Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
At today’s TCA panel on HBO’s Liberace drama Behind The Candelabra, the creative forces behind the project stressed that they are attempting to get at the humanity rather than just the camp-and-glam elements of the lives of Liberace (portrayed by Michael Douglas) and his younger live-in lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). The actors appeared on today’s panel with director Steven Soderbergh and executive producer Jerry Weintraub.
Soderbergh said he was drawn to the source material, Thorson’s book Behind The Candelabra: My Life With Liberace, written with Alex Thorleifson. The story was adapted for TV by screenwriter Richard LaGravenese. In the book, Soderbergh said, “the conversations are the kind that every couple has. It’s an unusual setting, but we take the relationship seriously.”
This does not mean that the story of two larger-than-life characters didn’t lend itself to humor on the panel. Douglas said that creating the character of Liberace involved a balancing act of not trying to impersonate Liberace, following the director’s vision and creating someone “that will be very, very attractive to Matt.”
“Did you find him attractive?” Damon was asked.
“Very, very attractive,” Damon deadpanned.
Douglas said that Soderbergh had planted the seed for the actor taking on the role of Liberace some 12 years ago, when the two were working on the movie Traffic. He also praised Damon for being willing to take on the role of Scott: “I don’t think I would have had the courage at that point in my career to take that on,” Douglas said.
Douglas was also asked what wife Catherine Zeta-Jones said when she saw her husband as Liberace. “Where have you been all my life?” Douglas joked, adding: “She has seen the film and is a big fan of it. “
Weintraub said that Thorson’s book was used as source material but he was not directly involved in the production. “I did all the conversations with Scott, he had no involvement in making the film whatsoever, except it was his story and he wrote it in the book,” Weintraub said. “He has not seen it. I have not talked to him, I have not been able to reach him for the past 9 or 10 weeks” although Weintraub has tried to get in touch with him for fact-checking purposes. “He hasn’t been well, I have no idea where he is at the present moment,” Weintraub said.
But Weintraub talked about his personal friendship with Liberace. “I knew him very well. He was a wonderful guy, a great host, I went to his home many times for dinner,” he said. “I was always impressed with his graciousness and the way he treated us. “ He said the flamboyant pianist keep a liquor bar in his Rolls Royce and he’d serve drink to guests in the car. He was a pretty wild guy, a great guy and a nice guy,” he said.
Weintraub said that Liberace’s performing style and costumes may have overshadowed his abilities as a pianist, but he never saw the artist as a joke or a laughingstock. “He was before Lady Gaga and Madonna and Elton John,” Weintraub said.