The players in "Behind The Candelabra," HBO's biopic on Liberace, recently spoke at a Television Critics Association press panel about the upcoming film.
Director Steven Soderbergh first approached Michael Douglas about tackling the role of the flamboyant pianist back when the two were filming "Traffic" in the late 1990s. "Somewhere earlier in that shoot, [Soderbergh] said, 'Have you ever thought about Liberace?'" Douglas told a Television Critics Association winter press tour panel. He credits his co-star Matt Damon with his excitement in taking the role. "I don't think I would have had the courage at that point in my career to take this on."
Damon portrays Scott Thorson in the film, based on Thorson's memoir, which revolves around the tumultuous five year relationship between the two men. "He really was taken with the glamour of this lifestyle," Damon says. "Even when writing the book he talked about how impressed he was and how exciting it was to be involved in the glamour."
Even though Thorson's direct involvement was limited, Damon insists that he made a conscious effort to make sure his influence and personality shone through in the role, including bringing his flamboyant sense of style to the screen. "I've always been somebody who goes into the wardrobe fitting and I try to get out as fast as I can... I just kind of can't be bothered with it, but... I probably spent more time in the wardrobe fittings on this thing than I have in the previous 15 projects. Days and days and days, and I really enjoyed it," Damon says.
The film takes place during a period when, despite his relationship with Thorson, Liberace was still publicly living as a straight man, even going so far as to sue a tabloid over allegations that he was a homosexual. Executive producer Jerry Weintraub hopes that the film will "show how we've grown. To show the progression of our human race, of our country, of all the people in the world about this subject. Same-sex unions are recognized now and permitted in certain places. Being gay has lost its social stigma."
Although their relationship was wild and oftentimes toxic, for Damon the story at its core is a powerful romance. "There are aspects of their relationships that were absurd, but for me it just pointed out that there are aspects of all of our lives that are absurd," he says. "They're just not absurd to us because it's our lives."
Director Soderbergh agrees, insisting that the love affair is tackled with a sense of realism and heart. "We take the relationship seriously," Soderbergh noted. "We weren’t giggling about it. These were people's lives. We wanted to get it right."
"I think his love was genuine but I think it was complicated," Damon adds. "He was looking for a family and Lee gave that to him. They had a profound love for each other. It ended badly but there were a lot of wonderful moments and a lot of ups and downs... I don't think Scott had an angle the whole time. He genuinely fell for him which was why he was hurt ultimately at the end."