‘The Kominsky Method’: Michael Douglas & Chuck Lorre Talk Hope, Relationships, Prostate Exams & Retirement

Last week, Netflix revealed that The Kominsky Method was being retired after its upcoming third season. But, as discussed in a chat with Deadline, retirement is not something that creator Chuck Lorre or star Michael Douglas are considering.

The pair discussed the evolution of the half-hour comedy, which stars Douglas as aging former actor-turned-acting coach Sandy Kominsky and his agent and friend Norman Newlander, played by Alan Arkin from their homes in New York and California.

Lorre reveals that the second season storyline of Arkin’s Newland’s budding relationship with Jane Seymour’s Madelyn was based on Tom Poston’s relationship with Suzanne Pleshette, while Douglas talks method acting, having just returned from his own prostate exam.

The second season of the show, which launched in October 2019, also features guest appearances from Seymour and Paul Reiser, who plays Sandy’s daughter’s new boyfriend, while Lorre and Douglas also touch on Scientology and Green, Eggs and Ham during our chat.

DEADLINE: Chuck, you’ve said writing the first season of The Kominsky Method was a new way of working for you. Did it get any easier second time around?

Chuck Lorre: Well, actually, no it didn’t get easier, but I really did love the process because the normal television shows that I’ve been doing for many, many years, the sheer quantity of them and the urgency to deliver a new episode every week, you almost, you have to approach the scripts or writing room, a group of writers that can plow through exhaustion and frustration and keep it moving. This gave me the luxury to sit there and write, for the most part, by myself and find out if I still had a voice if no one else was in the room.

One of the things I learned from this first season was how much information, emotion, and gratitude is communicated to the audience through camera film making approach, and when we have world class actors like Michael and Alan, a reaction, a raised eyebrow, just a small look communicates so much more information, then the words become unnecessary, they become redundant, and when you’re working in front of a live studio audience the camera never gets close, the four cameras in that environment never get closer than a medium shot. So, the human face isn’t as much of a factor in telling the story, conveying if it’s a comedy, or an emotional response, or anything. So, I had to learn that the first year.

I remember saying to Michael and the end of our first season, and I absently turned to him said ‘I think I could do this better’, and really what that was about was not insisting that words communicate but the actors communicate the storyline in their performance, and knowing that the camera is close enough to see it and that there’s no reason to see it and say it. That was a learning curve for me, but you have to keep in mind that, Michael, I hope this is okay to say, but between Michael and Alan they’ve got over 100 years of experience and this kind of filmmaking was new to me. So, I’m the one with the sharpest learning curve.

 

DEADLINE: Michael, how did you find that it the second time around?

Michael Douglas: I still can’t quite figure out whether it’s false modesty or if he really does feel that that kind of vulnerability, because he makes it look so easy. I would, on one side, be terrified after going from a writing stable on multiple shows, having a whole writing group to basically writing alone, but I got improvement just out of watching Chuck’s enthusiasm for treating this, after all his successes after all these years, as a new experience, and him actually enjoying the fact of having the additional pressure of not having other writers to work with or passing it over, but basically completing everything himself.

I mostly was really impressed is when we first looked at each other, we met each other a couple of years ago, we got on. Chuck promised his full attention to this project knowing how many other series he had going on, and I’ll be damned if Chuck is not there every single moment from the first shot of the morning until the last shot in the day really watching and it gives you a great sense of security. I guess what was novel for me is I’m inherently not a comedy guy, I mean, I’ve done a couple, but one of the reasons why I wanted to do this was Chuck, not just the quality of his work, but also the idea of doing comedy and for a chance to work with someone like Alan Arkin and Paul Reiser.

I mean, these guys are really good comedians, and so you learn a lot about timing and the fact is, at least I feel, that comedy is much more difficult to do than drama. So, I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. I also love this streaming format. There’s no commercials so it’s like a little movie and you don’t have to worry about forcing an act break or forcing a break for the commercial, it just likes to unfold itself, and it’s been a very pleasant experience. The second season, like any situation you know, when you make a movie, when you get to work with each other a second time or third time, there’s a comfort factor.

