Michael Douglas Heads to France For Democracy

(center, l-r) Michael Douglas and Noah Jupe in FRANKLIN. ©Apple TV Plus. CR: Rémy Grandroques.


Front Row Features


PASADENA, CA-Based on Stacy Schiff’s best-selling book, “A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America,” Apple TV+’s new series “Franklin,” stars Academy Award winning actor Michael Douglas.  Set in 1776, after America has declared independence from England, Benjamin Franklin embarks on a mission to France to persuade the monarchy there to back the great American experiment in democracy.

Michael Douglas, in his long and illustrious career has made such memorable movies as “Wall Street,” “Basic Instinct,” “War of the Roses,” “The China Syndrome,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Romancing the Stone” and has even dabbled in the Marvel Universe with “Avengers: Endgame” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” In 2003, he participated in a documentary series called “Freedom: A History of The US,” embodying the voice of Benjamin Franklin.

Now he gets to portray Franklin in the Apple TV+ limited series. The first three episodes premiere on Friday, April 12, 2024, followed by one new episode every Friday through May 17, 2024.

Michael Douglas, who’s  also a producer on the show, joined the members of the TV Critics Association to talk about the role he has yearned to portray since 2003.


Q: You’ve played Benjamin Franklin before, but that was just his voice and this is the full regalia. What is it like being in the 18th century clothes, especially the iconic glasses?

Michael Douglas: Good question. Yeah, that was one of the major reasons why I wanted to do “Franklin.” I’m at a point in my career where I’m trying different things. I never did a green screen film before, The Marvel stuff. And comedy has fascinated me, so I wanted to do “The Kominsky Method.” And now in close to a 60-year career, I’ve never done period. So I wanted to see how I’d look in tights. Thank God I didn’t have to wear a wig. So that was an initial attraction to it. Then, of course, Ben Franklin and the possibility of playing [him] was wonderful.

Q: You had Stacy’s very expansive book as source material to read. Was there any other research you did to help you embody the character?

Michael Douglas: I read a couple more books. Walter Isaacson’s book (“Benjamin Franklin: An American Life”) was very helpful for me. My biggest dilemma was when I looked at a hundred-dollar bill, I said, ‘I got a way to go.’ And we started doing our first tests with the makeup and appliances, and then the producer [in me] took over, [and I] said, ‘It’s going to be two hours to two and half hours in makeup, and then 40 minutes to get it all off. I can see myself in a nightmare scenario production, “Is Michael ready yet?”’ Sometimes I think audiences want to see the persona of that real person come through. So we found a balance.

Q: After doing a lot of research for the role, how do you see Franklin now?

Michael Douglas: He had an extraordinary career, an extraordinary life, and we knew him in so many ways. He was really a Renaissance man in all senses.  But at 70 years old, in the year of our independence, 1776, we all forget that we were in the middle of a major war with the British, we declared our independence.  And then, the Continental Congress decided, well, we need Ben, because he was well-known around the world, to do an undercover diplomatic trip to France to try to get their support.  Otherwise, we’re not going to have a democracy.

We desperately needed the French to supply us with weapons and cash.  He obviously liked a challenge. I think he was very well aware of his position. He was very bright, but was a little bit of a rascal, too, as we all know.  He was a little bit of a philanderer, liked to imbibe, big flirt, and yet, had a wonderful ability in terms of his idea of negotiating which was sort of a seduction.

Q: What surprised you most in learning more about him?

Michael Douglas: The biggest surprise, I guess, was he didn’t go to school past 12 years old. So everything is self-learned. He was a voracious reader at a very early age, which played a big part. He was involved in the printing business, which is one of his earlier things. Then, of course, started his own newspaper; and then the number of inventions that we have besides electricity. We have the Franklin stove and many others. I do not think being a good husband was one of his high points because he was very much involved with himself.

For me, I felt some Elon Musk comparisons for a guy slightly out there, but also you’re wary of it because he was so bright and so knowledgeable on so many things. But was very charming and tended to put people at ease, but was taking prisoners. He knew what he was doing, extremely ambitious.

Q: What do you think the big theme of “Franklin” is, other than just telling the story of his life?

Michael Douglas: For me, it was a new appreciation for our constitution, the democracy, realizing how fragile it really was and how close we came to it not coming about.  Because realistically, if we did not get the support from the French that we needed, the British would have beaten us and that would have been that.  And that would’ve been the shortest career of democracy that existed.

For me, it was just a reminder in this day and age, and particularly this year, the value and how precious democracy is and how easy it is to lose it and how fragile it is.  And an inspiration of what the ideal was when we first started into how much it’s been corrupted in the 250 years since then