Michael Douglas in King of California

He's glorified greed, fended off a psycho ex-girlfriend and even served as president of the United States -- but at heart, Michael Douglas has always been plain ol' crazy. In King of California, a festival crowd-pleaser from first-time director Mike Cahill, Douglas is Charlie, who's just been released from a mental institution and is convinced that there's Spanish treasure buried under the local Costco; Evan Rachel Wood, as his teenaged daughter, plays Dulcinea to his Don Quixote. Though Douglas has always excelled at playing characters who are slightly unhinged (as Kim Voynar notes in her review), Charlie is what you'd call certifiable, and in a way this role brings Douglas back full circle -- he did, after all, launch his movie career by producing an indie about nutjobs called One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. After endearing himself forever to this interviewer by chatting at length about the finer points of Cal football (go Bears!), Douglas spoke easily about his attitudes on directing, his lovely co-star and his recent return to madness.

Cinematical: It's rare to see you in an indie. Do you think that's because you see fewer smaller scripts these days, or do they just not jump out at you?

Michael Douglas: First of all, my whole career began in indie pictures to a large degree. I don't know. You know, I just haven't been been offered ... maybe people just get intimidated. I've had a few, but I haven't made that many movies really since I got married. If you look back, since 2000 I've only done about four pictures or something like that, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Cinematical: How do you feel that your decision-making process has changed since you've gotten married and had kids?

MD: Just much tougher. Because my priorities have changed dramatically. Whereas before I was much more career-oriented, now I'm much more family-oriented, so I don't like to leave the house much. I just don't.

Cinematical: So you really have to love it?

MD: You have to really love it. You have to really, really love it ... and/or I'll get a picture like King of California with a tight schedule. This was unbelievably tight, and it would put off a lot of people, but I enjoy that pace. Coming out of television, I enjoy moving fast.

Cinematical: When you're on the set, what kind of directing style do you like? Do you like it when the director already knows what they want to do, or if they just give you free rein?

MD: From the very beginning, I was fortunate enough working with Milos Forman on Cuckoo's Nest, where we would sit down before the movie ever started, from page one, and talk through the script. And it forces both of you to recognize the things you don't know, as well as be in sync. A script is almost like a whole piece of music. It's orchestrated, it has its pianissimos, it has its high points, its lows, it's fast... and so that's the least expensive time to do that, rather than sitting around when the cameras are on. So I love to really have that worked out, and particularly if it's a first-time director and a very short schedule. So we know what to do. And then my assumption is, directing is so difficult and painful, that if you cast it right, I don't expect the director to have a lot of comments for me unless there's issues. Because he's got other things to worry about. And generally because I produce a lot, I always tell a director, look, I'll watch out for you, because I can't help myself. I've always got to keep an eye on the picture. But I need you to look out for me. Because sometimes people think you've got all the answers, and when you're an actor, it's subjective, and you cannot watch yourself from the outside.

Cinematical: Let's talk about Evan Rachel Wood ... I'd love to hear your opinion of her.

MD: She's just a consummate actress. She has a combination of great integrity of emotions and a great gift of credibility and honesty. She's a very honest actress. And then she has that, you'd say je ne sais quoi, but that screen presence. And it shows in King of California ... you are mesmerized and sucked into her. She's very attractive without being over the top, does not flaunt her beauty, but has a purity of soul and intention. I smiled the first day of the shoot, the first time we did a scene together. This girl is good. This girl is good. And no method stuff, just flirting on the phone, chewing gum, and then literally the camera rolls, throw it away, be right there in the moment.

Cinematical: Have you (like Charlie) ever been convinced of something, and everyone thought you were crazy?

MD: Well, people thought I was completely nuts when I left Streets of San Francisco, a top ten television show in the fifth year, to go produce -- not even act! -- as a young actor, to produce a little independent movie called One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Cinematical: Did you visit mental hospitals in order to investigate Charlie's state of mind?

MD: No, but I visited so many before on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, I had pretty good knowledge in that area. And then I talked to a couple of therapists, read a book, and [you] just kind of practice your everyday life, and walk around, and you kind of get a feeling.

Cinematical: Because you see crazy people on the street all the time, right?

MD: Crazy people all the time.

Note: Thanks to KOW for correcting my spelling on "je ne sais quoi" (I've got it right now, right?).