NEW YORK -- The cackle is Kirk, but the face -- slightly flaccid and genetically homogenized, a creamy, streamlined symmetry of second-generation matinee idol nose and mouth and chin -- definitely belongs to Michael.

So too do the stylish Central Park West apartment, the homes in Westchester and Santa Barbara, the office in Los Angeles, the artifacts behind glass, the neatly stacked leather-bound books on the mantel, the lone unstemmed lily placed archly on the coffee table next to the multibutton phone console and the faux logs resting uncharred in the fireplace.

The phone rings, not like a bell actually, more like a three-tone boardroom sonata. Michael Douglas walks across the muted antique silk oriental rug in soft, black leather loafers, lavender shirt and tortoise-shell glasses, his brown hair correctly tousled, and picks up the receiver.

"Yeah, hi. Mmmhhm. Mmmhhmm. Look, can I call you back? I'm in a meeting."

Other movie stars might have said "interview." But Douglas, the consummate corporate actor, doesn't give interviews. He takes meetings, chain-smoking Marlboros and keeping a safe distance on the overstuffed sofa the color of cream of tomato soup. The butler serves tea.

On a table is a prominent out-of-focus photograph of Douglas' 31-year-old wife Diandra. She is pouting in the picture. Ask him about her whereabouts and he says, "She's tied up."

Ask him about filmmaking and he talks about ancillary rights, cassette revenues and grosses. Inquire about his artistic standing among his peers and he talks about his re'sume'. Ask him a particularly personal question and he grins like a lizard and says with a trace of sheepish humor, "It's none of your business."

The guy is all business.

"He's really a CEO," says one actor who knows him. "I don't think people have any concept of how busy he is."

Besides running his own production company with Michael Phillips (Mercury/Douglas Films), he publishes a magazine (LA Style), coproduced the recently canceled television series "Starman," is putting together a mini-series on Corte's and Montezuma and is planning a second sequel to his monster box office hit "Romancing the Stone."

"I don't remember a year when I've seen my friends less," says Douglas. "Everyone's working so hard."

The word on Douglas -- now 43 and starring in two of the year's hottest films, "Fatal Attraction" and the just-released "Wall Street" ("Lust and greed," the actor cracks) is that he's an unimpeachably nice guy.

"He charms the pants off everybody," says "Fatal" director Adrian Lyne. He is also, in the words of Lyne, "vulnerable, complicated and paranoid." He's also loyal, well respected and hard-working if a little on the dull side.

"Boring, boring, boring," says one Hollywood producer. "I think the only news is how much he wants the Oscar."

Indeed, Hollywood is talking Best Actor nomination for his role as Gordon Gekko, the slimy, Boeskyesque corporate raider and inside trader who gobbles up steel mills for breakfast and spouts a bizarrely convincing philosophy that greed, and only greed, can save America.

When people talk of "Wall Street," they talk of what Newsweek calls Douglas' "screen-popping" performance.

"Suddenly, he's grown into this big, charismatic, confident performer," says actress Holland Taylor, who appeared in "Romancing the Stone" and its sequel, "Jewel of the Nile." "It's really miraculous."

Initially, director Oliver Stone had his doubts. He grilled Lyne for hours on Douglas. He was told by one studio executive that Douglas wasn't an actor, that he'd be back in his trailer all day, romancing the phone.

But something happened. Michael Kirk Douglas, who charmed the pants off Kathleen Turner as the swashbuckling Jack Colton, decided he was an actor after all. Every morning, he put on the Savile Row suit and the gold chain bracelet and the power suspenders and he slicked back his hair and he became Gordo. He prepared rigorously for the role, and surprised the cast and crew with his grit and diligence and mastery of the wordy, technical script.

"I worked my {tail} off," he says now, dragging on a Marlboro. This from a man who once bragged, "Acting's play, producing is work."

He crosses his legs. "The first responsibility as a producer is to make the best movie. A lot of times in acting, you have to be selfish. You're not necessarily thinking about what's best for the movie, you're thinking what's best for the part. As a producer, you're sublimating yourself to make your director and costars happy, not having them think you're on an ego trip. I think my acting suffered a little bit, not only being spread thin, but also bending over backwards in producing."

"I think 'Fatal Attraction' was a major breakthrough for him," says Lyne. Not only did he take the part of a vulnerable loser, the director says, "but for the first time, he forgot his other hat." Or tried to. A control freak, Douglas couldn't resist giving his director friend opinions on camera angles and lighting.

