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Michael Douglas aims to be a lovable jerk in 'And So It Goes'

Michael Douglas
Michael Douglas
Clarius Entertainment

In the romantic comedy “And So It Goes,” Michael Douglas plays Oren Little, a bitter, curmudgeonly real-estate agent who is widowed and making plans for his retirement after a long and successful career. Oren doesn’t seem to want family and friends in his life, so it’s not surprising that he has a prickly relationship with part-time lounge singer Leah Hartman (played by Diane Keaton), who is a tenant/neighbor in the fourplex where he lives. Oren’s life takes a drastic turn when his estranged son Luke (played by Scott Shepherd), who is a single dad, suddenly shows up to drop off his 9-year-old daughter Sarah (played by Sterling Jerins), and asks Oren to take care of her before Luke goes to prison on a felony drug charge.

Michael Douglas at the New York City press junket for "And So It Goes"
Carla Hay

Living with a granddaughter he has just met, Oren is a reluctant and sometimes insensitive guardian to the little girl, while Leah (who widowed and has no kids) quickly bonds with the child. Over time, as Oren gets to know Sarah and Leah better, he starts to see things in a different light. There is an undeniable attraction between Oren and Leah, but is it enough to overcome Oren’s plans to move to another state when he retires? Rob Reiner, who directed “And So It Goes,” has a supporting role in the movie as Leah’s pianist Artie, who has an unrequited crush on Leah. At the New York City press junket for “And So It Goes,” I sat down with Douglas for a roundtable interview that he did with me and other journalists. Here is what he said.

Oren Little is such a complicated character. Did you connect to him right away?

Right away. Right away. I grew up in Westport, Connecticut, so I knew that whole WASP martini scene, growing up, pink socks. That part of it, the exterior, I kind of knew pretty well. And [screenwriter] Mark Andrus, [who wrote] “As Good As It Gets,” everything, he’s the real deal. It’s a really good script, really good screenplay and he set up all the pieces.

You see [Oren Little] up in New England, Fairfield County all the time, ’07, ’08 came around, lost their fortune, all of a sudden he had this big house, and lost that, his wife got cancer, he took care of her for two years. Probably all he did was [be a] caretaker for two years until she died. Certainly a son with drug problems in federal prison. So yeah, it was in the wheelhouse.

What was your first impression when you read the “And So It Goes” script? Was there anything about it that made you think, ‘This is working, but I’ve got some ideas for that”?

No, he’s good. Mark Andrus is really good. I thought he had a nice arc. Love stories are love stories. This is certainly about an older couple. I thought the whole idea of the fourplex was a great way to introduce a bunch of characters together. At the same time, you’re not even quite sure if Diane’s character and I are going to happen because of both the adversity and the other characters. I liked that part.

But no, it was a really good script. Rob [Reiner’s] company was producing it. Rob wasn’t going to direct it at first. He was involved in another picture. And then the director that was going to be involved couldn’t get bonded. And then Rob’s picture didn’t work out so Rob came back and then Diane was there.

And I was like, “Wow,” because I’ve admired her for so long and wanted to do something with her. We talked about it. Some of these actors are really smart, and they just pick up the phones and say, “Let’s get together for coffee. Maybe we can find something.” I was never like that.

Diane said she came up with a back story for her Leah character. Do you think Oren was always a bitter and grouchy person, or do you think he changed into a bitter and grouchy person after the death of his wife?

Yeah, he was. Far be it from me to compare it to an Afghan war veteran coming back, but he just got killed. He just got clobbered. He wasn’t prepared, all of sudden, to lose everything financially, to lose his wife, his son failed.

So he, in seven, eight years, had really embittered himself. He was a serious drinker. Drank alone a lot and isolated himself. I like to think that from what you see at the end of the movie, that he rediscovered his soul and his heart that had been there.

Granted, [he] probably was really hard-working and may have not paid as much attention to his family, to his son as he should have. But no, I thought there was a decent person there.

I mean, he’s funny. Even in his snide darkness, the guy had a good sense of humor. I wouldn’t say he was religious. That was one note I had about him. He certainly was not religious.

How is it for you to often play characters who aren’t particularly nice?

Yeah, I do. I make kind of a practice out of that. I don’t even know why, but my entire career is contemporary films. Entire career! There’s no period movies — well, there’s one — but there’s no period movies, no special-effects movies. I just do character studies.

And so, some of them are going to bump into each other, but I love the challenge, with a good script. I love the challenge of playing not a very pleasant or attractive character that seduces an audience or wins an audience over by the end. I don’t know why. I somehow just like that challenge.

You and Diane have great chemistry in “And So It Goes,” but you and Sterling Jerins do too. What was it like working with her?

