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ICONS: Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas was awarded the honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this week, celebrating his long and successful career, joining the likes of Clint Eastwood, Jodie Foster, Jane Fonda, and last year’s winner, Tom Cruise.

As part of the tribute, the festival will screen Amine Mestari’s previously unreleased documentary on Douglas, Michael Douglas, the Prodigal Son. “It’s always refreshing to be in Cannes, which has long provided a wonderful platform for daring filmmakers, artistic experimentation and excellence in storytelling,” said Douglas. “From my 1979 film The China Syndrome, which was my first here at Cannes, to my most recent 2013 premiere Behind the Candelabra, the festival has always reminded me that the magic of cinema lies not only in what we see on screen, but also in its ability to impact people around the world. After more than 50 years, it is a great honour for me to return to the Croisette to open the Festival and embrace the common global language of cinema.”

Douglas has a long history with the festival, having first appeared on the Croisette at the 32nd edition of the festival, where he premiered China Syndrome alongside director James Bridges, Jane Fonda, and Jack Lemmon. The film was one of the rare occasions when cinema preceded reality, with the 1979 release of a film about the fictional meltdown of a nuclear reactor, which some sceptics at the time thought was far-fetched. Twelve days later, exactly the same thing happened in reality at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. Thirteen years later, in 1992, Douglas returned with Sharon Stone to present Paul Verhoeven’s film Basic Instinct, which was screened in the competition programme. The film became one of the most iconic works of the 1990s. Although it’s hard to compete with Sharon Stone in that particular chair when she’s freeing her legs, Douglas also makes a memorable performance as police detective Nick Curran. The sexual tension between Douglas and Stone’s unmatched pairing is what made Basic Instinct a classic among erotic thrillers. A year later, Douglas was back in contention on the Croisette, arriving in 1993 with Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down. In it, he played the role of the everyman William Foster, a newly laid-off defence worker who leaves his overheated car in traffic and walks across Los Angeles to his daughter’s birthday party. Along the way, however, he encounters every imaginable urban horror, from street gangs to white supremacists, as he struggles, like Ulysses, to get to his daughter’s home. Douglas last appeared at Cannes just ten years ago, in 2013, in Steven Soderbergh’s biographical drama Behind the Candelabra.

Douglas also has an impressive filmography as a producer. His first production venture, Miloš Forman’s co-production with Saul Zaentz of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, received nine Oscar nominations and won the Best Picture award in 1975. Other films include The Romancing the Stone (1984) with Robert Zemeckis, John Woo’s action classic The Mask (1997), and Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), which won four Academy Awards.