En español | Four esteemed actors. Six Academy Awards. A combined legacy of some of the most iconic films ever made: Raging Bull, Wall Street, The Shawshank Redemption, The Big Chill and so many more.
As Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline arrive one by one at a Manhattan photo studio to talk about Last Vegas, a hilarious new buddy movie that opens Nov. 1, the moment feels monumental. It's a little like watching Mount Rushmore take shape. But then the partying begins.
Movie Review: Is Last Vegas worth your time and money?
As AARP The Magazine's photo squad and writer get situated, chilled bottles of champagne come uncorked. Cucumber martinis are poured. The actors clink to long life, happiness and continued prosperity.
At one point Douglas, 69, and still drawing raves for his portrayal this year of Liberace in HBO's Behind the Candelabra, leads an impromptu sing-along of "My Girl." So what that it's barely 5 p.m. on a Tuesday? "When you get to this stage, you celebrate — period," says Freeman, 76, with that elegant baritone. "Doesn't matter if it's morning or night. Friend hands you a glass, you look him in the eye and say, 'Cheers.'"
Even for these Hollywood titans, hanging out together is clearly a special deal. Somehow, despite hundreds of individual movie, television and theater credits, they had never worked with one another until now. "What are the odds?" says Kline, the baby of the group at 65. "Michael, Morgan, Bobby …" They all call 70-year-old De Niro "Bobby." "We're not talking about one-hit sensations here."
Stars of Stage, Screen and TV
Kevin Kline is no slacker himself. Dubbed "the American Olivier," he had already claimed two Tony awards by the time he made his film debut in 1982 as Meryl Streep's lover in Sophie's Choice. The following year he met his actress wife, Phoebe Cates, while auditioning for The Big Chill. She's been at his side for everything since: a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for A Fish Called Wanda; Golden Globe and Emmy nominations; a son and daughter, 22 and 19. Kline shakes his head while reciting their ages. "Sometimes I'll think, 'Wasn't it just two seconds ago I was that young?' Then I'll go, 'Nah! Not even close.' "
Raised in Chicago and the Mississippi Delta, Morgan Freeman turned to acting after a stint in the U.S. Air Force. But superstardom didn't hit until after age 50, with a remarkable string of films including Glory, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby (his Oscar winner) and Invictus. When a car he was driving flipped several times on the way home from a party in 2008, Freeman, dad to four grown children, lost nearly all function in his left hand — a great hardship for a lefty. He's wearing a compression glove today to keep blood from pooling. "I've tried everything, even leech therapy," he says. "Only time the pain doesn't bother me is when I'm working."
Michael Douglas still comes off as the showbiz royal of the group. He radiantly glides, straight from vacation, in a tailored sports jacket and crisp white shirt, stretching out his arms at the sight of his "boys." By his mid-30s, Kirk's oldest son was a household name himself, with hits like The Streets of San Francisco and The China Syndrome — and later, Wall Street, Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. The actor says the stage 4 throat cancer he battled in 2010 is behind him: "You're generally out of the woods after two years." Douglas and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, who have two school-age children, recently confirmed they're taking some time apart. Douglas has an older son, Cameron, 34, from his previous marriage, who is serving a 10-year sentence on charges related to a 2010 drug conviction.
What more is there to say about Robert De Niro? The man who made "You talkin' to me?" from Taxi Driver, the go-to line for every would-be (probably-shouldn't-be) thespian — he largely improvised that scene, by the way — deserves lasting acclaim for any one of his memorable roles: young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, the ex-CIA crank who makes Ben Stiller's life hell in Meet the Parents. He is also an entrepreneur, having cofounded Tribeca Productions film studio, the Tribeca Film Festival, and hotels and restaurants including New York's Greenwich Hotel.