Well, a little scary, you know. Nothing worse than being upstaged. I mean, both Diane and I went, “Aw, Jesua. This kid’s good. This kid’s really good.” No, it was wonderful. I’m a producer also, so I really do [notice these things].

Diane and I were talking about the different ways we work and what you see with Diane is what you get, which is fabulous. I mean, she talks about, “I’m not an actress. I’m just a person.” She’s totally impulsive.

Every scene would start with her running on the set with earplugs listening to music, not hearing anything. And me, I’ve already thought about what I’m going to do and all of that. “Camera rolling? Ready? Action!”

And she pulls out the earphones and here you go. And actually. it was great because I’m not used to it, so it’s unpredictable. It makes you lean in as to what is she going to do, where is she going to go and that was great.

But getting back to Sterling, as producer, I look at the whole movie. I know my part, I try to do it, but you’re just so blessed when you’ve got actors that are hitting it out of the park. And this little girl in that opening scene when she says goodbye to her dad, she crying. And Rob is going, “We’ve got to come in closer and closer.”

She could cry on cue 15 times in a row. It’s great and it’s something I actually learned from Paul Newman. Paul Newman always made a big effort of surrounding himself with as good of actors as he could. He wasn’t worried about himself because the synergy is bringing all of these pieces together.

She also melts Oren’s heart in a way that makes the audience fall in love with him.

Yeah, she does. She wins him over. A lot better than the dog!

Was there more material with the dog?

That dog was the biggest pain in the ass. It was the only thing in the whole movie I was upset about. I said, “Who auditioned this dog? This f*cking dog can’t do anything. Anything!”

Rottweilers are very hard to train.

Yeah, they are. It was a bad call. The dog was the only miscast, bad thing and we worked around it.

The dog wasn’t even cute!

No! I’m sure Rob wouldn’t tell you, but that was left up to somebody who didn’t know what they were doing. This dog could not do anything. I mean, normally these dogs, they read the script, they know the certain things they’ve got to do.

One of the things Oren would probably say about himself and his bluntness is, “I’m just being honest.” Looking at this character, what do you think he was dishonest about in his life that he had to come to terms with eventually?

Whoa. That’s a heavy-duty question. Probably his selfishness, his self-involvement. The act of giving to his wife when she was sick drained him. and the quid pro quo is the way he would look at it in terms of how much more I’ve given than I’ve received, so I think he was a pretty self-involved guy. His selfishness was something he never really ‘fessed up to.

What are your memories of the first time you met Diane Keaton?

Really, on the picture. We, in passing as we said to each other, were sort of blasé in seeing each other at a couple of parties and a couple of awards events, but never had a conversation. Just brief, in passing.

But, to me, I love Rob, and I had the opportunity to have worked with him before on “The American President,” but Diane is such a joy. It was just such a treat, and I feel really blessed to have that in my career now too. I’ve worked with a lot of different ladies, and she was special.

What can you say about working on “Ant-Man”?

[We start filming] in August. We’re going to do “Ant-Man” in Atlanta.

How does it feel to finally be in a big-budget superhero movie?

I'm so excited. It's a Marvel Comics movie. They actually pay you really well. There's going to be a sequel. It's got some humor to it and some interesting effects, to say the least.

Are you going to Comic-Con this year?

I’m going to Comic-Con. I’m even dragging my son [Dylan]. I’m taking him out of camp … But we've be back here. I’ve got to give a cancer speech on Sunday morning [July 27, 2014. Marvel’s [Comic-Con panel] is ... on Saturday night [July 26, 2014], so we’re going to fly all night back and drop him at camp like at 5:30, 6 in the morning in the Adirondacks, and come down and talk to 2,000 head and neck surgeons.” [Douglas survived tongue cancer in 2010.]

Why do you think it’s taken so long for you to do a big-budget action movie that has a lot of special effects?

I don’t know why. They never asked me. The same reason why I’ve just done contemporary stories. [I’ve done about] 50 movies now. Somebody’s going to have to write something when I’m dead, some analysis about it, but I don’t know.

What can you say about writer/director Edgar Wright leaving the “Ant-Man” movie? Would you have still wanted to do the movie if he hadn’t been involved in the project?

Yeah, he’s a wonderful talent. It was very disappointing, yeah. It was a big disappointment and more so for him because he had a lot of years invested, and he was really the one initially who got them to even consider it with the screenplay that he wrote.

I’m not the producer on it. I’m an actor for hire. And Marvel certainly has a pretty amazing track record, rightly or wrongly, so I think it just was that kind of combination where although they like the idea of the individual and somebody with Edgar’s individual spirit and everything, maybe just collided with an operation. I think they’re all on relatively decent terms.

For more info: "And So It Goes" website