Recently, down the Mediterranean, in a cabana on the grounds of the chateau-like Hotel du Cap, a reunited Damon and Douglas talk to a TV show about Behind The Candelabra. The weather is windy. Across the sea, towards Cannes, white clouds gather. Gusts billow tablecloths and a glass smashes to the ground. The actors walk up from the shore, and the older man — who plays Liberace — disappears into the neat hedges while his younger co-star — who plays his lover — settles into a small hut for us to talk. He is friendly but efficient, passionate when talking about Hollywood and how it’s let us down, excitable on the subject of his autumn blockbuster, Elysium, and other people’s films.
Everyone’s at ease. Then again, this is his peak. Through a career of steady indie films and two big franchises, this unassuming actor has propped himself at the top of the A list, just after Depp, DiCaprio and Pitt. He is Jimmy Stewart to Clooney’s Cary Grant, and what he does is harder than it looks. In the three years since we spoke, he has been in four excellent films: True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Contagion and Margaret. All brave, but his role is to be our guide, the audience on screen, led into strange worlds. He is often unflustered, as if the world around him is one big Walter Mitty fantasy. Now, though, having renewed his vows with Luciana Bozan Barroso after eight years of marriage and three kids, it’s time to cut loose. In Behind The Candelabra, he rests near a naked Douglas in a big chintzy bed.
Soderbergh’s film is less a biopic of the flamboyant entertainer, more a look at what his excess did to those around him. As the suffering Scott Thorson, Damon is the star. “Everybody calls it the Liberace movie, because nobody knows who Scott is,” he admits, but he’s happy for Douglas to take the headlines. He’s the hot mess behind the parade, spending much of his time drinking fizz in a hot tub. I tell him the role reminds me of The Talented Mr Ripley, a low man in a high world. It’s his most twisted since that, too. “There was that similarity to it, definitely,” he agrees. “That unreliable narrator...” There’s a suspicious glint behind his glasses — a recent addition to a still youthful face. We talk about that narrator.
“You know, a child dies every 21 seconds because they don’t have access to clean water or sanitation—once you know that, and once you see that, it is really hard not to do something,” he says, those piercing blue eyes revealing a passionate sincerity, “whatever you can, really.”
The idea for Damon’s House of Lies self-spoof came one evening at his Pacific Palisades, Calif., home, a Zen-inspired house on the same street where Affleck lives with his wife, Jennifer Garner, and their three children.
“His wife and my wife were in the other room talking design and colors, because my wife is remodeling their house,” Cheadle says. “So he and I are in our cups in the kitchen, and we came up with this idea. He said, ‘I’ll be the worst kind of me,’ and I said, ‘Oh, you’ll play yourself?’”
Cheadle laughs, admitting he felt the need to later call Damon to make sure he remembered the conversation, “He did. And the rest is drunk history.”
With another actor, Cheadle says, the story line might not have gone so well. Damon did a less drastic send-up of himself in a well-received episode of Entourage a few years ago. “I think there are a lot of actors out there who couldn’t play that role because the audience would think, I bet they really are like that, ” Cheadle says. “It’s only funny with Matt because you don’t smell that on him.”