“Behind the Candelabra” (debuts on HBO Spring 2013) looks like it should be a campy Lifetime movie — but with Michael Douglas as Liberace, Matt Damon as his love interest, Rob Lowe and Debbie Reynolds making guest appearances and Steven Soderbergh directing, this is clearly serious stuff. During a press tour panel, Douglas talked about getting into character. “Well, there’s a tremendous amount of clips and films that give you a sense of character,” the Oscar winner said, joking, “[I had to] make Steven secure and make myself attractive to Matt.”
Press Tour: Douglas, Damon talk crazy costumes for ‘Behind the Candelabra’
When asked if Douglas was successful, Damon responded, smiling, “Very, very attractive.”
Douglas told the audience he enjoyed the chance to disappear into a character. “It frees you up tremendously. It was really a treat to have a chance to play this part.” Apparently, casting Douglas in this role has been on Soderbergh’s radar for a long, long time. “I can’t believe it’s true, we were doing ‘Traffic’ 12 years ago,” Douglas recalled. “And early in the shoot he said, ‘You ever thought of Liberace?’ And I thought, is this guy messing with me? Matt and I just had a great chance. I don’t think I would have had the courage to take this on [without Matt].”
Matt also found costuming critical for his role as Scott Thorson. “It does help. The clothes that were documented and the clothes we actually had that were used as set dressing — we weren’t allowed to touch them. But even the clothes that we wore in the house… I’ve always been somebody who goes to the fitting and tries to get out. I look for the most comfortable clothes… But I spent more time in the fittings than I have in the previous 15 projects, and I really enjoyed it. And reading the book that [Thorson] wrote, he really was taken with the glamour of this lifestyle.”
When asked what his wife Catherine Zeta Jones thought of his Liberace metamorphosis, Douglas joked, “[She said] “Where have you been all my life?” But seriously, folks… “She’s seen the film and is a big fan. You don’t get this many chances to have a great script and a wonderful actor like Matt to work with. We obviously worked together closely. Catherine realizes when you have a chance like this… she was really proud, really excited about it when she saw it.”
While it’s easy to sort out what Damon and Douglas found appealing about the project, Soderbergh, who admitted he’d long wanted to do a movie about Liberace but wanted to avoid a traditional biopic, was interested for his own reasons. “One of the aspects of the book and the story is that in a certain point in the film is the discussions they’re having are discussions every couple has. We take the relationship seriously… I just feel these are very common feelings. We get up in the morning, put clothes on and make a judgment about our appearance. Not all of us have the resources to indulge in plastic surgery or an incredibly wardrobe. [Executive Producer] Jerry [Weintraub] once referred to the movie as La Cage Aux Folles on steroids. All the issues are expanded because of this crazy environment.
Given that Debbie Reynolds is in the film and knew Liberace and Douglas is a scion of old Hollywood, Douglas was asked if he had any vivid stories about Liberace or heard any on set. “I met him briefly in Palm Springs, and I remember passing by in the car. Couldn’t miss his car. Just extraordinary gracious, extremely professional guy. Most of Debbie’s stories I’m afraid we really can’t tell. Not just about Lee but about anybody. But she did have some spicy stuff to say.”