Douglas says he knew he would be a late bloomer, although he has been quoted as saying this for so many years it's hard to take him seriously.

He also says he's avoided playing parts like Gordon Gekko. Maybe because his father did them so well, because he was afraid of the inevitable comparisons. As Gekko, he at times seems to be mimicking Kirk Douglas.

"It's the intensity," he says. "You know, half of my genes are my father's and in that sense it was closer to some of the roles that made him famous, but mimicking? No. I'm more secure than that."

He props the loafers on the coffee table. "I know very early on I shied away from mannerisms. I would censor my mannerisms, saying, 'Jeez, that reminds me of my father.' There was a conscious effort in doing that."

Maybe he's a Kirk Douglas for the '90s. More refined, more mellow. Second generation. If Kirk is Scotch, Michael is mineral water. Kirk is dockworkers; Michael is docksiders.

The elder Douglas, surprisingly, has never won an Oscar. Michael himself has never won one either, although his first production effort -- "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," in 1975 -- snagged five Academy Awards, including "Best Pitcher," as he calls it in his faint New Yorkese.

Yes, an acting Oscar would be sweet. Especially after so many years of being considered a lightweight.

"You had your doubts," he says. "I'd be a fool to say there weren't a lot of times I wasn't {annoyed} at being somewhat dismissed, I think by making it look effortless."

He seems to have improved with age -- with the gray around the temples, the beginnings of a slight paunch, the crow's feet. He has shed, in the words of director Lyne, "his gloss of youth."

"I always thought my forties were going to be good for me," Douglas says. "I always thought I was physically going to grow into myself. I had a handful of friends and family who had known me back from college who have always been supportive and said, 'Don't let this producing distract you. You're gonna surprise a lot of people.' "

And at least one person knew it all along.

"Michael has a toughness in him that's he never shown on the screen," Kirk Douglas told an interviewer in 1980. "Michael can be fanatical."

Although most people regard Michael Douglas as Hollywood royalty -- his mother is actress Diana Dill -- his roots are more East Coast than Tinsel Town. He was born in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1944. Shortly after that, his parents moved to Hollywood. Five years later, the couple divorced and Michael and younger brother Joel moved back east with their mother and stepfather, theatrical producer William Darrid.

"There was not a lot of anger, and I had a great stepfather who assumed a lot of the responsibilities," he says. "My father was secure enough to acknowledge his gratitude. To this day, my four parents {Kirk Douglas is now married to former film publicist Anne Buydens} get together every couple of weeks."

The Darrid family lived in New York, and later in Westport, Conn., while Michael attended a string of private schools and spent holidays with his father.

He was not a good student, though he did graduate from Choate. Yes, he says, he suffered being the child of celebrity.

"The fact that they knew who your father was allowed them to make certain value judgments without knowing you. So it took me a long time to realize it wasn't me. You'd get this strange response, 'I'll bet he thinks he's {hot stuff} because of his father and therefore I'll show him.' "

Douglas blossomed during the 1960s. Instead of Yale, he chose the University of California at Santa Barbara, lured by beaches and bikinis. He flunked out his freshman year, took an assortment of odd jobs, including film work, and then went back to college, majoring in drama. He recalls those days fondly -- living in a communal house with friends, having wine stomps and kite-flying contests. "We were always looking for an excuse to celebrate." After graduation in 1968 (a missing vertebra kept him out of the service), he moved back to New York to study with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.

Television work led to a part in his first feature, "Hail, Hero!" in 1969. Other films -- "Adam at 6 A.M.," "Summertree" -- and television appearances followed. In 1972 he got his big break, starring in the series "The Streets of San Francisco" with Karl Malden. He was living with actress Brenda Vaccaro at the time, and had already formed his own production company, buying the rights to "Cuckoo's Nest" from his father.

After that first hit, he also produced and starred in "The China Syndrome," which coincided with the Three Mile Island disaster. That gave Douglas a reputation as a video visionary, able to track trends and social concerns. And while the Spielbergs and Coppolas were talented, they were, after all, outsiders. Michael Douglas -- handsome, polite and knowledgeable in the foibles and customs of La-La Land -- was seen by the industry as an heir apparent.

"He's Prince Hal," says one friend. "He's really Hollywood royalty, but he's so self-effacing, he doesn't ever trade on that unspoken power."

Being second generation has given him an edge, he acknowledges, but he also is a pragmatist. He got into producing for a simple reason. "You're not just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring. At least you can create work."

