Douglas has been making movies for more than 50 years, and, in turn, has witnessed the industry change in a myriad of ways. One that has come about in recent years is the use of actors' digital likenesses.
Emerging technology allows studios to employ AI and deepfake tech to generate performances from actors without having them appear on set. This has spurned a whole lot of conversation surrounding the legalities of such practices and giving performers the power to control what is done with their digital likenesses.
Star Wars and the MCU have already started experimenting in this space. Marvel recently signed a deal allowing them to use Stan Lee's likeness in future projects, potentially leading to future cameos from the Marvel Comics creator. And Lucasfilm has used the tech multiple times, bringing a younger Luke Skywalker to the screen in The Mandalorian and allowing Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia to make an appearance in Rogue One.
Michael Douglas and His Digital Likeness
In a new interview, MCU star and Hollywood veteran Michael Douglas revealed he plans to sell his digital likeness once he dies.
Speaking with The Guardian, the actor noted with his elevated age, he has started "thinking [he's] going to have to license my name and likeness" so that "the rights go to my family rather than to the metaverse."
He pointed to the rapidly-developing AI tech out there now and wanting to have some control of what happens with his voice, performance, and mannerisms:
"It’s funny you should mention that. You get to an age where you start thinking about your will and estate. Now I’m thinking I’m also going to have to license my name and likeness so the rights go to my family rather than to the metaverse. I see what AI is doing with pictures with text. It’s only matter of time before you’ll be able to recreate any dead person at any age with the voice and the mannerisms, so I want to have some control."
Another Hollywood stalwart, Keanu Reeves has called other companies being able to control his likeness "scary." He pointed to being able to "give a performance in a film" and "participating in that," but "if you go into deepfake land, it has none of your points of view:"
“What’s frustrating about that is you lose your agency. When you give a performance in a film, you know you’re going to be edited, but you’re participating in that,” he said. “If you go into deepfake land, it has none of your points of view.”
He added, "the people who are paying you for your art would rather not pay you" and are "actively seeking a way around you."
The John Wick actor is fascinated by the "cultural, sociological impacts" these technologies are having on humanity, however:
"They’re having such cultural, sociological impacts, and the species is being studied. There’s so much ‘data’ on behaviors now. Technologies are finding places in our education, in our medicine, in our entertainment, in our politics, and how we war and how we work.”
SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) recently talked about protections for performers to help them take control of their likenesses.
SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told The Hollywood Reporter that “Protection of a performer’s digital self is a critical issue for SAG-AFTRA and [its] members." He lamented that "these new technologies offer exciting opportunities" but can also "pose potential threats to performers’ livelihoods:"
“Protection of a performer’s digital self is a critical issue for SAG-AFTRA and our members. These new technologies offer exciting opportunities but can also pose potential threats to performers’ livelihoods. It is crucial that performers control the exploitation of their digital self, that any use is only with fully informed consent, and that performers are fairly compensated for such use.”
Danielle Van Lier, the guild's senior assistant general counsel, contracts and compliance, remarked that it is also important that "[the data] is protected from unauthorized access and use" and make sure "reproductions of any Performer" are not used "without the union’s consent:"
“Producer may not create digital reproductions of any Performer in connection with the Project without the union’s consent. Producer may not use any digital reproduction of any individual, living or deceased, as a character or in place of Performers in the Project without the union’s consent. The foregoing restriction includes any voice reproductions.”
She continued saying that "it’s not to say that it’s all bad,” but SAG wants to make sure "[actors] maintain control and are fairly compensated."
The Dark Hole of Deepfakes and AI Performers
Right now, not just the movie industry, but the entire world is teetering on the edge of an AI revolution. Because of this, digital laws, rights, and regulations are kind of having to be thought of on the fly.
Actors like Bruce Willis are having conversations about selling likenesses for future performances long after they are gone.
Some are embracing it, and others are not.
Michael Douglas looks to be taking a proactive approach, making sure he has his digital rights situation in order so that his family has control and not some Hollywood studio or production company.
This could mean that if Douglas or the family permitted, Marvel Studios could eventually release another Ant-Man or Avengers film featuring the actor without even needing Douglas there.
If everyone is on board with this sort of situation it could prove to be a huge technological advancement for Hollywood. Modern actors like Florence Pugh or Tom Holland could be seen in movies playing off of some late icons of the industry like Robin Williams, James Daen, and Audrey Hepburn.
But it also opens a whole can of worms that could easily be taken advantage of. Especially in these early days, when not everyone is going to know what they are getting into, this could and likely will lead to some heated legal battles down the line.
Michael Douglas can be seen giving a non-AI-generated performant now in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.