra machines in doctors’ offices or something. So it’s taken me a long, long time to be comfortable in the moment, in front of a camera. And to take your time rather than feeling guilty, like I was wasting somebody’s time. On set, I’m notoriously picking up the pace.”

As he has built a successful career, Douglas became aware that it was more important to work with brilliant but level-headed actors than with egos. He explains his philosophy as:

“Look, this is an extraordinary industry that compensates you very well and entertains people. I just don’t have any patience for people who are so self-centered, either in front of the camera or behind the camera, they make it difficult for other people. I picked this up from Paul Newman. I remember, he always cast high. He was never worried or afraid of being upstaged. He wanted the best actors possible in whatever roles. And I’ve always adhered to that philosophy, only adding to the fact that you can be good, but you don’t have to be a d—head. And as you get older, you have to make more choices. When you’re younger, you sort of let life kind of flow and let it happen to you and enjoy it. But as you get older, you’ve got to make how you want to choose to spend your time.”

Prior to The Kominsky Method, Douglas’ last regular television series role was on the first four seasons of the 1972-1977 crime drama series The Streets of San Francisco. Douglas says he considers the experience on the show as one of the most helpful in his career. He explains, “Streets of San Francisco is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It’s hard for me to think about it now, but we did 26 hours a year, a season, on location. We worked six days a week, and ended up doing 104 [episodes]. Whatever stage fright I had, whatever fear of the camera I had, I was able to learn just simply by being able to stand up there day after day after day. I kept my eyes and ears open and learned to make a [weekly]52-minute movie. You couldn’t have a tougher schedule than that.”

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