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Jon Hamm in a scene from Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men.
”Every Monday morning, Sloane Crosley and Logan Hill will be offering their post-”Mad Men” analysis here. Read on and share your reactions to Don and Sylvia’s last tryst, Joan and Bob’s new alliance and more, in the comments:
Sloane Crosley: Happy Mother’s Day, Logan! Or, in the tender words of Pete Campbell, “My mother can go to hell!”
Logan Hill: With two ice cubes tinkling in her gin and tonic, while Ted flies her there! What did you make of Pete and his mom?
When audiences looked at Liberace, they saw a bundle of contradictions wrapped in layers of fur, gold lamé suits and ostrich-feather capes. Here was a consummate entertainer who could make fans feel as if they were sitting next to him on his piano bench, yet who kept them at arm’s length. As much as his sexuality seemed to be on display — a detail that many close observers could detect in his flamboyant stage presence and outrageous costumes — it was something Liberace would never openly share with his adoring public
It was a fact that neither man could completely explain about the genesis of “Behind the Candelabra,” a biographical film covering the private life of Liberace that will have its debut next Sunday on HBO.
From its announcement, “Behind the Candelabra,” directed by Mr. Soderbergh, has been as astonishing as its star subject’s preference for being driven onstage in a Rolls-Royce. It stars Mr. Douglas — a k a the “Wall Street” master of the universe, Gordon Gekko — as Liberace, the pianist who died in 1987, with Matt Damon — Jason Bourne himself — as his lover Scott Thorson. Reunited a few weeks ago at a suite in the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Central Park, the director and his leading men carried themselves like old Army buddies who hadn’t seen one another since the war. They reminisced about working together; Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Douglas needled Mr. Damon about the spray-tan lines from his character’s Brazilian bikini bottoms.
And though they said they were at ease depicting the romance and breakup of two loud if not always proud men, there were also plenty of giggles about excessive makeup and fabulous outfits. Even if the film comes when Elton John and Lady Gaga can be as open about their orientations as they are brazen in their wardrobe choices, mainstream Hollywood in 2013 still needs some distance from an outré life like Liberace’s.
Back in 2000, when Mr. Soderbergh was working with Mr. Douglas on the drug-trade drama, “Traffic,” the director said he was inspired, “out of the blue,” to ask the actor if he’d ever thought about playing Liberace.
“I thought, am I mincing or something?” Mr. Douglas said. “I’m supposed to be playing a drug czar, and he’s asking me about playing Liberace. I thought he was messing with me.”
Mr. Soderbergh explained, “I guess I was picking up on something,” to which Mr. Douglas offered a snorting laugh. “My antennae are very sensitive.”
For Mr. Soderbergh, “Behind the Candelabra” represents at least a temporary farewell to a 25-year career of feature filmmaking. For Mr. Douglas, this same project is an unlikely comeback vehicle, one of his first movies since he disclosed in 2010 that he had started treatment for Stage IV throat cancer.
At the hotel, Mr. Douglas looked physically vigorous, but he spoke in a voice that was sometimes fragile and tentative. Mr. Damon and Mr. Soderbergh were gently protective of him, occasionally jumping in as he answered a reporter’s questions.
Mr. Douglas seemed sincere in his appreciation for the opportunity to play Liberace, whom he described as “a big, barrel-chested” guy with “one thigh the size of my two” and who represented the rare chance to lose himself in a vivid historical figure. “He was a really nice guy,” he said. “He liked niceness and for everybody to be happy, and I don’t normally get a chance to play guys like that.”
After his initial flash of inspiration, Mr. Soderbergh spent several years puzzling over how to best tell the story of Liberace — Wladziu Valentino Liberace by birth, Lee to his friends — whose concerts were equal parts rhinestones and rapid-fire performances of Tchaikovsky and Chopin.
The breakthrough for Mr. Soderbergh was his introduction to “Behind the Candelabra,” a tell-all book by Mr. Thorson, who filed a $113 million palimony suit against Liberace in 1982 and received a $95,000 settlement five years later.
Though the courts may have felt otherwise, Mr. Damon said the film adaptation, written by Richard LaGravenese, embraces the idea that “there really was a true and abiding love” between Liberace and Mr. Thorson.
“You should have that feeling that you’re observing something that’s a little too intimate,” Mr. Damon said, “and it would feel the same way if it were between a man and a woman. But it’s between a man and a man.”
Even so, Liberace is seen as conflicted, risking the loss of his career if the truth of his sexuality was discovered and feeling he was not able to come out to his fans, many of whom were oblivious to his orientation.