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Michael Douglas rediscovers spark with ‘Franklin’ role

At age 79, Michael Douglas still has that glint — a mischievous smile that says he enjoys nothing more than egging people on.

Ask him why he wanted to play one of the Founding Fathers in the new Apple TV+ series “Franklin,” and he deadpans, “I’ve never done period, genre work, so I wanted to see how I looked in tights.”

Son of legendary actor Kirk Douglas and an icon himself with over 50 years in show business, Douglas says that a little humor is always welcome.

“To see the absurdity of any situation ultimately allows you to deal with it, or if it’s a problem you’re facing, a little humor will help you solve it,” he says.

At this point, Douglas has nothing left to prove after appearing in more than 50 films, including his Oscar-winning role in “Wall Street” and other classics such as “Fatal Attraction,” “Wall Street,” “Traffic” and “The American President,” and producing nearly 20, including Academy Award winner “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

But he felt some electricity with “Franklin,” a biographical drama focusing on the eight years that Benjamin Franklin spent in France, where he petitioned for aid and tried to convince the country to underwrite American democracy.

“I still love the danger that comes with acting,” Douglas says. “Playing Franklin was one of those roles where I was flying without a net. His commitment to America was emotionally moving and striking. And it gave me a whole new appreciation of what democracy is — and how fragile it can be.”

Douglas splits his time between New York and California. He has three grown kids: Cameron, from his first marriage, and Dylan and Carys with fellow actor Catherine Zeta-Jones, his wife of 23 years.

His good life tips:

Try something new — or old

“When they came to me, I said, ‘Ben Franklin?’ I pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and said, ‘I don’t know.’ ” After 2½ hours of makeup each day, he felt transformed. “Seriously, I’m at a point in my career where I just want to try different things,” says Douglas, who admits he’s a bit of a history buff. “I loved the themes. Franklin was a diplomat who says, ‘Diplomacy must never be a siege, but a seduction.’ … I also learned doing my research that there was a darker side to Ben Franklin. He could snap. Let’s just say I would have never wanted to be married to Franklin! … He reminded me a bit of my father — this underlying strength, energy and even a bit of darkness.”

It’s never too late

“Franklin was 70 when America declared its independence. He had a certain charm to him, but no diplomatic training when he went to France,” Douglas shares. “He was a rock star who could get things done. For a guy representing democracy to go over to a country that was a monarchy, you needed a lot of guile — and he had that life experience that gives you that guile.”

Listen to your father

Douglas says his father, Kirk, who died in 2020 at the age of 103, gave him the best life advice. “He is out of the school where you give it your best shot, do it to your utmost ability and with your full ability, and then you say ‘f—- it’ and move on. That way, you know there was nothing more that you could have done,” Douglas says of the screen titan who starred in classics such as “Spartacus,” “Lust for Life” and “The Bad and the Beautiful.” “My dad also gave me my stamina and tenacity. … He was just the toughest guy.”

Push yourself

Douglas almost didn’t become an actor, but he was pushed to declare a major during his third year of college. “I thought, ‘I have lot of acting in my family and it might be the best choice,’ ” he recalls. “But it wasn’t easy at first. I suffered from terrible stage fright. The joke was there was a garbage can by the side of the stage at my college. I used it quite frequently while getting over my nerves, but I did push on.”

Count your blessings

In 2010, Douglas was diagnosed with Stage 4 oral cancer. What followed was chemo and radiation that saved his life. How did cancer change him? “You can’t have too many complaints after cancer,” he says. “You just wake up each day and say, ‘I’m alive.’ Once you come out of something like this, you do have a resurgence of energy, and you take advantage of what you want to do with your life. Everything is gravy.”

Let love in

Douglas met Zeta-Jones in 1998 at the Deauville American Film Festival in Franco and told her, “You know, I’m going to be the father of your children.” They were engaged by 1999 and married the following November. What makes it work? “I’m crazy about her,” he says. “Sure, every couple goes through difficult times, but that made us stronger than ever. It’s true love and a true partnership.”

Never lose your sense of humor

To look like the younger version of himself in “Avengers: Endgame,” Douglas’ face underwent the CGI treatment. “Now that I know we have the technology for me to look that young, I’m going to set up another ‘Romancing the Stone,’ ” he jokes.

Have the last word on aging

“Instead of looking around wondering where the time went, make sure to make the most of this time. … This has been a great time for me — I handle these years with joy and a giggle.”

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