When the phone did ring, he answered, playing nice if innocuous roles in "Coma," "It's My Turn," "The Star Chamber" and "Running." In 1985 he began to stretch a bit with Zach in "A Chorus Line." Then came the double whammy of 1987.

"There are a lot of good actors around who haven't gotten the parts," he says modestly. "I was blessed. I got two good parts this year, with two good directors. You take all those years of work, all those years of discipline, and you say, 'I'm gonna nail those suckers.'

"I was offered a major studio to run. It's the second time I've been offered it. I said, 'I'm honored, but I like to act.' I guess there was some confusion as to how much I really wanted to or liked to act."

He says he was surprised by the vehement reaction to "Fatal Attraction," the most controversial and sexually charged movie of the year. Douglas plays a vulnerable and passive husband who has a one-night stand with an emotionally unstable woman, who then wreaks havoc on his family.

"It was something very difficult for him," says director Lyne. "In the end, it was a brave choice."

Says Douglas, "I always wanted to do a picture about lust. About how lust destroys a man's life."

He looks around the library, as if searching for an explanation. "The only thing I can get out of it is that there is much more of a deep hostility between the sexes than we're willing to admit. There's a lot of anger going on between the sexes."

No, he says, he hasn't had any knife-wielding, deranged women following him around. But he has noticed an increase in the "crazies," women he has never met who claim to have had him for a lover.

On the other hand, his public image can have the opposite effect. "You get a lot of women who make some assumptions and therefore do a reverse on you, this blase' number, and you're kind of smelling your armpits, saying, 'Jeez, what did I do?' "

Cool and self-confident, Douglas nevertheless appears vulnerable when talking about his wife. They separated for eight months several years ago, and the union is not without problems.

Why did they get back together?

He clears his throat nervously. "I think we both sort of reevaluated each other. We also saw gestures and efforts being made during the period of separation related to our son, responsible kinds of gestures rather than escapist gestures, and uh, there was consideration. Diandra was clear she wanted to get back together, too."

The Douglases moved from Santa Barbara to Manhattan, taking a ninth-floor apartment overlooking Central Park. Yes, he says, a main concern was his child.

"You will go through a lot before you will jeopardize that. The fact of the matter is, a lot of marriages do hang together because of the kids. People who are unhappy, they say, 'Kids can tell.' I don't know. Maybe they can. But on the other hand, we're all pretty good actors."

He met the former Diandra Luker at, of all places, Jimmy Carter's inauguration. He saw her across a crowded room, the story goes, then followed her to a disco. They were inseparable by the next day, and married on March 20, 1977. She is 12 years his junior, and enjoys an active social life with European friends. He prefers quieter evenings. Like watching the Lakers on television.

The two attend charity benefits together and recently posed for Town & Country. While Michael graces the cover of GQ and Rolling Stone (publisher Jann Wenner is a pal), his wife models Lacroix for Us. The two were once snapped in bed, in their jammies, by Annie Leibovitz.

Rumors have been circulating recently that Diandra's background is not quite as romantic or grand (growing up in Majorca, the daughter of a diplomat) as previously reported. Douglas shrugs off the gossip, saying one magazine story (written for Vanity Fair but never published) was inaccurate.

"Diandra's kind of taken New York by storm in the last four years," he says. "I don't like to go out as much as I used to. There was a time, especially when I was working, she would go out with friends and all that."

Shooting "Wall Street" last year, Douglas says, he was under enormous pressure. The part was demanding, the calls early in the morning. "After working a 14-hour day, you come back at 8 o'clock and there's a dinner. You know, I have a 6:30 a.m. call and it's emotional work and you're beat."

Working for "Wall Street" director Oliver Stone "was tough ... What he did for me -- he's not a coddler. He's not one to create an environment of a big support system. His attitude is, 'Lemme see if you can cut it.' And he was right. It was painful at first. He's really a commander. He really controls everything. Plus, we did share a pretty sick sense of humor. We'd both laugh at the sickest things. I laugh at funerals ... It's an emotional defense mechanism. Oliver's got it too. So we cackled at the most painful things.

"I will always be eternally grateful," says Douglas, reaching for another Marlboro, "for whatever reason he decided I should do this part, because I will tell you it all comes down to the part. He really pushed me in a tough way."

Maybe that's the biggest misconception about Michael Douglas. That he's the soft, spoiled scion of a Hollywood legend. That he's never had to work for what success he's achieved. That he's a fake, a fraud, a superficially charming, rather innocuous gentleman.

But even Michael Douglas doesn't get every part he wants, right?

"Now I do," Gordon Gekko cackles.