David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor.
When word first leaked that square-jawed, macho Michael Douglas would star in a biopic of Liberace, the swanning pianist famous for garish costumes and flashy keyboard antics, many feared the worst. But HBO’s Behind The Candelabra, directed by Steven Soderbergh and based on a memoir by Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson (played by Matt Damon), is anything but an exercise in misguided casting. Instead of camping it up, Douglas, who remains best known for his Oscar-winning turn as Wall Street lizard king Gordon Gekko, embraces his inner queen in an audacious and vulnerable performance.
AwardsLine: How were you first approached for the role of Liberace—and what appealed to you about the part?
Michael Douglas: It’s wild. It goes all the way back to 2000, when I was doing Traffic with Steven. One day he says, “Ever thought about playing Liberace?” I thought he was messing with me. But a couple of times on the set I did an imitation, just for fun. Then seven years later, he called and said, “I’m going to be sending you something.” It was the book Behind The Candelabra by Scott Thorson. Jerry Weintraub had acquired it for Steven, Richard LaGravenese had written the screenplay, and Matt Damon wanted to play Scott. It was a great screenplay with a wonderful character for me to eat up the scenery. My whole career has been me playing contemporary characters, so I welcomed the chance to get behind a figure from a different era. It was like painting on a clown face rather than wiping my face raw for a part. It even required appliances and hairpieces and all that.
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