John Wayne ‘Berated’ Kirk Douglas for Playing Vincent van Gogh: ‘We Should Never Play Those Kind of Weak, Sniveling Characters’

Actors John Wayne and Kirk Douglas never saw eye-to-eye when it came to their political views. However, they still always maintained a high level of respect for one another. Wayne remained very particular about only playing strong roles over the course of his career. This also came through in a discussion he had with Douglas, who played Vincent van Gogh.

Kirk Douglas played Vincent van Gogh in ‘Lust for Life’

'Lust for Life' Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh, which John Wayne 'berated' him for. Black-and-white image of Douglas looking into the camera with mirrored images of himself on either side.
Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh | Getty Images

Lust for Life is a drama that follows the life of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (Douglas). He has an unparalleled sense of creativity and imagination as an artist but is plagued with his own feelings of self-doubt. His brother, Theo (James Donald), supports van Gogh the best he can until the artist leaves Holland for France. There, he meets a fellow painter named Paul Gauguin (Anthony Quinn) as he tries to seek out further inspiration.

The Rotten Tomatoes Tomato-meter currently sits at 85% with critics and 81% with audiences. The reviews disagree with Wayne, as they praise Douglas and Quinn for their “extraordinary” performances. Most of the critics found the overall movie a bit surface-level, but they acknowledge how the film successfully captures a tragic biography.

John Wayne ‘berated’ Kirk Douglas for playing ‘weak, sniveling’ Vincent van Gogh

James Bawden and Ron Miller’s Conversations with Classic Film Stars includes an interview with Douglas, which naturally includes Wayne. The Lust for Life actor brought up a “famous story” regarding the Western star’s thoughts.

“There’s a famous story about that,” Douglas said. “When I played van Gogh in Lust for Life, we had a private showing of it, and John Wayne was there. We had a little supper party, and Wayne had a few drinks.”

Douglas continued: “Afterward, he motioned to me to go out on the veranda with him, and he berated me! He said, ‘How the hell could you play a goddamn character like that?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m an actor. He’s a fascinating character.’ And Wayne said, ‘No, no. We should never play those kind of weak, sniveling characters. I don’t ever want to see you in a part like that again! They have no dignity!'”

The actor defended his choice playing the iconic artist

However, Douglas absolutely disagreed with Wayne regarding his choice of roles. He saw the worth in playing a character like van Gogh, even if the legendary Western star didn’t.

“As far as I’m concerned, I have always believed it’s important for an actor to know the difference between make-believe and reality,” Douglas said. “So I’ve never hesitated to kid myself if the part calls for it. I find characters with a little evil in them much more interesting to play than the good guy. I’d rather play Doc Holliday than Wyatt Earp.”

Douglas would ultimately earn an Oscar nomination for Lust for Life, although he didn’t take home the golden statue. Yul Brynner edged him out for his performance in The King and I.

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