News Column

Douglas plays Liberace in 'Behind the Candelabra'

May 25, 2013


May 25--PASADENA -- Director Steven Soderbergh's latest film, "Behind the Candelabra," takes a look at the six-year relationship of flamboyant Las Vegas performer Liberace and his young lover, Scott Thorson. The script is based on the autobiographical novel by Thorson.

Oscar-winners Michael Douglas and Matt Damon star in the HBO movie. Douglas talked to TV critics about taking on the role of the iconic performer.

Question: How did you prepare for the role?

Answer: There's a tremendous amount of clips and films that certainly give you a sense, an idea, and there's a lot of repetition involved. It's basically a repetition process of looking at a lot of stuff and finding that balance between knowing you're not an impersonator. You're not going to ever be exactly like Liberace. And trying to find the balance that makes you comfortable, makes Steven secure, and makes myself attractive to Matt.

How difficult was it to step into his shoes?

I think it's characterization. Characters are normally a little easier to play than things that might be closer to yourself. So actually, it's sort of a license of freedom. It frees you up tremendously. And it was really a treat to have a chance to play this part.

Did you and Soderbergh talk about this project for a long time?

We just first started working on "Traffic," the movie. And somewhere early in the shoot, Steven said, "You know, have you ever thought about Liberace?" And I looked at him and I thought, "Is this guy messing with me?" That's how early I think the idea was going on.

Did you ever meet Liberace?

I met him briefly two or three times when my father had a house in Palm Springs and Liberace had a house nearby. You couldn't miss his car. But never had, like, an evening with him or anything like that.

Liberace was both popular and, at times, the subject of jokes. How did you handle that?

I think he had a very good sense and a very savvy sense of showmanship. You've got to remember, besides all his popularity in Las Vegas, it was the television show that really made him so well known to everybody in the world. We talk about it in the movie, and he sort of prided himself, but he was probably the first person on television to talk directly to the camera and it was one of his great abilities to sort of bring in everybody to it. With that camp style, there was a genuine, genuine, genuine quality about him and his performances.

What was your wife's (Catherine Zeta-Jones) first reaction to seeing you in costume?

"Where have you been all my life?" No. She has seen the film and is a big fan of it.



"Behind the Candelabra": 9 p.m. Sunday, May 26, on HBO


TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at


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