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Interview with Michael Douglas

Liberace

HBO

What interested you about this project?

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Well, my fascination has to do with, first of all, the script, which was simply one of the best screenplays I had seen in a long time. So you read a really good script, and theyre asking you to play Liberace, which you dont get a chance to do every day. And then, oh, by the way, Steven Soderbergh, is going to be directing it. Jerry Weintraub is producing it, and your co-star and lover is Matt Damon. So, where do I sign up?

But for me, this is a full circle, because its twelve years ago that Im making the movie Traffic, with Steven Soderbergh directing. And in the middle of shooting, Steven says to me, have you ever thought about playing Liberace? And I look at him and think: is he messing with me? Im supposed to be the drug czar in Traffic, and I said: well, it hasnt ever crossed my mind. So thats how long ago Steven had been thinking about the project. But it really is a combination of a great script, and being fortunate enough to have such a strong team around you.

HBO

What was it like, creating such an intimate relationship with Matt Damon?

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Well, Liberace was one of the biggest stars in America. He was a kind of a phenomenon. He had a warm personality, and was very astute. And, like a lot of men who like young blonde girls, Lee (Liberace) loved young blonde guys. And so the love affair between Lee and Scott (Thorson, Liberaces lover) was all written there, in the script. So we knew what we were getting into. And I really have to take my hat off to Matt Damon, because hes in the prime of his career and takes a lot of chances. Its fine for me, at my age, to play Liberace, and a wonderful opportunity to play a great character. But Im not in the prime of my career, and Ive thought, during the show - wow, would I be as brave as Matt, to take on being my lover?

As far as the sexual intimacy, its funny, because it can get very campy, and we wanted to keep this story real, and not poke fun at anybody. And we both quickly found a style together. We knew the script called for us to be attracted. And thats what acting is all about. And everybody always asks, well, do you kiss Matt Damon? I said, baby, I do a lot more than that. [LAUGHS] And so, we just got into it, and had a great working relationship.

HBO

The story is set in the late Seventies, early Eighties. It was a different time, a sort of changing time. Liberaces public persona was very different from his personal life.

"The story sucks you in so much that you forget its about two guys, and youre just watching a relationship between two people who really love each other."

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Well, he vehemently protected and defended the fact that he was not gay, and would go after newspapers and magazines, legally. He was very conscious, very smart and astute about his audience. People loved him. So he protected that part. But Behind the Candelabra is about the relationship of Scott and Lee, not a biography of Liberace.

HBO

Did you feel transformed when you put on some of those elaborate outfits?

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Yes, it was wonderful. We worked closely with Ellen Mirojnick, our fabulous costume designer, who Ive been fortunate enough to work with a number of times. She did a great job of replicating Lees costumes. I studied tape of his performances, and when you watch them enough you start getting a feeling of how to carry the capes, and move them around. And you begin to feel the joy, the fun that hes having, and his ability to kind of wink with the audience, and have close contact. It was a gas.

HBO

Was Liberace ahead of his time, as a performer?

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Definitely. I mean, when you put him in perspective, he was completely over the top. The shows became grander and grander. But if you look at what Elton John was doing, and Lady Gaga, and Madonna. Im sure, without them even realizing, a lot of that came from Lee. He enjoyed it so much, and he enjoyed the audience enjoying it with him.

HBO

What is it like collaborating with Steven Soderbergh?

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Directing talent is very nebulous. You know, its not in front of you like an actors performance. Steven casts really well. He likes actors, and he doesnt say much, if he doesnt have to. Hes smart. Saying that, you know, hes also operating the camera. Hes lighting. So, Ill do anything for him. He never asks very much. So in return, youre willing to give whatever you can.

HBO

Why do you think this is an intriguing story to tell?

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Well, its a great love story. And people always love a good love story. The fact that it takes place between two men& the issues that they deal with, what happens, are completely universal. What Im most proud of is that you forget about Matt and me pretty quickly, because the story sucks you in so much that you forget its about two guys, and youre just watching a relationship between two people who really love each other.

Behind the Candelabra

HBO Films