Douglas, Damon dramatize a steamy showbiz affair
This film image released by HBO shows Michael Douglas, left, as Liberace, and Matt Damon, as Scott Thorson in a scene from "Behind the Candelabra," premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. (AP Photo/HBO, Claudette Barius)
NEW YORK (AP) — The idea of Michael Douglas playing Liberace might seem nearly as outrageous as Liberace himself.
Liberace, forever hailed as Mr. Showmanship, was the excess-to-the-max pianist-personality whose onstage and offstage extravagance were legendary and who wowed audiences in Las Vegas and worldwide to become the best-paid entertainer on the planet during his heyday from the 1950s to the 1970s.
He was the forerunner of flashy, gender-bender entertainers like Elton John, David Bowie, Madonna and Lady Gaga even as he kept a tight lid on his gay private life, which he feared could have ended his career had it come out. (His fans never seemed to get wise.)
By contrast, Michael Douglas is a 68-year-old movie star known for he-man performances and morally ambiguous roles. And he was no piano player.
But Douglas now dazzles as Liberace in the new HBO film "Behind the Candelabra," including lavish musical numbers in which he tinkles the ivories and flourishes his jewel-and-ermine finery. The film (executive-produced by showbiz veteran Jerry Weintraub, a Liberace friend) premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT.
Douglas' co-star is Matt Damon, who, in a casting choice almost as counterintuitive, plays Scott Thorson, a dreamy, strapping teen who in 1977 met Liberace in his Vegas dressing room and almost instantly became his personal assistant, live-in companion and top-secret lover.
"Candelabra" (whose title cites the trademark prop ornamenting Liberace's onstage piano) also features Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Paul Reiser, Debbie Reynolds and a hilarious turn by Rob Lowe as Liberace's on-call plastic surgeon.
It was the film's director, Steven Soderbergh, who brought together the two lead actors, helped shape their splendid performances and masterminded this portrait of a loving but bizarre and tempestuous affair.
This showbiz saga may be over the top, but there's plenty of depth and it dives deep.
"We played the script and tried not to wink at the audience," said Douglas. "It's a great love story. I watch it and I forget about Matt and myself. Then, pretty soon, I practically forget it's two guys: The conversations and arguments sound like any ol' couple."
Adds Damon in a separate interview: "The question for us was how do we make this look like a marriage that we recognize. Most of our scenes we could relate to because we're both in long-term marriages. It was a male-female story with two guys."
This film image released by HBO shows Michael Douglas, right, as Liberace, and Matt Damon, as Scott Thorson in a scene from "Behind the Candelabra," premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. (AP Photo/HBO, Claudette Barius)
Well, maybe. But that doesn't override the risk factor for Douglas and Damon as they tackled roles dramatically at odds with their images and past work.