Being punched by De Niro is a career highlight

Between them, they’ve notched up more than 200 years in the business - but this is the first time they’ve starred as a foursome. Hollywood heavyweights Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline tell Keeley Bolger about joining forces, epic roller coasters and the joy of friendship

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 2nd January 2014, 6:00 pm
Last Vegas  Mary Steenburgen, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline
Last Vegas  Mary Steenburgen, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline

Autographs, hugs and posed photographs are among the more usual requests for mementoes when people meet movie legend Robert De Niro.

But on the set of his latest film Last Vegas, which is about four old guys who go on a raucous stag do in Sin City, one of his colleagues notched up a more brutal memory - being punched by the star.

“De Niro comes up and just pops me,” explains Jerry Ferrara, laughing. The Entourage star is punched by the legendary actor when Ferrara’s character is obnoxious towards De Niro’s in the film.

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“It was great. It was everything I thought it would be,” says Ferrara. “And I’m dead serious when I say that. It was truly a memorable moment for me in my career.”

With five Oscar winners on set, career highs certainly weren’t in short supply during filming.

As well as De Niro, the four other leads are Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen.

Despite his 50 years in the business and endless impressive accolades, Freeman jumped at the chance work with the others.

“They could have sent me the phone book and I would have taken the part,” says the 76-year-old, letting out a deep hoot of a laugh.

“Last Vegas was a shot at doing a nice one with the icons of my life, a terrific draw.

“It’s an interesting realisation that we’ve been weaving in and out of each other’s lives and [working together] never came to pass.”

Steenburgen, who is now 60 and scooped the 1981 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Melvin And Howard, reveals she’s pleased to have rid herself of the pressure that younger stars put themselves under.

“You know what’s great about being an actor at this age?” says Steenburgen who is married to Ted Danson. “You’re not stupid enough to just be sitting there wondering what’s your next job, or whatever we were worrying about when we were in our twenties, thirties or forties.

“We’re sitting here, going, ‘Damn, I’m blessed to be here. This is fun. And I’m just going to drink it in, this amazing group of people.’

“That’s what you’re thinking at this age, and that’s what’s so freakin’ great about it.”

As well as the added bonus of being a wee bit more mature than the next generation of scene-stealers, the actors had the benefit of access to a lifetime of each other’s work to look back on for reference.

“In a way, it’s not like you’re working with a stranger,” says De Niro, who turned 70 last August.

“We all have had a certain kind of connection over the years, of being aware of each other’s work, and that helps in certain ways, ways that I can’t even articulate now.”

A Fish Called Wanda actor Kline was similarly bowled over by his co-stars, who he said forced everyone to raise their games.

“To work with actors whose work you have admired for years was exciting,” says the 66-year-old.

“The better the actor you’re working with, the better you’re going to be.”

In the film, the fearsome foursome play lifelong friends, who stop acting their age and go on a lively stag do to relive their glory days, after the group’s sworn bachelor decides to get married.

“I liked the way the script dealt with their friendship, not only the virtues and benefits, but also the requirements and cost of friendship,” notes Kline.

But it wasn’t all sunshine on the set - at least not for silver screen veteran Douglas who found himself signed up to ride the Stratosphere, one of the biggest thrill-seeking roller coasters in Las Vegas.

So how was it?

“Painful!” says Douglas, who has two young children with Welsh-born actress Catherine Zeta Jones. “That was the worst experience. When you get on that ride you don’t quite understand what’s going on, what’s about to happen.”

What did happen was that on their first day on set, Douglas and Steenburgen were shown to the front seat of the epic ride.

“You’re up there, close to 1,000ft, the wind’s blowing and you can see further than you would ever want to see in your entire life,” recalls 69-year-old Douglas, laughing.

“All of a sudden it rises, the track goes out and over the end of the building into the air and then...drop! 1,000ft in the air and it drops just like that! Needless to say, they got the shot and we were very happy to get out of there.”

Steenburgen admits that she went on the ride the day before they filmed the scene - to check that they weren’t going to “die of a heart attack”.

While no medical emergencies arose, Douglas says the experience earned him a bit of street cred with his brood.

“I came back as a total hero,” he reveals. “My son knew about the Stratosphere. He couldn’t believe I did it.”

Now he’s back on firm ground, Douglas can look back fondly on the film.

“There’s a lot of great comedy [in it], a lot of humour with heart,” he says. “I think what will draw people is this sense of remembering the friends they have had in their lives, what we all hold on to.”