Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Liberace biopic a serious love story

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PASADENA -- It might be campy. And it might be weird and funny, in an over-the-top, showbiz-excess kind of way.

But first and foremost, says Matt Damon, the story told in the HBO movie Behind the Candelabra is a serious love story, and Job 1 for him and co-star Michael Douglas was to treat it respectfully and get it right.

"There are aspects of the relationship that were absurd," he said of the film, which tells the story of the tempestuous pairing of legendary entertainer Liberace, known as Lee to his friends, and his chauffeur/lover, Scott Thorson. "But for me, it just kind of pointed out that there are aspects of all of our lives that are absurd. And they're just not absurd to us because they're our lives.... It was so complex, their relationship.

"If this was a relationship between a man and a woman, you'd feel at moments like, 'This is too intimate, maybe I shouldn't be here.' But it's between a man and a man, and I've never seen that movie before. So it was fun, but we weren't giggling about it. We took it very seriously. These were people's lives and we wanted to get it right."

Behind the Candelabra, which will air this spring on HBO, has Douglas in the role of the flamboyant pianist/showman and Damon playing Thorson, who was a teenager when he became Liberace's live-in companion. The movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is based on the younger man's tell-all memoir, written after he and Liberace had a very acrimonious parting.

Clips shown during HBO's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles feature Douglas and Damon in some very intimate situations. Douglas praised his co-star for the fearless approach he took to playing Liberace's deeply conflicted much-younger lover.

"I just want to commend Matt, because I don't think I would have had the courage at that point in my career to take this on," he said.

For his part, Damon said wardrobe -- period specific, and in keeping with Liberace's wildly outlandish style -- played a big part in allowing him and Douglas to get into their characters.

"I've always been somebody who goes into the wardrobe fitting and I just try to get out as fast as I can," he says. "When they ask me what kind of shoes (I need), at this point I look for the most comfortable shoes... I just kind of can't be bothered with it.

"But this was a very specific thing. And I probably spent more time in the wardrobe fittings on this thing than I had in the previous 15 projects, literally. Days and days and days. And I really enjoyed it."

Some have speculated that Thorson's interest in Liberace was motivated by material gain, but Damon said he believes the relationship was based on a real emotional connection.

"I think (Thorson's) love was genuine, but I think it was complicated," he offers. "He was somebody who was a foster kid and was looking for a family... and Lee gave that to him. And I think they had a profound love for each other and it ended badly, but there were a lot of wonderful moments and a lot of ups and downs and a lot of things that everybody goes through in long-term relationships.

"But I don't think Scott had an angle the whole time. I think he genuinely fell for him, which is why he was hurt ultimately at the end." Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2013 D3

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