Why is 'Behind the Candelabra' Like 'Valley of the Dolls'?

5.23.2013

By Jerry Portwood

And 14 other things we learned from Steven Soderbergh (including what it is like to turn 50)

On Ray Arnett describing Liberace's performance after he was 'outed' in the National Enquirer...

We had an interesting chat with Ray Arnett, his sort-of choreographer/director. Ray talked about, I think they were in New Jersey, and it was the first show they were going to do after the National Enquirer story about Scott Thorson broke. And Lee was freaking out about how his fans would react. And he just didn't know, so what he said to Ray, 'What am I going to do? What if they don't like me, and they start jeering or whatever?' Ray said, 'I don't think that's gonna happen, but if it does, we'll just do a blackout and you can run backstage. But I don't think that's what's going to happen.' He talks about waiting in the wings and hearing Lee go out and the roar that went up. It's so obvious that nobody cared. I think that's the real takeaway—nobody really cared. The guy put on an amazing show and nobody gave a shit, ultimately. The same way that if enough time goes by, nobody will care in general.

On the reason for the "magical" ending...

That's where the whole end sequence came from: I told Richard, 'I don't want [the deathbed] to be the way that we see him last. I want to respect his wishes, so we need to come up with something so we see him as we loved him. Richard [LaGravenese] came up with this whole idea of this last scene, which solved that problem. I didn't want that to be the last image you were left with. 

On Soderbergh's 50-year rule...

I have the 50-year rule when dealing with social issues, and I say: 'OK, if it were 50 years from now, what do you think people would look back on and say? We did wrong; we did right.' It never seems like it's fast enough from moment to moment. But the amount of movement we've seen in the lat 10 years is pretty significant. Shit, look what's happening with same sex marriage. It's moving, it's moving in the right direction.

On turning 50 himself...

It's just so hard to imagine; it seemed so old when you were growing up. Unimaginably old. When I turned 15, my dad was 50. Not that he seemed like an old guy, but you just couldn't imagine that much time passing and you getting there. It's strange in that regard. It's especially distorted for me because of the industry I'm in and the way it functions. Your sense of time is very skewed and the things that you use for markers are not typical. When i'm working, I meet more people in a month than most people meet during their entire lives, literally. It does strange things to your sense of things. In one way, it's gone really fast and in another way it's really old. I don't feel old. 

On whether this be the last thing for Soderbergh...

When we showed up this time, we just felt ready. It was time to do it. For me, it was great whether or not it is the last, last thing, but it certainly was a great project to sort of look around and say, 'I won't be doing this for a while.' And to really appreciate it and to have it be  Michael and Matt there for the last show of principal photography was Michael being pulled up into heaven. That was the last shot, and that was pretty cool. So it was fun; it felt really good. It was a fun movie to make. It was harder for them I think, especially for Michael because he was getting all that makeup. And sitting still for him is really hard.

On second acts and recreating yourself at 50...

That's one positive aspect of American culture I can identify is a real appreciation for the idea that you can sort of recreate yourself at any point. There's lot of Western cultures who still don't think that way. 

When I was growing up and a teenager the sense I got from people in their fifties was they were late in the last act of their lives, and they were not looking for anything to change. Sixty was coming and they were hoping to stay stable in whatever situation they were in. I feel lucky to go, I want to be 18 again in terms of my art. I want to feel like I just got out of high school, and I have opportunities… I've bought myself a certain amount of time anyway to see what that's like. I have some TV stuff I may end up doing and there's at least one play I know I'm gonna do. So it's not a vacation, it's a complete re-wiring of my sort of energy. We'll see. 

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