In person, De Niro, a father of six and grandfather of four, can appear surprisingly avuncular at first. He arrives wearing rumpled jeans and a fisherman's cap with a New York Times tucked under his arm. Waiting for wardrobe, he proudly shows off pictures on his phone of his adorable daughter Helen Grace, who's nearly 2. But just like in the movies, he can shift from cuddly to intimidating simply by letting his mouth move from an upturned to a downturned U.
Fortunately, everything's looking up at the moment, and it's best if it stays so.
"Hey, AARP, keep the martinis coming!" De Niro says as the photo shoot hits full tilt on the cocktail lounge set. Right away, Mr. D, right away.
A Grownup Hangover
Last Vegas is being called The Hangover for older dudes. When Billy, a wealthy lifelong bachelor played by Douglas, finally proposes, he corrals his childhood BFFs from Brooklyn to join him on a Vegas bender.
All manner of kvetching ensues, beginning with the fact that Billy's betrothed is nearly half his age at "almost 32."
"I have a hemorrhoid that's 'almost 32,' " Freeman's character cracks. And yet, the Flatbush Four, as the guys are known, hit the Strip for a Red Bull-and-Viagra-infused romp about the staying power of friendship, especially between men, particularly those over 50.
"I was worried about these legends gelling, but one boisterous dinner together was all it took," says the director, Jon Turteltaub. "Michael was instantly team quarterback, Kevin was class clown, Morgan was the lovable troublemaker and Bobby was the cool, aloof one. It was a lot like other friendships between men. The more they got to know each other, the more they insulted each other."
Male relationships have a flavor all their own. In his book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, Geoffrey Greif, Ph.D., professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, makes the case that men choose friends almost like tools on a utility belt.
A "must" friend is the first to get the call after a hole in one or a tough diagnosis. A "trust" friend is well regarded and loyal but not quite the inner circle. "Just" friends are passing acquaintances, while "rust" friends stand the test of time — even if they sometimes can't stand one another. The last group is the strongest, Greif says. "Even if rust friends don't see each other for decades, they'll pick up again like kids."
That's exactly what happens in Last Vegas. Even now, as the photo shoot wraps and the actors linger on barstools to discuss the movie, friendships and one another, it's clear that age has no limits on how charmingly boyish ("I'm almost on empty," Freeman says, shaking his glass) a group of very famous men can be.
AARP The Magazine: Last Vegas has a ton of laughs, but the deeper message is that age doesn't need to define you.
Kevin Kline: It's not how old you are but how you are old, as the saying goes. Actors don't have ages — we have age ranges. But I had to wear a hearing aid in this movie and let my hair and beard go white, so I felt every bit my age.
Robert De Niro: I don't feel 70. I look in the mirror and I say, 'Yeah, I guess I am.' But I don't feel that way.
Morgan Freeman: You feel like you feel. Age is arbitrary. Some days on the golf course, I feel like I'm 90. Other days, 50.
Michael Douglas: And Morgan plays golf with one hand!
KK: But people do naturally think that if you're old, you're not to be venerated. You're to be marginalized.
RD: Yeah, that's in this culture. In other cultures that's not the case.
AARP: How is this time of life different from what you expected?
MD: You don't change that much. The kid in you is still there. You're supposed to get wise and more mature, but you have the same foibles, insecurities, good things, bad things.
MF: I never thought I would reach this age. Really. I was fairly certain that with my lifestyle, it would have been truncated some time back. I was always the one who dared to jump out the second-story window.
MD: You once sailed a 27-foot boat to Bermuda!
MF: No, 30-foot. You're cheating me out of 3 feet!
MD: And you sailed back.
MF: Hey! I wouldn't leave my boat there. That was a number of years ago. I don't sail since the accident, but I keep the boat — and the hope.
RD: You know the end is near, not that you think it's going to happen to you. You read the obits and see somebody passed who shouldn't have. You feel, "Wow, he was so young." It's a bit of luck just being here.
AARP: Did you become great friends playing great friends?
MF: I wouldn't say so. [Laughs.] But you know actors. We come together.
MD: It could have been a lot worse!
