During the network’s leg of the press tour in Pasadena, HBO offered TV critics a sneak peek at the trailer for “Behind the Candelabra”, its forthcoming Liberace biopic starring Michael Douglas as the legendary showman, and Matt Damon as his lover, Scott Thorson. The much buzzed-about TV movie is being called “brave” for its lead performances (although I thought we were long past elevating actors to the status of Batman simply for playing gay). Douglas described his co-star as courageous simply for signing on to do the film, as Damon presumably has a far more lucrative and successful big screen image to protect. “I don’t think I would have had the courage at that point in my career to take this on,” said Douglas.
The film, based on Thorson’s memoir, was directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, who approached Douglas 13 years ago about playing the role during the filming of the film that would give the director his Oscar, the aptly-titled drug-trafficking drama “Traffic”. “Somewhere early in the shoot, Steven said, ‘You know, have you ever thought about Liberace?’” Douglas recalled. “And I looked at him and thought, ‘Is this guy messing with me, you know?’ That’s how early the idea was going on.” Soderbergh, who was also present for the screening, added, “And [Douglas] immediately launched into an impromptu impression of him that was excellent.”
Other news and notes from the screening:
-Matt Damon spent “days and days and days” in wardrobe, getting fitted for the elaborate costumes required for the role of Thorson. “I’ve always been somebody who goes into the wardrobe fitting and I just try to get out as fast as I can,” said Damon. “But this was a very specific thing. And I probably spent more time in the wardrobe fittings on this thing than I had in the previous 15 projects, literally. And I really enjoyed it, because [the real-life Thorson] really was taken with the glamour of this lifestyle.” The wardrobe touches weren’t specific to Damon either, as the sets themselves even got a taste of Liberace: some of the set dressings were composed of Liberace’s actual clothes. Unfortunately for the actors (or fortunately, depending on whether or not you like pawing second-hand, high-end fabric), they weren’t allowed to touch the pieces.
-Douglas admitted to a feeling of freedom in portraying the late singer. “Characters are normally a little easier to play than people who might be closer to yourself,” said the Academy Award-winning actor. “It’s sort of a license of freedom.”
When asked about his processes in delivering a fully-realized performance, Douglas observed, “There’s a tremendous amount of clips and films that certainly give you a sense. Basically [it's a] repetition process of looking at a lot of stuff and finding that balance [and] knowing you’re not an impersonator. You’re not going to ever be exactly like Liberace and [you try] to find the balance that makes you comfortable, makes Steven secure and makes myself attractive to Matt.”
-When asked if he found Douglas attractive, Damon playfully responded, “Very, very attractive.” Very method, Matt.
–Damon would go on to add that the film represents the intimacy between Liberace and Thorson at a deeper level than many on-screen gay relationships have on television in recent years. “Whether this was [Liberace and Thorson's relationship] dynamic or not, I completely believed what he’d written and those aspects of the power dynamic,” said Damon. “If this was a relationship between a man and a woman, you’d feel at moments like, ‘This is too intimate, maybe I shouldn’t be here.’ But it’s between a man and a man, and I’ve never seen that movie before. And so it was fun, but we weren’t giggling about it. We took it very seriously. These were people’s lives and we wanted to get it right and we wanted to get the script right.”
Behind the Candelabra will be released later this year.