Michael Douglas looks at life as a "Solitary Man"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In his long career, Michael Douglas has excelled at playing ethically-challenged men such as the cheating husband in “Fatal Attraction” and financier Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street,” which won him an Oscar.

After a difficult 2009 dealing with his son’s arrest and imprisonment on drug charges, which Douglas called “very sad, very upsetting,” the actor is back doing one thing he does best, playing a rogue in low-budget “Solitary Man.” It debuted in major U.S. cities last week and hits theaters across the United States this Friday.

Douglas took some time to talk with Reuters about “Solitary Man,” and reprising the role of Gekko in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” which premiered at this month’s Cannes film festival and lands in U.S. theaters in September.

Q: What sort of film is “Solitary Man”?

A: It’s a tragic-comedy, very unpredictable and you don’t know if it’s going to be poignant or whether you’ll just laugh, and all that really appealed to me. It’s basically about this guy’s mid-life crisis and how he deals with it. Plus, we have a great cast. Susan Sarandon plays my ex-wife, Mary-Louise Parker plays my girlfriend, Jenna Fischer is my daughter, and we have this wonderful new actress, Imogen Poots, as my girlfriend’s daughter. I think you’re going to be hearing a lot about her.

Q: You play a car dealer who screws up both his business and marriage. Much in common?

A: Well, he’s about my age, he’s from New York where we live, and he’s thinking about his mortality, so yeah. (Laughs) Beyond that, I’m happily married -- and I’m not in the car business, although that remains to be seen.

Q: Any surprises working with Susan Sarandon?

A: I’ve always wanted to work with her and every take she did was different. And she’s still as attractive as ever.

Honoree Michael Douglas arrives for The Film Society of Lincoln Center's 2010 Chaplin Award Gala honoring him in New York City May 24, 2010. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Q: You play another character with ethical problems in the upcoming “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” sequel. Was it easy slipping back into the role of Gordon Gekko?

A: It was interesting because he didn’t have any of the trappings of the first film. It’s set about six years after he’s gotten out of jail and he can’t trade (stocks), so it’s a different character and he’s a lot more vulnerable and open. So I didn’t have the security of just sliding into exactly the same character.

Q: Given the recent financial meltdown, the timing for the sequel seems perfect.

A: Yes and no. I went through the same thing with “The China Syndrome.” Three Mile Island happened right after the opening, and everyone thought, that’s so great for the movie. But what happens is that people think they’ve already seen the movie on TV, with the news and so on. So I’m actually relieved, what with all the Goldman Sachs stuff and the rest that it’s not coming out until later. I’m hoping things will simmer down a bit by September.

Q: People love Gekko. What makes him so appealing?

A: I don’t know. Maybe it’s the rascal in me. I think you have to savor and enjoy playing villains, and the beauty about him is that he had no remorse. He was pure. And saying that 22 years later, with all the crises we’ve had, I think back to all those business school guys who used to come up to me, drunk out of their minds, going, ‘You’re the man Gordon! Greed is good!’ Now they’re probably running a lot of the banks and investment companies, and that sort of mentality may still exist.

Q: I hear you’re next playing Liberace. That’s quite a change of pace.

A: I thought it’d be a lot of fun. Steven Soderbergh told me about it ages ago, and when I saw the script it was really good, so I’m excited.

Q: Did you ever meet Liberace?

A: Once, briefly in Palm Springs at my father’s house. What a character, and he seemed very comfortable in his own skin.

Q: Will it be easy channeling your own, inner flamboyant Liberace?

A: (laughs) I honestly don’t know yet. I’m mulling it all around. And I’m taking piano lessons, so you’ll see me tinkling the ivory a bit. But it’s going to take some serious work.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte