07/06/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT
In his 30s, before the success of Fatal Attraction
and Wall Street
, Douglas felt he "was still struggling to establish myself as a leading man and step out of the shadow of my father," movie legend Kirk Douglas.
With wife Catherine Zeta-Jones
by his side, Douglas, 64, was awarded the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award at a star-studded gala set to air July 19 on the TV Land network.
GROWING UP HOLLYWOOD ROYALTY "My father has done 92 movies, and I've done 40. In those days, they were doing four or five pictures a year, working all the time." Still, Kirk (left, with a 4-year-old Michael) made time for his sons even after he and their mother, actress Diana Dill, divorced. "He felt guilty about the divorce. Sometimes he tried maybe too hard to make up for it." Above, Michael joined his dad on the set of Cast a Giant Shadow
, which was shot in Israel and Italy. "I was working as a gofer, but I ended up driving a jeep in the film—and meeting a Yemenite gal. It was a very educational summer."
Douglas landed a hit TV series, The Streets of San Francisco
. "This is my surrogate father, Karl Malden. I love this man with all my heart. He had an incredible work ethic. This is where I established mine. We'd work a six-day week with no breaks. When I left to do Cuckoo's Nest
, they all thought I was nuts. But Karl said, 'Go for it.'"
Douglas (on-set with his brother Joel and Jack Nicholson) produced One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
. "We had to cajole Jack to come to the Oscars because he had lost four times and couldn't go through the rejection. Then we got Best Screenplay, Director, Actor, Actress and Best Picture."
director Oliver Stone pushed Douglas's buttons to egg on his performance as corporate raider Gordon Gekko. "Early on, he came into my trailer and said, 'You doing drugs?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Because you don't look like you've ever acted in your life.'" Douglas won an Oscar—and the two are now planning a sequel.
Director Rob Reiner pinch-hit for Annette Bening as they prepped for the climactic dance scene in The American President
. "We were having fun," says Douglas. "We were waiting for Annette for a second. Or maybe he was talking about camera angles."
On the set of Fatal Attraction
with Glenn Close and director Adrian Lyne. "We're rehearsing one of the sex scenes here," says Douglas, who played a cheating spouse. "The morally ambivalent roles have been the fun ones to play. You're flying without a net."
He showed off his comedy chops with a small role alongside Matthew McConaughey
in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
. "I had a lovely time. I got to drop in for a little bit, get a couple of laughs, which I do enjoy, and get out. I got a kick out of Matthew. He has really grown into a leading man."
After seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones
in The Mask of Zorro
, Douglas (who was then separated and later divorced from his first wife, Diandra) was determined to meet her. "I picked up somewhere about her attraction to older men, which probably made it a little easier to approach her without feeling foolish." They hit it off at the Deauville Film Festival in 1998, but "there was a long courtship before we did the deed," Douglas says. They wed in 2000 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
Fatherhood the second time around "has totally changed my priorities," says Douglas (with Catherine, 39, their kids Carys, now 6, Dylan, 8, and Cameron, 30, his son from his first marriage). "You're more patient, more relaxed. And now I'm old enough to nurture and protect a good marriage."