RD: None of us would work together, but they gave us a huge amount of money, so we had no choice!
KK: I'd never seen any of Michael's work. I may have seen one movie with De Niro. Early in his career. I think it was called Mean Streets. Or maybe Raging something. Raging …
MF: That would be Bull! [Big laughs all around.]
RD: Truthfully, you admire these guys from afar and hope it turns out, which it did.
MF: Let's face it, we're all pros. No diva behavior. We get it done.
AARP: Any of you have a gang of friends in childhood like the Flatbush Four?
MD: I was in a hot rod club as a kid in Connecticut. The Downshifters. We spent a lot of time fixing up cars. I enjoyed that group a lot.
MF: I had a gang. Not because I was tough, but if I wanted to pull a job, I had to have the right guys. Five of us once passed by this store. They had a whole crate of navel oranges. You're hungry a lot as a kid. I said, "We got to get those oranges. Two of us are gonna start a fight to distract the store owner. The other three are gonna throw oranges to each other out the window." I don't keep in touch with those fellas anymore.
RD: I've had some friends that I've trusted for many years. I've tried to stay in contact. It's been a while, but I know how to get in touch with them, and I will at one point. I want to.
KK: I see three or four guys from high school about once a year. Friendships like those keep you honest. They'll support you but also say, "You were a jerk then and …"
AARP: What about your relationships with the women in your lives? Do those get easier as you get older?
MF: Get easier? It doesn't get easier. [Laughs all around.]
MD: I'd like to hear more on that from this gentleman [putting his arm around Freeman]. He's quite the Casanova — got a natural ability. Ladies are very comfortable around him.
MF: I'm an incorrigible flirt. I've been flirting as far back as I can recall.
AARP: You have a phenomenal dance scene in Last Vegas. Was that a double?
MF: No, no, no.
RD: It was Morgan on Red Bull!
MF: Damn! I felt like I was being electrocuted!
AARP: Kidding aside, how are you all growing and evolving?
MF: Kidding aside, I'm not!
KK: I'm more aware of mortality, of my increasing vulnerability, which is probably why I cried as much as I laughed watching this movie.
RD: I have projects I want to work on. Not anything as specific as "I want to play King Lear." I'm talking about things outside acting, too. I have young kids and want to see them through a certain stage. I want to give them advice, but I know they're not going to listen. So I tell them, "Ask me. Whatever you've been through, I'm sure I've been close to that." I always want to be there for them. That's the most important thing in my life at this point.
MD: I realize now how much has changed from having had cancer. As an actor, I'm freer. I have no fear. When I look at myself as a younger actor, I see what a tightass I was. I had a pretty big shadow because of my father. I was self-conscious about that. And I agree with Bobby about life outside acting. I've got a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old, and cherish the time with them. My priorities are changing. I love my career. But I have other things that, as I get older, I care more about.
AARP: What do you hope lies ahead?
MD: Work is what keeps you going. I look at my father. Kirk is 96 and finishing his 10th novel. We all know people who retired at 50 and just got old. If you retire, you better know what you're going to do with yourself. Because we're living much longer lives.
MF: Hey, if I don't have a job, I don't know why I bother to get up. Any time the phone rings, I'm ready to go. What else am I going to do? Retire? I don't know what it means.
RD: I feel optimistic about things. You certainly don't want to think that the worst is yet to come.
MF: I sometimes ask myself, "If you had a chance to live your life over and make changes, would you?" I wouldn't. Can't look back. It's gone OK, and I just keep moving forward.
KK: It's like, "What's the best role you've ever played?" The next one.
RD: That's right. We don't know what lies ahead. So I'm only going to think about the best.
David Hochman is a freelance writer.
Also of Interest:
- See 2013 Movies for Grownups reviews
- Meet Retired Old Men Eating Out (ROMEO)
- Take charge of your money at 50, 60 and 70
- Shopping for health insurance? The health insurance marketplace is now open.
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