'Behind The Candelabra': Soderbergh Bros Discuss Who's 'The Top' In Liberace's Bed

Behind The Candelabra Liberace

I've been sold on Steven Soderbergh's Liberace movie  Behind The Candelabra since the trailer for the HBO movie hit the web earlier this month. But if you need further convincing, the filmmaker drops some interesting details about the movie in a free-ranging discussion with his younger, gay brother Charley Soderbergh in Out magazine.

Behind the Candelabra, which premieres on HBO on May 26,  tells the story of the flamboyant pianist's love affair with the much younger Scott Thorson.  Michael Douglas and Matt Damon play the star-crossed lovers, and the trailer, which I've posted below, makes the movie look like an over-the-top romp through the back pages of Las Vegas-style opulence. But it's also reassuring to read Soderbergh tell his lookalike brother, who's an Atlanta-based hair stylist, that Behind The Candelabra is not going to be an empty exercise in camp:

"I wanted the movie to be very generous to Lee and Scott. I took them seriously, and I took the relationship seriously. It was a real relationship that was derailed because of some very odd external forces, some of them social and some professional. But there was an extended period where they were fat and happy. And if Lee hadn’t worked in a business where he thought that was a problem, or being gay was a problem, I think there would have been a very different outcome. It’s compelling to watch the two of them together. It’s sort of a Thelma & Louise thing—they decide to jump off the cliff together.

Another fascinating segment of the interview has the brothers Soderbergh discussing scenes from Behind The Candelabra in which Liberace and Thorson argue over porn and who will be "the top" and who will be "the bottom" in the bedroom. As Charley points out, the debates aren't that different from ones he's witnessed between straight couples.

Out: One of the most distinctive scenes, perhaps because it’s so rare to see it portrayed honestly in a movie, was the argument they have about who will be a top or a bottom.

SS: Whenever you’re in a sexual relationship that lasts long enough, at some point someone is going to hit on something that they want to do and the other person doesn’t want to do. That’s unfortunate, because it’s really hard to put that genie back in the bottle once it’s come out. If you’re lucky there’s some synchronicity that works out, and on the second Tuesday of every month, you get to do that. That’s absolutely a conversation straight couples have all the time. It doesn’t necessarily have the same significance, but oh, absolutely.

CS: I’ve been privy to conversations between a married male and female couple when one of them wants to try it and the other is balking. And the physical implications are the first thing they’re afraid of, and the social implications are the second thing. So we have two layers of fear. And I just stand there with a smile on my face, thinking, I can’t wait to see how you work this out.

SS: It’s one of my favorite scenes in the film because it is so blunt and so funny. “Why am I the Lucy in this relationship?”

CS: “Because I’m the bandleader and have the nightclub act.”

SS: That’s [screenwriter] Richard [LaGravenese] really hitting one out of the park. But it is fascinating, because you have Scott saying, “I’m OK with this, but I’m not OK with that.” And Lee doesn’t understand, because to him it seems like hypocrisy. I find that really true to life, in the sense that our feelings about sexuality aren’t necessarily linear. Everybody’s got some dot on a line with 10 points on it, and one is out of sync or in the wrong order. It’s a very complex, powerful area of our lives, and it creates really fascinating emotions and delusions and omissions. And I thought, What an interesting conversation, especially if Lee’s the one in the power position.

CS: Another part of that scene is, “I don’t know how you can watch that stuff,” referring to the porn on the TV. “How does he get it in his mouth?” I’ve talked to gay and straight couples who say, “I don’t know why you watch that stuff, it makes me feel unloved.” And the other one is like, “It’s no big deal!”

The brothers also engage in a lively discussion of their childhood that includes a substantial discussion of the cult film, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which they watched every Christmas. It's worth checking out. More on Behind The Candelabra

WATCH:' Behind The Candelabra' Trailer — Will Movie Convey Liberace's Cultural Impact?

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  • Richard Choffe says:

    Be my Maestro, Lee,
    Passion more seen, soul more heard,
    Play Liberace,
    Piano's rosetta stone,
    Maestro music is that way.

  • Pauline Lachance says:

    With the upcoming movie, "Behind the Candelabra" scheduled to be shown next month, I felt the need to give my comments on what I feel will no doubt be one of the most unpleasant movies about one of our greatest entertainers. Why in the world would Mr. Soderbergh want to take on this kind of "movie" - 26 years after Liberace's passing? Is it because of the fact that Liberace kept his personal life - PERSONAL? Instead, why couldn't we have focused on a fact-based documentary on his life as an exceptional musician and showman, not to mention his kindness and generosity. Remember also that Liberace came from a 'classic' generation where people didn't speak of these things and he was well aware of that. So, it's important that we remember that it was a different time for him. I had the wonderful opportunity of knowing Liberace personally for many years and I know he would not be very happy about the movie if he were with us today. I know I am asking for the impossible, but I really hope and wish that this movie will NOT be shown. Liberace was so much MORE than what he will be depicted in the movie and this is NOT how he should be remembered.. ...

    • Jonathan Becker says:

      maybe twenty years ago i would have agreed with you. but not now. i have come to realize that many of the people in liberace's generation were hypocrites and liars. they weren't merely "being discrete." they took things too far. liberace denied being gay, even under oath. (setting a very bad example for everybody, straight , bi, or gay.) he also cast aspersions on other people who were gay. he even resorted to suing a magazine for insinuating that he was gay. (oscar wilde did something similar, and his having done so doesn't make him any more sympathetic, either.) i understand liberace's need to keep his privacy and continue to function as in entertainer in a society that didn't accept his sexuality. but a hypocrite is a hypocrite and a liar is a liar and liberace was both. the fact that society is repressive doesn't give one the license to take one's "denial" to extreme lenghts. liberace could have handled things differently. he didn't have to come out of the closet, but he took the concept of "denial" a bit too far. keeping one's personal life personal is one thing. telling outright lies is another. i'm not anti-gay (at least consciously) and i'm not really anti-liberace. i just feel that there are times when the truth (be it "ugly" or not) is preferable to pretty lies. and there are times when silence is preferable to telling pretty lies. if you are uncomfortable with revealing the whole truth, then don't. but we should try not to resort to outright lies, especially when a simple "no comment" would suffice. i'm glad some of this "truth" is coming out now (even in a distorted form), after so many decades of deceit and subterfuge....

  • I can't get over how much Michael Douglas looks like Liberace in this. Having said that, I have to agree with Pauline above... it saddens me that this part of his life is being exposed in this way. He was a very private person when it came to his personal life and I feel we should respect that. But I know there is no respect for people's privacy in todays world when they choose the life of celebrity. Thing is, Liberace didn't choose that life in this point in time. He chose it when his personal life was respected. I feel ashamed as a film professional that we have stooped this low.

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