DEADLINE: There’s more hope and less melancholy in the second season, particularly with the new relationships with Jane Seymour’s character and Paul Reiser’s character. Was that intentional?

Chuck Lorre: Yes. Very much so. The first season was very much, melancholy is the word to use, that’s the right word. It was about loss and recovering from loss, and I wanted to find a way in the second season to present hope as the thing, that life will surprise you and present opportunity. Then actually this story of the Norman, Alan Arkin’s character, meeting a woman that he had a fling with years ago was very much inspired by my friendship. I was lucky enough, years ago, to become friends with Tom Poston, a great comic, and Tom lost his wife, I don’t know, 40 some odd, 50 years ago, and he was failing. Then he ran into Suzanne Pleshette, the wonderful actress, whom he had dated in the 50’s and they went their separate ways. She married another man and they had a very long marriage, 45-50 years, and she had lost her husband, and Tom and Suzanne met and started dating again, and he was a different person. He was invigorated. It just was a remarkable transition to see how her coming into his life, for both of them, reinvigorated both of them, and I would have to say it added a decade to his life and it was a joy to be around because they were like teenagers. Fifty-five-year-old teenagers and I never forgot that. I loved being around the two of them and when this show came around, I thought that’s a paradigm that I can use to put hope back into this series.

DEADLINE: You’ve said that the show also explores the minutiae of getting older, which is evident in this season.

Chuck Lorre: Health issues were very much a part of the second season. I just felt that you know, at a certain age that’s just a fact of life. It’s just one damn thing after another and you know, we had some fun with over the counter prostate supplements, but I didn’t want to avoid the you know, there are real issues that come with age.

DEADLINE: How was that for you, Michael? There’s obviously a cancer scare in season two.

Michael Douglas: Yeah. Well, I must be a method actor because I just came from my prostate doctor today. Just getting that old six-month checkup plus a couple of extra goodies you know, that only a prostate examination can radiate. It was a little concerning by the end of the season, but yet it plays so well and the writing is so good, and unfortunately it’s very realistic you know, and it is a reality, and I think it’s one of the joys about this show in terms of the pros of an older audience who watch the show and just smile and go, oh yeah, there I am, that’s the situation.

DEADLINE: You’ve got some fantastic guest stars in season two with Paul and Jane. How was working with them?

Michael Douglas: Paul’s great. I produced a movie with him years ago and was always very impressed with his comic timing and his enthusiasm. He’s a very lovely guy, and from what Chuck told me, that he just called up and said, ‘Hey you know, I’d love to be on the show’, as has happened with a few of the guest stars, with Kathleen Turner, and Jane Seymour. It was a real treat, and he kept everything, wonderful variety every week. I didn’t know who was coming in.

DEADLINE: What about working with Alan? He seems to get some of the best lines.

Michael Douglas: He’s got a great delivery and a great definition of who his character is, and his delivery just, he’s excellent, he’s very, very good at it, and I think Chuck really kind of caught the flavor. There’s a dry sense of humor with Alan. He always sees the peculiarities in things and that and has a wonderful kind of rhythm that works very well. He’s a lovely guy and again, a wonderful actor, and very pleasant to be with.

DEADLINE: Retirement is also a theme in this season. There’s a great line about how retirement is like taking a toaster to the bath. Is that how you guys see it, keep working until you can’t?

Chuck Lorre: It certainly is for me. I’ve been told by men that I admire, who are you know, older than me, that under no circumstances, there is no situation in which I’m allowed to quit, and you know, I’m thinking of one guy, in his 90’s, he’s a lawyer, he goes to his office every day, and he doesn’t put in long days but he’s still a practicing lawyer in his 90s. He’s in wheelchair, he can’t walk, and he gets out quite a bit. I remember once when he grabs me by the lapel and he pulls me down and he goes, don’t you retire, all my friends who retired are dead. I said to him, yes, sir, I mean, I will do as you say, and that meant a lot to me. At this stage I can’t imagine getting up in the morning and not having the ability to write and make a show. It’s such a gift to be able to do that. I don’t want to take it for granted. I get to make a show, and make things happen, and present them and see if people enjoy them. I don’t want to give that up. To do what? To walk around the mall?

