The film's stars are just as pleased with the outcome.
"I haven't been involved in a movie where there's been so much attention beforehand," says Douglas, sitting for a joint interview with his costar in a hotel suite overlooking Central Park, a lavish setting Liberace himself might have appreciated.
With HBO, "You don't have to defend your creative beachhead all the time," Damon says. Still, like Soderbergh, he confesses to being surprised that the film scared off so many potential investors. "I thought someone like Harvey Weinstein, who's made a career of making movies with more difficult subject matter, would have jumped at it."
"The absurdity of their relationship to me made me think, 'Well, all of our lives are absurd. We just think they matter because they matter so much to us,'" Damon says. "If you made a movie about all of our lives it, would probably seem as wonderful and tragic as this kind of story."
Filming on location in recession-era Sin City also enhanced everyone's appreciation for the absurd. "The hotel was so understaffed because I think they were bank-owned. You could get your room cleaned or you could take the 'green option' and they would give you a $5 paper token to go play the slot machines," Damon recalls with a laugh.
The film explores the tempestuous relationship between Liberace and Thorson, which starts after a chance meeting: Thorson’s blond tresses, physique and rather tight 1970s jeans catch the older man’s eye. Damon and Douglas both deliver terrific performances, Douglas camp and slightly creepy in a succession of outrageous outfits; Damon, the doe-eyed innocent driven close to madness by a cocktail of drugs and Liberace’s philandering.
Soderbergh then approached Damon. “I knew enough about Matt to know that he’s not the kind of person who has to protect anything [or] that he has an image to uphold. He wants to be challenged. He wants to push himself as an actor.” Once on board, the two actors threw themselves into their roles. “They just grabbed hands and jumped off the cliff. At no point did I ask for something and get any hesitation or ‘Really?’ They knew there was no way to do this except both feet in. The core of the story is the emotional intimacy that they share … it has to be completely equal or it doesn’t work.”
What’s more, these actors turn in remarkable performances. Douglas captures Liberace’s outlandish mannerisms while still keeping the character grounded. Damon’s transformation from a wide-eyed young man to an embittered drug addict is heartbreaking. The pair has a remarkable chemistry — unabashedly spending scenes lounging undressed in bed or in the hot tub. They also do marvelous work negotiating the couple’s strange mix of romantic and familial love. LaGravenese points to a particularly poignant scene drawn from actual transcripts of the couple’s contentious palimony lawsuit when lawyers were trying to make sense of why Liberace had legally adopted his lover. “The lawyer said something to the effect of, ‘Well were you like a father and son?’ And Scott said, ‘Well yeah, we sort of were.’ Then the lawyer said, ‘But it was sexual?’ There was that confusion. Even Scott couldn’t explain it.”