You could be forgiven for not knowing Liberace. But ask your dad or granddad and he will tell you aboiut how famous and iconic this piano artist was and how he could be labeled as a forerunner to the more flamboyant performers of the later years like Madonna, Elton John, and Lady Gaga, and so on. This superstar of the 50’s and 60’s died of HIV AIDS and desperately tried to keep a lid on his secret love life with a strapping young man. HBO has taken up the gauntlet and made a TV series depicting the life and death of a true showman of his times. And guess what, none other than Michael Douglas is playing the role of the iconic performer with Matt Damon playing the character of his secret lover.
The movie, which is a biopic on the legendary entertainer, has been directed by Steven Soderbergh and its screening at the halfway point of Cannes Film Festival this year has created a lot of buzz with people showing great interest in this movie as well as the performances of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. At the outset, the selection of Michael Douglas does not seem a perfect match for the role of the freaky pianist of yesteryears as Douglas has always played somber characters and he does not even know how to play the piano. But the 68 year old thespian has given a dazzling performance as a showman who is fond of lavish lifestyle, owning no less than 11 homes and having a secret gay lover in a young teenager.
Matt Damon plays young Scott Thorson who met the pianist for the first time in 1977 and who became a close confidant, a friend, a personal assistant, and a constant companion till the death of Liberace. Other actors playing important characters in the movie are Debbie Reynolds, Paul Reiser, and Rob Lowe who is a plastic surgeon looking after the needs of the aging pianist.
The credit for selecting Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and then shaping their performances in the movie goes to director Steven Soderbergh. Though the love affair between the seemingly odd pair of the aging pianist and his teenage assistant is at the focus of the movie, the director has seen to it that there is plenty of depth in the characters and they do not look creepy or sloppy.
Liberace hired Thorson as a chauffeur in 1976 but the two soon became close friends despite their age difference. They were living a live-in relationship and Liberace even hired the services of a plastic surgeon to make Thorson look like himself. However, the steamy love affair between the two came to an end in 1982 when Thorson accused Liberace of promiscuity. He even filed a libel suit against Liberace, demanding no lees than $113 million in damages.
Behind the Candelabra seems to be the finest ever movie made for television by HBO till date. It could well be a swan song for Michael Douglas and a turning point of the career for Matt Damon.