Behind the Candelabra: Liberace Biopic–Serious Look at Gay Relationship

HBO’s Liberace biopicture, Behind the Candelabra, directed by Solderbergh, has been many years in the making.

Director Steven Soderbergh first discussed the idea with star Michael Douglas while the duo was working on the movie Traffic in the late 1990s, which won Soderbergh the Best Director Oscar. “Somewhere earlier in that shoot, Soderbergh said, ‘Have you ever thought about Liberace?'” Douglas recalled during a Television Critics Association winter press tour panel Friday. More than a decade later, he assumed the role of the flamboyant entertainer, which he plays opposite Matt Damon, as his lover Scott Thorson, along with supporting cast members Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe and Paul Reiser.

With buzz starting to build ahead of the film’s May premiere, Soderbergh insists he set out to tell the story of a “real” relationship. Despite the over-the-top nature of the two men, as well as their relationship, he says he never wanted to do caricatures of either of the characters. “We take the relationship seriously,” Soderbergh noted, with Damon echoing that thought: “We weren’t giggling about it. These were people’s lives. We wanted to get it right.”

Douglas used the TCA platform to praise Damon for taking on the buzzworthy, if controversial, role. “I don’t think I would have had the courage at that point in my career to take this on,” Douglas said of his considerably younger co-star. To hear Damon tell it, it was an opportunity — from the script to the director — too rich to pass up, and he did nothing but rave about the process of putting the film together. Even the wacky wardrobe and the many fittings were enjoyable, he said, joking: “I probably spent more time in the wardrobe fittings than I have on the previous 15 projects.”

Though Thorson’s book, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace, served as source material, he was not involved in the filmmaking process, nor has he seen the finished product. In fact, producer Jerry Weintraub was the only one working on the film with any sort of relationship with Thorson, whom he says he did speak to earlier on in the process. (Weintraub noted that Thorson has been unresponsive in recent months, likely due to his poor health.)

Douglas acknowledged that he had met Liberace a handful of times– his father had a home in Palm Springs near Douglas’–but he hardly knew him the way Weintraub did. The producer noted that he had a close relationship with Liberace, whom he described as a “nice” man, a “gracious” host and a “pretty wild guy.”