At last — Michael Douglas as Liberace, on HBO. The highly touted, much-anticipated Behind the Candelabra, from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, with Matt Damon as Liberace’s 40-years-younger lover, Scott Thorson, is clearly the TV event of the week. In fact, it will air for weeks and be available on demand. Here are 10 points to enhance your viewing experience.
1. Emmy time! Critics are almost universally calling Douglas’ performance a tour de force. Kudos are being heaped upon Damon as well, but this is Douglas’ show.
2. It is a big, emotional comeback moment for Douglas, who teared up in a Cannes press conference last week as he talked about the role being a “gift” that came to him after he got through his battle with throat cancer.
3. Douglas’ father, Kirk, owned a house in Palm Springs in the same neighborhood as Liberace, and Douglas saw a lot of “Lee” growing up.
4. The actors threw themselves into the love scenes. Damon said at Cannes that he warned the crew about getting a look at his bare bum: “You can’t unring that bell.” Douglas said that kissing Matt wasn’t bad.
5. “We take the relationship seriously. I was very anxious that we not make a caricature of eitherof their characters or of the relationship,” Steven Soderbergh made it clear at the Winter Television Critics Association press tour. He also said that he found it appealing that after a certain point in the film, “Lee” and Scott are “having discussions that every couple has.”
6. Well, not every couple. One of the jaw-dropping sequences has a scene-stealing Rob Lowe as Dr. Jack Startz, the bizarro plastic surgeon enlisted by Liberace to remake Scott’s face into a younger version of his own.
7. Debbie Reynolds, almost unrecognizable in the role of Liberace’s mother, Frances, got to know both mama and son very well when she and Liberace were headlining in Vegas at the same time. Soderbergh and Douglas said that Debbie’s stories were too spicy to repeat to the general public.
8. The real Scott Thorson’s arc has gone like this: foster child to adored teenage boyfriend-of-the-star to druggie — to convict. He is currently in the Washoe County Jail in Nevada for burglary and identity theft. In an interview trumpeted to media with the headline “A lot of people wouldn’t think of him as a child molester …” Thorson told Entertainment Tonight that he was “taken aback” that nobody came to talk to him for the movie adapted from his book of the same title. Battling anal cancer, he also asked cancer survivor Douglas for help — “I’m desperate.”
9. A who’s who of cinema creatives contributed to Behind the Candelabra. It was scripted by Richard LaGravanese (The Horse Whisperer, The Fisher King). The supporting cast also boasts Dan Aykroyd, Paul Reiser, Cheyenne Jackson and Scott Bakula. And the suitably dazzling musical component bears the magic touch of the late Marvin Hamlisch Behind the Candelabra was his final project.
10. Behind the Candelabra was turned down by Hollywood studios as “too gay,” according to Soderbergh, who says that the concern was that only the gay audience would be interested in watching it — which opens the question of just where gay people stand in this realm nowadays. It comes on the heels of the broadcast networks’ cancellation of a slew of series that featured gay characters, including The New Normal, Partners, Smash and Go On. And of course, great as they may be, Douglas and Damon continue Hollywood’s predilection toward having heterosexual actors play gay characters.
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