Matt Damon Wanted a Front Row Seat
You can pick and choose the projects you work on - what interested you about this one?
Steven had told me about it in 2007. And so I knew I was going to do it, because I’ve done seven movies with him, and I basically just work with him whenever I get a chance. And then the script came, and it’s really one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. Richard (LaGravenese) did such a beautiful job. I’d read Scott Thorson’s book, and Richard just seemed to nail a really interesting dynamic. And I think for Michael and I - that was a way in. We’re both married. We’ve both been in relationships awhile, so we could relate. But Richard wrote such a human script that it was really easy for me to just connect to the character, and the relationship.
And another reason I wanted to do the movie was I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play opposite Michael Douglas. I didn’t want to miss having a front row seat to Michael playing Liberace.
You’ve worked with Steven Soderbergh many times. Tell us a little about his directing style, and how you collaborate with him.
I’ve never really worked with anybody like Steven. Spielberg is similar, in the sense that, he’s cutting in camera, and making decisions in as decisive a manner as you could ask, which comes from an understanding of how things cut together. We really wanted to do it justice. But it would’ve been really tough to do take after take of some of these more intimate scenes. It’s a challenge, as an actor, and one that I really wanted to take on. And knowing it was Steven, and knowing that there’s a scene where I have to walk out of a pool, and straddle Michael on a chaise lounge, and start making out with him. We didn’t rehearse it. I just came out in a white, bejeweled, man-kini with a big blonde wig and sunglasses, and we did it in one take.
And I understand that Steven also operates his own camera?
Steven is the director, but he’s also the cinematographer, which means he sets all the lights. He’s the camera operator as well, which means he’s the guy holding the camera. So those three jobs that normally three different people do, he does all of them. And he edits the movie as well. So, every night I’d go home, I’d have dinner with my wife and kids, get them to bed, and by the time they were asleep, Steven would’ve uploaded to a website not only what we had shot that day, but the scene, completely cut together. Normally you’re making a movie in a vacuum. You have a rough idea of how things are going. But with Steven he actually shows you the entire scene, cut, which is a huge advantage as an actor. So when you have someone like Steven, who’s as decisive and inclusive, you really get a better handle on your role.
What was the difference between Liberace’s public persona and his private life?
Well, his private life bore no resemblance at all to his public life. He was always petrified that he was going to be found out as a gay man. He thought his fans weren’t going to forgive him. I can’t imagine how hard it would’ve been to live in that kind of fear.
Once you put on the costumes, did you feel transformed?
This was the first movie I ever enjoyed wardrobe fittings on. I did probably eight, ten wardrobe fittings? And we really got into it; it was really fun. The clothes were so different from anything that I’d ever put on. They changed me so much, the way they make me stand, or walk, or move a different way. I really got into it.