May 20, 2019

Douglas, Arkin and Lorre Reveal the Secrets of ‘Kominsky’s’ Success

Alan Arkin (left) and Michael Douglas in “The Kominsky Method.” Photo by Mike Yarish/Netflix

One of Netflix’s most popular new series is about a pair of 70-something buddies aging in Hollywood, prostate problems and all. In the deft hands of creator Chuck Lorre and Oscar winners Michael Douglas as actor-turned-acting teacher Sandy Kominsky and Alan Arkin as his agent Norman Newlander, “The Kominsky Method” is a poignantly funny hit. Production has begun on the second season to debut later this year, and the producer and stars invited members of the media to the set to discuss the show and what lies ahead. 

“I’m getting more attention from this show than even the Marvel movies. Even my kids like it, and they don’t like anything I do,” Douglas said. He added that baby boomers are a big part of the Kominsky audience. “They’ve been deprived of these kinds of characters for a long time.”

“Norman is fast becoming one of the most complex, richest and multi‑varied characters I’ve ever played in my life,” Arkin said. “We’re jumping from farce to comedy to near tragedy almost on a moment‑to‑moment basis from episode to episode, and I’m in heaven in that regard. It’s very exciting.”

Lorre, who has turned unknowns into stars in “The Big Bang Theory,” got his dream superstar pros for “Kominsky.” “I’m really grateful I get to work with these men. When I’m smart, I shut up and I listen because they come at it in ways I don’t anticipate, and it’s made it better.” 

“I’m getting more attention from this show than even the Marvel movies. Even my kids like it, and they don’t like anything I do.” — Michael Douglas

The two stars had never worked together before, but instantly clicked. “I felt strangely comfortable with Michael the minute we started working,” Arkin said. “We had had lunch about a month before. That’s all I knew of him outside of having seen him in 150,000 movies, and you never know what to expect. But I have found him extraordinarily flexible and easy to work with and fun.”

Douglas compared their relationship with the cherished one he had with Karl Malden in “The Streets of San Francisco” 45 years ago. When he watched his and Arkin’s first scene, he said, “I believe these guys have known each other for 40 years.”

Now 74, Douglas “never anticipated the kind of options that would even happen as I reach the three‑quarter‑of‑a‑century mark, and it’s wonderful. It’s a real treat too, because comedy is not something I’ve done a lot of, and the chance to work with great writing and somebody like Alan, who is so wonderfully gifted in his timing and his understanding of it, you learn something new. It’s a learning experience at a time in my life that I never thought I’d be learning anything new.”

Asked whether Kirk Douglas, his 102-year-old father, likes the show, Douglas replied, “I don’t think he gets it. ‘You’re funny? Alan’s funny,’ ” he quoted Kirk. “ ‘You’re not funny.’ ”

A fair amount of the show’s humor stems from the woes of aging. “We could bemoan the fact that aging is happening, or we can step aside and look at it as darkly comic,” Lorre said. “When it’s all falling apart, laugh or cry. I choose to laugh.”

Jewish humor and themes are also prevalent. “Norman is a secular Jew. He’s a character that has abandoned some aspects of [Judaism], but there are traditions that are just wired into your genes,” Lorre, who is Jewish, told the Journal. “There are attitudes and modes of behavior that are hard-wired whether you choose or not to be a faith-based person or a secular person.”

Last month, “The Kominsky Method” won two Golden Globe Awards, for Douglas and the series, and a nomination for Arkin, followed by three Screen Actors Guild and two Critics’ Choice Awards nominations. “The Golden Globes gave us one of the greatest gifts you can imagine,” Lorre said. “It says, ‘Look into this, give this a chance.’ And in a world of 500 shows, it’s astonishing to get that kind of a leg up. I’m still gobsmacked.”

The attention sets things up nicely for the second season, which will add new characters — and well-known stars — to complicate Sandy and Norman’s lives. “The first season was very much a walk through the darkness with health issues and Norman’s loss of his wife. And while health issues will remain a part of the series because that’s the reality of getting older, things change markedly for both Norman and Sandy in ways that are unexpected,” Lorre said. 

Jacqueline Bisset will play Sandy’s ex-wife, who still delights in pushing his buttons, and Jane Seymour will portray the love of young Norman’s life. Both now widowed, they meet again 50 years later. Paul Reiser will play a teacher who becomes involved with Sandy’s daughter, “a relationship that causes Sandy some difficulties,” Lorre said.

Arkin, now 84, joked that he’d be happy to get a script in which his character “has no dialogue and lies on a gurney with a breathing tube up his nose,” but in reality, he’s still playing parts in more active scenarios. He’ll portray a Wall Street tycoon in Disney’s live-action “Dumbo” and the mentor to private eye Mark Wahlberg in the Netflix murder mystery “Wonderland.”

Douglas doesn’t have anything else lined up yet, but he loves the creativity and freedom that streaming TV has offered him at this point in his career. “It’s just a whole new chapter,” he said. “A wonderful chapter.”

“The Kominsky Method” is streaming on Netflix.