DEADLINE: Retirement doesn’t seem to live in the Douglas genes either, Michael. Is that fair?

Michael Douglas: Yeah. I mean, it’s really out of fear for not knowing what the hell else to do. It really is. I mean, first of all, I like going to work you know, I’m not the most social person in the world, but I love the idea of going to work and seeing everybody, and having a routine. So, I love to work so I don’t see stopping, and you’re right, I mean, dad, as he got older just kept writing you know, he wrote 11 books. I’m not good hanging around you know, and the pace and the schedule of this show is great. It just keeps you sharp.

DEADLINE: Chuck, I like the idea of Alex the waiter’s screenplay. You’ve got a ready-made spinoff there to follow up with that.

Chuck Lorre: I think he was an extra and we upgraded him, and they started giving him speaking parts, and he’s just a wonderful guy.

DEADLINE: The show is very tongue-in-cheek with references to Two and Half Men and Michael’s got a line about being a hard-on with a hundred-dollar haircut.  

Chuck Lorre: Oh, yeah. What a great opportunity to incorporate you know, the little things that are in the past with a part of their world. My favorite moment of that was Lane, played by Casey Brown, who was asked why they picked Two and Half Men [for a sketch], and his response was, ‘It’s my grandmother’s favorite show’. So, put that in perspective, because it’s not on the must watch list for the 25 year old.

Michael Douglas: It’s been a joy having all the kids in the class. Every one of them is really sharp, they’re right on.

Chuck Lorre: Those characters, those actors got more and more material to work with, and they’re all remarkable. They’re so extraordinary. We really got lucky. Such an incredible cast right there.

I think it’s important to say, I don’t know if anybody cares but me, but I didn’t want to make fun of acting and I wanted to pay homage to the craft, and to take it seriously and not mock it, not show bad acting just for the sake of laughing at bad acting, and it also served the purpose for Sandy and showed the enormous generational gap he has to cross that divide in order to communicate with these kids, and so it served two purposes. One, was the shows acting you know, taken seriously as an art form, and the other was to cross the great big divide between the twenty five year old and the older fella.

DEADLINE: You touch on Scientology in that last episode. Did you get any blowback from that, Chuck?

Chuck Lorre: No. Not that I’m aware of, but you know what, I do my best to avoid looking at comments in and things like that online. I try and stay in my little bubble. I didn’t want to make anything up or say anything that wasn’t true. Also, what an opportunity to work with Haley Joel who is an extraordinary actor, his enthusiasm and his passion for this with Norman’s, Alan Arkin’s, cynicism and weariness was a great opportunity again to see if that divide could be crossed. The two of them sitting and doing that Scientology exercise was wonderful.

DEADLINE: Michael, you’re all over Netflix now. In addition to The Kominsky Method, you’ve got Green Eggs and Ham, and you’re producing Ratched, you evidently like this new form.

Michael Douglas: Yeah. I do you know, well I think back you know, I sort of started in television you know, in the early 70’s, 50 years ago doing The Streets of San Francisco, and the reality is you know, throughout these 50 years there’s been this big separation, for actors, between television and feature films, they’re on separate tracks. So, this whole streaming area is the first time that everybody kind of comes together. For television, it’s closer to a movie and for a movie it’s a nice area to play in. I like to get things done. I’ve spent too much time in developmental hell. Sometimes I’m working on stuff and simply the joy of having someone like Chuck, who delivers such a quality project, and working at the kind of speed, I do enjoy and they seem to be a nice group, and the same thing with Green Eggs and Ham. I’ve never done one of these animated things before, so I’m just trying to do stuff later in my career, things that I have not done before.

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