Fresh off of winning an Emmy for embodying Liberace — the tanned, youth obsessed Vegas entertainer — for Steven Soderbergh in the hit HBO biopic “Behind the Candelabra,” Oscar-winner Michael Douglas is back at it, playing another bronzed man with a penchant for lovers half his age in the ensemble comedy “Last Vegas,” which opens next Friday.
In “Last Vegas,” directed by “National Treasure” helmer John Turtletaub, Douglas plays smarmy playboy Billy, who after proposing to his much younger girlfriend at his law partner’s funeral, invites his three best buds (played fellow Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Robert De Niro) to Vegas for the ultimate bachelor party. Once there, Billy is surprised to find himself attracted to a woman around his own age, lounge performer Diana (Mary Steenburgen), causing the lothario to reconsider his recent engagement.
With “Last Vegas” opening wide next Friday courtesy of CBS Films, Indiewire sat down with Douglas and Turtletaub to discuss the comedy.
Given that you shot this following “Behind the Candelabra” Michael, did you draw any parallels between Billy and Liberace?
MD: No (laughs). Ironically enough, this afternoon I’m going to see the movie I did with Rob Reiner and Diane Keaton called “And So It Goes,” and it’s about a guy who falls for a lounge singer. I said to him, “Rob, you know I just did a picture…”
JT: It’s only a problem if this is a hit, which means it won’t be a problem.
The press notes list that four Academy Award winners star in the film, but with Mary on board it’s five.
JT: They made a mistake.
Was it a requirement that all the principals have Oscars?
JT: Literally no, but in some ways yes. This movie is an opportunity to really bring together really legendary actors because you’ve got to get guys that have that experience and you want great actors that can play both the comedy and the drama. You always want to get the best cast possible; it’s such an important thing. This movie had that opportunity, and by some miracle it all went exactly the way we hoped it would.
MD: But Mary was really good luck. Mary has this incredible joy and she’s a unique lounge singer who’s happy. She’s feisty and all that but there’s no anger in her.
Scheduling wise bringing together this cast must have been a nightmare.
JT: It came together because Michael said yes, I think. With Michael on board it made it very easy and inviting for the other actors.
MD: John, you’re underestimating yourself.
JT: I think history is not going to say: This movie happened because Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro were dying to finally work with John Turtletaub.
MD: I just wanted to work with people that are nice and talented. There’s no reason to have to work with people that are any less than that.
JT: It was a bit of a love fest. In terms of ego and you need to be a big shot — everyone is so over that. That’s long behind everybody in terms of the stuff they care about.
MD: When you have four of us together, you’re not going to be the last one there. So everybody was on their good behavior. The other thing was that there was no intimidation. I mean I’m sure certain actors might be overwhelmed by the four of us, but I know the four of us reached out. The idea is you want everybody to be comfortable, you want everybody to be good.
JT: And they actually did that with actors in the secondary and smaller parts as well. Especially casting some of these people out of Atlanta who aren’t in a lot of Hollywood movies. They stepped right up and then felt welcomed, they were excited and thrilled and nervous and all that, but you have a lot of actors in smaller parts who felt so invited and welcomed because of what they were seeing from the other guys.
When directing a cast of this nature, John, do you have to do any directing performance-wise or do you just kind of sit back and let them do their thing?
JT: What you want make sure you’re doing is directing, not teaching acting. Some directors I think get confused as to what the difference between the two is. Some actors want a lot of direction. Tell me what to do tell me what I’m thinking what am I feeling here, what’s this scene about, all that. Others show up completely ready, and the first thing you’ve got to do as a director is figure out each actor’s needs or what each one wants. The next thing you do is you direct. You guide it according to what the movie needs at that time. But you don’t want to be doing the acting for the actor. That takes the joy out of it it, takes the fun out of it, the love out of it.
MD: You inherently have a good sense of humor. You’re funny, so you direct by telling a joke.
JT: You know tone is the most important thing in a movie in my opinion. Audiences pick up on tone and they fall in love for two hours with the tone of a movie. We’re seeing that with “Gravity” right now, it’s so clear what the tone is and you get lost in that. And a movie needs a tone and a set needs a tone. They can really overlap and I always feel it’s important to kind of create the tone and then the actors play right into that. You’re now creating a vibe on the set that you’re going to see eight months later when you see the movie.
Speaking of tone, the film takes a light poking at you Michael —
MD: At my hazelnut hair?
No not that specifically, but at your public image in general. Did any part of you go, “This could run the risk of self-parody?” Or were you OK with that?
MD: No I thought it was good casting. I liked those aspects of the guy. I loved how he proposed at the funeral of his law partner.
JT: I actually think it helps the movie enormously in that way. The speech that Michael gives at the end of the film about fear of aging and regrets for years gone by, I think feeds into everything you were just talking about beautifully. You have a guy who’s played such powerful, sexual, youthful roles. For that actor, more than any of the other guys in the film to be saying, “I’m worried about getting old” — that’s ‘poignancy.