September 29, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

In 1976 Michael Douglas collected a producing Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But now that he collects $15 million for playing The American President, Douglas can cast himself as a producer with star clout. Last year he united his two vocations in one company, Constellation Films, and, with the help of partner Steven Reuther (ex-president of New Regency Films), raised some $500 million to make 12 films over the next four years, to be distributed by Paramount Pictures. This week the duo announce their first four pictures, including two that will star Douglas.

”I was always juggling careers,” says Douglas, 51, pulling on a Marlboro Light in his Paramount office. ”This was a chance to put my producing career and my acting on the same track.”

Long stymied by his lack of control during a string of studio deals that yielded some hits (Starman, Flatliners) and some flops (Radio Flyer, Hard Promises), Douglas formed Constellation with Reuther, 43, whose previous company produced such big-budget movies as The Client, as well as Douglas’ War of the Roses and Falling Down, and who brought in the major investor, German entertainment mogul Bodo Scriba. Because Douglas wanted to work with two trusted chums — Viacom/Paramount executives Jonathan Dolgen and Sherry Lansing (who produced Fatal Attraction and Black Rain, both starring Douglas) — the distribution deal went to Paramount. ”You don’t want to distribute just anybody’s films,” says Lansing. ”It has to be somebody with whom you share a taste and sensibility, who will make hit movies.”

While a handful of major stars produce their own movies, Constellation joins the rarefied ranks of such mini studios as producer Andy Vajna’s Cinergi (Die Hard With a Vengeance), financier James Robinson’s Morgan Creek (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), and Reuther’s old hangout, New Regency. The upside? Creative freedom, copyright ownership, and a big cut of worldwide revenues. The downside? Not much margin for failure. ”That’s the degree of difficulty,” Douglas admits. ”Our pictures have to perform.”

Constellation’s first picture is Sydney Pollack’s $50 million Sabrina, a 50-50 cofinancing deal with Paramount. Douglas and Reuther have bought John Grisham’s The Rainmaker for a reported $6 million, with Grisham penning the adaptation. The company’s first fully financed movie is The Ghost in the Darkness, a $55 million turn-of-the-century railroad adventure, set to begin shooting next month in South Africa, that stars Val Kilmer and Douglas, paying himself at a discount. And Douglas will realize his dream of acting in a movie with his father, Kirk: The two will star in A Song for David, about a father-son construction business.

Puffing away in the venetian-blind shadows of the afternoon, Douglas does indeed look golden. ”I always think of one’s career like a surfer,” he says. ”You wait, you [catch] your four waves, then you wait a little bit for the next good one.”

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