Michael Douglas's Second Chance
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Credit: Valery Hache / AFP / Getty Images
Oliver Stone was notoriously hard on Douglas during filming of the original 'Wall Street,' sarcastically asking between takes if he had ever acted before. "It was very adversarial," remembers Douglas. "He was not afraid to go after me if he thought that would ratchet up the nastiness in Gordon. That's what he wanted."

That experience made a 'Wall Street' sequel seem highly unlikely; if anything Douglas has become more of a control freak through his producing, and Stone remains, well, Stone. But this time Douglas held the cards.

"I was onboard before he was," says Douglas. "It went to the studio, and he had just had a rough couple of years. They said, 'Who should direct this picture?' I said, 'You have to go back to Oliver. This is his.' "

One battle that carried over from 'Wall Street' to 'Wall Street 2' was Douglas's reluctance to deliver some of Gekko's more aphoristic lines, including, "If you need a friend, get a dog," "Lunch is for wimps," and the classic "Greed is good." Wall Street 2, out September 24, has an equal number of koans, such as, "A fisherman always recognizes another fisherman." "You read them on the page and you think, There's no way I can get away with saying this," says Douglas with a chuckle. "But that's Oliver's way."

In the new film, Gekko gives a speech about the state of American finance that clocks in at about the same length as the "greed is good" monologue in the original. "We take a buck and we shoot it full of steroids and we call it 'leverage,' " an ostensibly remorseful Gekko tells a lecture-hall crowd. "I call it 'steroid banking.' " Douglas memorized the eight-minute bit, but Stone kept adding and subtracting on the set.

"I could have strangled him," says Douglas. "I told him, 'You can't change the speech; I gotta memorize this fucking thing.' "

'Wall Street 2' (the actual title is 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps') is about life after the fall – the fall of the markets and the fall of Gordon Gekko. Following a 20-year prison stint, Gekko isn't exactly penniless, but he's no longer a player, either on the street or with his own family. It's a mistake to confuse the man with the role, but sometimes it is impossible to avoid. The 2010 version of Douglas had lost a part of his family, too: His brother Eric died of a drug overdose in 2004, and Cameron was about to be convicted of dealing meth. Douglas's personal circumstances give his reimagining of Gekko an emotional resonance rarely seen in a sequel.

"Michael Douglas in 1987 had a very slick appearance," Stone recently told 'Malibu Magazine.' "And his performance, I thought, was wonderfully shallow in a good way. And I think the [modern] Michael Douglas has suffered in his life. He's gone through 22 more years of life, which weathers any man. And we play that. We didn't want to do the old Gekko. So I think we got to another place with Gekko. Frankly, I think Michael's improved as an actor. He's more mature, and you see more in his face, his eyes."

In 'Wall Street 2,' there's a scene where Gordon Gekko tries to win back his estranged daughter at a black-tie gala. She resists and brings up the overdose death of her brother, blaming it on her dad. What you see next is a man crumbling. Douglas/Gekko begins to weep. "He was my only son. I tried everything. I put him in the 12-step deal. . . . I even tried paying off one scumbag dealer not to sell anymore to my boy."

At that precise moment, you're not seeing Gekko; you're seeing Douglas mourning Cameron. When I ask him about the scene, he simply says, "I had done most of my crying and gut-wrenching long before and was much more into a legal mode by then."

"The thing about Michael is he's not the type of person who talks about this stuff," says Danny DeVito, his oldest friend. "He keeps it to himself. Then he lets it come out in his work, and it's very powerful."

Not that he doesn't ever get emotional offscreen. "Michael's quick to tears," says Pat Riley. "He's one of what I call the juicy men. He starts talking about someone he cares about, someone who means a lot to him, and the tears come."

Douglas's disclaimer that he wasn't a wreck during the 'Wall Street 2' shoot also doesn't quite jibe with what others remember. Co-star Shia LaBeouf told a German magazine last spring that the shoot was difficult for Douglas, saying, "I met a broken man, not the star Michael Douglas. The man was in pain, trapped in an incredibly deep crisis. It was unbelievably disturbing."

This didn't endear LaBeouf to Douglas. Michael tapped back in interviews, saying he and Stone were initially unsure whether LaBeouf had the "chops" for his role as young trader Jacob Moore, the new Bud Fox. Douglas told me, "Shia had tears in his eyes about going back and doing another 'Transformers.' " It was hard to tell if he was needling or sympathizing.

"You don't mess with Michael," says Kathleen Turner. "The Douglas family motto is 'The best revenge is revenge.' "