Michael Douglas on The Reach: ‘It’s more fun to be b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bad!’

Michael Douglas

There’s nowhere to hide in the desert – even for the west coast Gordon Gekko, says the veteran actor

You star in The Reach. It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller with you as an evil businessman hunting Jeremy Irvine’s trail guide across the Mojave desert. Where does the story come from?

It comes from a book called Deathwatch by Robb White (1). He was a young-adult novelist. I wanted to do something for a younger audience. So here was an opportunity for me to be involved with this co-star that might attract a young adult audience.

The book was written in 1972. Was it tricky to adapt for 2014?

The desert doesn’t change. The hardest thing translating it as a thriller was to visualise it in hot sunlight. There’s not a lot of things to hide behind in the desert (2). You worry, well, can we sustain suspense for an hour and a half?

Your character’s a bad guy who wants to export American jobs to China. Is the movie trying to shore up traditional American values?

Yeah. There’s certainly that message going on. Patriotism isn’t the first thing that jumps out at you from my character. This was old-fashioned good guys and bad guys. I looked at Jeremy as a 19-year-old John Wayne. He represents the best of what America has to offer. I looked to the worst it has to offer.

Is it more fun to play the villain?

Oh yeah. Much more fun. You get to be bad. B-b-b-b-b-b-bad to the bone! (3) My father was the sensitive young man for seven pictures until The Champion (4). He played a prick and was nominated for an Oscar. Most everyone’s careers, their biggest successes have been through playing villains. Nice guys are more and more difficult to play in terms of getting the edges. I enjoy the challenge of winning an audience over. The audience hate you at the beginning of the picture, and by the end they’re going, “Welllllll. He’s not so bad.”

You’ve described this role as “the Gordon Gekko of the west coast”. Are all bad guys the same? Is the nature of evil universal?

No. There are subtleties. In this film, it’s more polarised (5), in the format of the original book. Young adults have good guys and bad guys, and it looks like the world’s come back around that way again: there are good guys and there are bad guys now.

Irvine spends most of the film topless. He went from playing a malnourished prisoner of war in The Railway Man to this. He was asked to put on 20lb of muscle …

We worked him over pretty good about it: “You’ve gotta be a hunk!”

Is there a double standard here? He had to buff up but it might be seen as sexist for a women to be asked to slim down. Should actors have to be eye candy?

It’s not acceptable for women to be eye candy?! If your role in that picture is to be eye candy and the director looks at you and says: “You’re going to be in your bra and panties and you’re looking pretty soft around the middle.” Absolutely you’d tell that person to kick ass. This guy is search and rescue. He’s a mountaineer. He’s in physical shape. Ignoring the fact that he happens to be a decent-looking guy, it would be wrong for him not to be in shape. If you wanted Seth Rogen running through the desert (6), that’s a different movie.

Foot notes

(1) White also colonised a tiny Atlantic island with his wife. They protected it from typhoons, an amorous Nazi ship captain and White’s mother-in law. He was a doer.

(2) Things Irvine hides behind in the desert: outcrops, hillocks, dunes, a delectably coiffed fringe.

(3) Douglas is rocking a villainous Van Dyke beard. It looks wicked.

(4) 1949 drama starring Kirk Douglas as a devious boxer.

(5) Key line for Douglas’s character: “Ah ha ha ha ha! Why won’t you die?!!

(6) We do. Kickstarter?

The Reach premiered at the Toronto film festival and is scheduled for release in 2015.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Henry Barnes, for The Guardian on Thursday 18th September 2014 15.20 Europe/London

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