Liberace Lives! :: An Interview with ’Candelabra’ Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese
On Sunday, May 26 at 9 p.m., HBO will premiere "Behind the Candelabra," director Steven Soderbergh’s eagerly anticipated biopic of Mr. Showmanship, the late Liberace. The film will focus primarily on Liberace’s relationship with Scott Thorson, his much younger chauffeur/lover. Oscar winners Michael Douglas and Matt Damon star as Liberace and Thorson, respectively. Douglas is particularly impressive in his capturing of the entertainer’s speech patterns and body language.
Looking at clips of Liberace today, it’s difficult to believe that his primarily female audiences had no idea they were looking at a flamboyant gay man. In addition to his incomparable piano prowess, Liberace’s act included prancing - sometimes flying - across the stage, clad in lavish furs and jewels. Whether he was playing Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata" or speaking to a sold-out house, the entertainer’s hand gestures were grand.
Liberace went to great pains to remain closeted during his lifetime, and the fans believed every word of it. It was a different era. "Such things" were not discussed in those days. But in fact, his lavish lifestyle included showering his much younger male lovers with expensive gifts, which often included cars and homes.
A press screener was provided to the B.A.R. for viewing. In the film, Douglas and Damon offer moving performances as Liberace and Thorson, whose sometimes stormy relationship led Thorson down a path of alcohol and drug abuse. The relationship ended badly, with Thorson suing his ex for palimony in a much-publicized case that effectively outed the superstar. But as Liberace lay dying of AIDS in 1987, the two met again. In tears they admitted that they truly loved each other.
Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese spoke to the B.A.R. about his process in telling this very complicated true-life story.
"I downloaded a lot of his music," said LaGravenese. "I watched whatever documentary or television footage I could get. But my primary source was the Scott Thorson book, which included a great deal of Liberace’s biography."