Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro: Grumpy old men

Hollywood legends Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro are getting on a bit – and they don't like it. But being on screen together for the first time eases the pain, they tell Gill Pringle

Waiting in turn to talk with two of Hollywood's most celebrated veteran actors, there's a moment of unintentional hilarity when a very young journalist enthusiastically asks Michael Douglas, 69, and Robert De Niro, 70, to name the "best thing about growing old".

It's a fair question given that the two actors are co-starring in Last Vegas, a comedy about four best friends, now senior citizens, who escape retirement to throw a Las Vegas bachelor party for the one remaining singleton among them. However, a potent silence ensues, De Niro grimly looking at the floor while Douglas grimaces, solemnly wringing his hands.

"Nothing," Douglas eventually replies, cracking a smile. "It's very depressing, so you can make a comedy about it, and get it all out. But it's very hard to find anything positive about getting old. Nothing, really. Fortunately I've got younger kids," he says, referring to his children Dylan, 13, and Carys, 10, with estranged wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, "so it's wonderful to be able to share information with them, spend time with younger kids."

"When they want to listen to you," chortles grandfather and father-of-six De Niro, himself a late-in-life father, his youngest child born via surrogate two years ago, named Helen Grace for his second wife, Grace Hightower. Wed in 1997, the couple also have a 15-year-old son, Elliot. His first marriage to actress Diahnne Abbott produced son Raphael, 37, a successful New York estate agent, as well as adopting Abbott's daughter Drena, 42, from a previous relationship, while his long-term relationship with former model Toukie Smith resulted in twins, Julian and Aaron, now 18.

"As you get older you have this natural desire to make things better, if you can, before you're gone. But, beyond that, I don't see much benefits [to ageing]," concludes Douglas.

Nobody is excluded from the cruelty of age, not even a Hollywood superstar like De Niro. "It's a given, there's nothing you can do about it, so you may as well make fun of it. It's interesting when you walk down the street and you see younger people and they ignore you - their peripheral vision sees that you're one or two generations older than they are, so they're not interested. Otherwise, the grey hair... you become a part of another class of person," he says.

"Second class!" chimes Douglas, adding, "I don't see any advantages other than you're more comfortable with yourself; you don't have to prove anything; you accept who you are. Both of us have younger children and it's nice to have the time to spend with them. Even as we're all around 70, I think we're going to see longer and longer life-spans - and, with the digital age, he'll look like Raging Bull still! Inside, you feel like the child within you. I don't think there's a lot that changes, although the exterior changes a lot. That expression, youth is wasted on the young, is very true."

"Hopefully this film will find its audience because there are a lot of baby boomers out there," says De Niro. "You see it all over those TV commercials for medications, where you have the nice music playing while they give you all the down sides - you might die from it, you might this, you might that, but there are so many of these because they're appealing to the vast baby boomer population. When you're younger, you hear people talk about how it went by so fast but when you get there, you look back and find out its true. The kids grew up so fast, where did the years go? Now they're in college... its just true."

With Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline in 'Last Vegas' With Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline in 'Last Vegas' Described by Variety "as creaky as an arthritic hip", Last Vegas is a senior variation on The Hangover, equally with its own laugh-out-loud moments, finding mirth in the relentless tide of age as well as the nostalgia factor of the cast - co-starring fellow old-timers Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline - none of whom, remarkably, have ever shared the screen before.

Winning Oscars for Raging Bull and The Godfather: Part II, De Niro has carved out a serious reputation for loners and tough guys in Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and Cape Fear, although the past decade has seen him tackle more comedy - with varying success - starring in Analyze This and the Meet the Fockers franchise. "We're all very lucky and do very well as actors. You don't have much choice as you get older," he says bleakly. "So you better just go with the ride and enjoy it. That's it."

Later on, Douglas - who plays a spray-tanned, highlighted lothario looking to settle down with a woman half his age - confides how his cancer diagnosis was the biggest wake-up call of his life. "I take things much less seriously," he says. "Serious is when they tell you you've got cancer. Cancer is serious, but then the rest of it is not. I'm much more conscious of time. I know what year this is and I can adequately count how many years I think I have of good health. I'm watching the clock a little bit."

De Niro agrees. "I don't like to waste time. If I have a day off and I'm on a location somewhere, I'll take a trip and see something because I never know if I'll get back there again, especially as you get older. I like to travel and do things, and share it with my children, let them see things that I have the advantage of going to. The time is now, not next year," says the actor, who struggles with the myriad demands of parenting children whose ages range between 40 and two.

While much has been written about a supposed reconciliation between Zeta-Jones and Douglas, his positive affirmations have been vague at best - although today he's apparently in the mood to talk about love. "My idea of love has changed, because when I was 25 I was probably leading with down here," he says mischievously, pointing at his trousers. "Now love is probably much more in my head."

Still sporting his wedding ring on the day we meet in New York, he's been separated from Zeta-Jones since August. The status of the couple's 13-year marriage is the subject of almost daily scrutiny, with some tabloids reporting that he is trying to smooth troubled waters by visiting the family apartment each morning to make pancakes for his kids.

"You can't take love for granted, you've got to protect it, you've got to nurture it and take care of it. When you're younger, you just take it for granted," he says somewhat wistfully.

Thirty-two years old when he wed 19-year-old Diandra Luker, he was a largely absentee father to the couple's son Cameron, now 35 and currently serving a 10-year prison sentence on drug charges. The couple's divorce resulted in one of the biggest settlements of the day, with Luker receiving $45 million in 2000.

Today, Douglas offers this surprising piece of marital advice: "I think you should wait. Everybody has their own careers, their own ambitions. I think you should work on your own career, try and get some financial security and independence," says the actor who earned a Best Actor Academy Award for Wall Street in 1987, as well as a Best Picture Oscar for co-producing 1975's hit movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

"Women are now very comfortable to have babies into their late 30s. You can be a father in your 50s. I'm not saying it's for everybody, and I think people have to get their own life secure before they take on the responsibility of a partner and children. I guess there are some women who like older men, but it's a smaller group," he quips, poking fun at the 25-year-age gap in his own marriage to Zeta-Jones.

De Niro warms to the theme: "The only thing I would say is that if you get married, it's easier probably not to have children if you're going to split up - it makes life simpler later on in life."

Ask if either of them have retirement plans, and this, apparently, is more amusing than anything they've heard in a while. "No. What are you going to do?" De Niro asks Douglas with that famous shrug.

"Retiring gives the impression that you're relieved that your job is over," suggests Douglas, second-generation Hollywood royalty, the son of actors Kirk Douglas and Diana Love Dill. "We love our jobs. It's so much fun, to make believe - you go different places; people are happy to see you; you get into good restaurants. Hopefully, I can get a table at one of Bobby's restaurants," he smiles in reference to De Niro's expanding restaurant empire which includes shares in high-end sushi chain Nobu, together with his famed New York eaterie TriBeCa Grill and Locanda Verde, located in The Greenwich Hotel, in which he has also invested.

Fine dining is clearly something both men enjoy in their later years, and while neither of them enjoyed actually filming in Las Vegas, the food made a better impression. "For me, the worst experience is just the amount of people and the crowds. The best is the food - it's probably one of the best cities in the world for eating very, very well," says Douglas.

"I agree," says De Niro. "When I did Casino, there were a couple of good restaurants, but not the way there is today. It's really changed."

'Last Vegas' opens on 3 January

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...