You’d think that with two Oscars and a half-century of film credits, there’s little Michael Douglas doesn’t know about acting. He found out while working with Alan Arkin on Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method” that he still has plenty to learn.
Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, an actor who has turned a short run of success into being a top Hollywood acting coach. He and his longtime friend and agent, Norman (Arkin), tackle life’s challenges while trying to survive in Los Angeles, a city that venerates youth and beauty. Nancy Travis plays Lisa, a 50-something recent divorcee who joins Sandy’s acting class and not only discovers her hidden talent but starts a connection that takes them both by surprise.
Douglas and Arkin have been working in TV and film for decades but had not worked together before. Douglas said he has been a fan of Arkin’s work since seeing the 1966 comedy “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!”
“I’d forgotten about his Second City background in comedy and how good he was,” Douglas said. “I learned a lot from him, just about comedic timing and sense, and he’s got certain philosophies that were really, really helpful. We talked a fair much about politics, and he’s just a joy.
“I think we both enjoyed the opportunity doing eight episodes and the ensemble feel of getting together.”
The rule for Douglas over the years has been to pick projects that resonate with him.
He said he could relate to what Sandy Kominsky is going through. The first script reminded him of Wynn Handman, a teacher he worked with years ago. The Kominsky character reflects Handman’s influence as a nurturer who gave actors confidence.
The man who brought Douglas and Arkin together is Chuck Lorre, whose producing and writing credits include “Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mike and Molly.” The inspiration for “The Kominsky Method” came out of Lorre’s feelings about growing older in Hollywood. He could cry or laugh — so he opted to make a comedy.
“I got to watch two masters at their craft up-close every day and watch and learn,” Lorre said. “What a gift that is.”
Douglas has not done much comedy, but he felt comfortable with “Kominsky” because Lorre’s stories incorporate tragic elements as well.
At 74, Douglas continues to land acting roles, including the recent “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
But he has experienced the kind of changes that inspired this series. Frustrated with the lack of attention given to some of his recent movies, including “Solitary Man” and “King of California,” he liked the idea of returning to television, where he got his first big career boost starring in the 1972-77 series “The Streets of San Francisco.”
“Here’s a chance to play some comedy, which I don’t normally get a chance to do that often, in a format like Netflix — streaming, where there are no commercials and it’s like a 25- to 35-minute movie. No time limits, language, and all of that,” Douglas said.
“Between doing green-screen movies [such as ‘Ant-Man’], which I’d never done in my life before, having a chance to do a series like this with Chuck and Alan has been really a treat.”