The 15 Emmy nominations collected by “Behind the Candelabra” was a nice coda to a journey that started about a dozen years ago for producer Jerry Weintraub with a call from director Steven Soderbergh.
Soderbergh, who had worked with Weintraub on the “Ocean’s 11” movies, had just read a book about Liberace written by his longtime companion Scott Thorson. He immediately saw it as a movie. Weintraub agreed after reading the book himself.
“And then the climbing up the Matterhorn began. And it had an icy face,” Weintraub said. “None of the studios wanted it.”‘
Weintraub initially optioned Thorson’s book “Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace” through his Warner Bros.-based producing pact. But the movie was never set up at the studio. The project was a tough sell for years until HBO stepped up with enthusiasm for the project that had already attracted Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.
“Everybody in the world told me I had lost my mind. Nobody could see Michael Douglas playing Liberace,” Weintraub said. “He showed them how. The work that he and Matt did was incredible. Everybody on this film just rolled up their sleeves and went for it.”
Weintraub also had special praise for the script by Richard LaGravenese, which emphasized the emotional connection between Liberace and Thorson in a way that made it a relatable love story for auds, gay or straight.
“When you’re watching that film you forget that they’re two men after 15 minutes,” Weintraub said. “It’s a great film with a great story.”
Weintraub contributed greatly to setting the right tone for the show’s Las Vegas set pieces from his days repping Elvis Presley and a number of other Vegas showroom-friendly stars.
“Jerry would stand at the back of our showroom set and say ‘This is how it was,’ ” said Scott Bakula, an nominee for his supporting role as the playboy who introduces Thorson to Liberace.
Douglas said he was gratified by broad swath of noms for the telepic. There was no doubt going into this year’s Emmy season that “Candelabra” would be a player, especially Douglas and Damon.
“It’s what you dream about in terms of a production where everybody is firing on all cylinders,” Douglas said. “Can’t say enough about Matt.”
Bakula recalled Soderbergh and Damon talking about “Candelabra” as a passion project when they were all working together on the 2009 pic “The Informant!” When he got the call for a supporting role in “Candelabra,” which netted him an Emmy nom, he jumped at the chance.
“With these kinds of projects it al kind of up to trust, because in the wrong hands it can not be good,” Bakula said. “Knowing Steven and his taste and what he wanted to do with this movie, I knew it would be good. It just felt right from the first day on the set.”
For Douglas, the role was a welcome departure from anything he’s done in the past, with plenty of demanding moments for him and Damon.
“There was a couple of tough scenes with us fighting with each other,” Douglas said. “Once you break through those first couple of days, it’s like a locomotive picking up speed. There was a great theatricality about (Liberace) that allows you to be larger than life compared to most of the parts I play.”