May 21 - The actor says he is grateful 'Behind the Candelabra' producers waited for him to recover from cancer. Rough Cut (no reporter narration)
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STORY: The relationship between the flamboyant pianist Liberace and his young lover Scott Thorson dazzled at the Cannes film festival on Tuesday (May 21) and threw gay rights into the spotlight at the movie industry's largest annual gathering.
Director Steven Soderbergh said he struggled five years ago to secure funding for 'Behind the Candelabra' because some financiers thought the film would only appeal to a gay audience and, at a cost of $25 million, would be a financial risk.
Eventually he received financing from Time Warner's HBO cable channel and made the film with Michael Douglas playing Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson which whom he had a secretive five-year affair.
Douglas, whose performance as the primped, toupeed pianist was lauded by critics, said he met Liberace once, in a Rolls Royce convertible while in Palm Springs with his father.
But he became emotional, voice breaking and tears in his eyes, when asked how he became involved in the film that Soderbergh first raised with him 13 years ago.
"It was right after my cancer. And this beautiful gift was handed to me. And I'm eternally grateful to Steven and Matt and Jerry and everybody for waiting for me," Douglas, who was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010 and needed chemotherapy and radiation treatment, said.
Douglas and Damon said they did not hesitate to take the roles as they were both keen to work with Soderbergh who has announced his plan to retire from filmmaking after this movie.
They were both also impressed by the script based on Thorson's autobiography, 'Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace', that was released in 1988, a year after the entertainer's death at age 67 from an AIDS-related disease.
In the film Thorson, 18, a naive, beefy farm boy from Wisconsin, meets 58-year-old Liberace in Las Vegas in 1977 and moves in with him, joining his glamorous lifestyle of champagne, jewel-encrusted cars, heavy bling and spectacular wardrobe.
An unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds plays Liberace's beloved mother Frances, with her trademark button nose hidden by prosthetics, while a wrinkle-free, taut-faced Rob Lowe, is a plastic surgeon who operates on both Liberace and Thorson.
But the relationship starts to unravel as Thorson becomes addicted to drugs, hawking jewelry given to him by his lover to fund his habit, and the sexually voracious Liberace's interest moves onto other, younger men.
The two actors made light of their love scenes, with Douglas joking about asking Damon what flavor lip balm he preferred and Damon saying he could swap stories with Sharon Stone, Glenn Close and Demi Moore after sharing a bed with Douglas.
'Behind the Candelabra' will premiere on HBO in the United States on May 26 and open in foreign theaters from June 7.
The film is one of 20 movies in the main competition at Cannes vying for the prestigious Palme D'Or award for best picture that is presented on Sunday.
Soderbergh, 50, who won the Palme D'Or in 1989 with "Sex, Lies and Videotapes", said this was his last movie for a while.
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