Richard LaGravenese received an Oscar nomination for writing the screenplay to The Fisher King (1991). His numerous credits include authoring acclaimed and popular films such as The Bridges of Madison County (1995) and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996).
He chatted with Windy City Times about his process in developing Scott Thorson's memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace, into a film for HBO.
Windy City Times: What was your process in writing the screenplay?
Richard LaGravenese: I downloaded a lot of his music. I watched whatever documentary footage I could get. But my primary source was Scott Thorson's book, which includes a great deal of Liberace's biography.
Not long before we started shooting, director Steven Soderbergh got a hold of the transcripts from the palimony suit and we included those scenes verbatim.
WCT: Did you consult with people who knew Liberace personally?
LaGravenese: Yes, Ray Arnett, the man who directed all of Lee's shows for over twenty years. He confirmed what many others have said, including Thorson, that Lee was a big hearted, generous, loving man. Of course, he was also a big star who had built his career from the ground up. So he had a star's sense of entitlement and loyalty as well. He was absolutely devoted to his audiences.
WCT: There have been reports that the film was denied a theatrical release because the story is "too gay". Were there any such restrictions placed upon your writing?
LaGravenese: Not at all. When I wrote the scene of their lovemaking while Lee does poppers, I didn't think it would get shot, but I wrote it and it did. (The scene made it into the final cut.)
WCT: What are your thoughts on the performances of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon?
LaGravenese: Steven Soderbergh spoke to Michael Douglas about playing Liberace while they were shooting Traffic (2001). He and Matt Damon, who has worked so many times with Soderbergh, were just incredible during those four years of trying to raise money to make the film. They never wavered for a moment. They were committed the entire time, speaking about it publicly, always enthusiastically, always supporting the project.
I'm very proud of their performances. I think they're extraordinary. They found the reality and the love between these two men so that the story is moving, funny and painful because it's played honestly.
WCT: Were you surprised by anything you learned about Liberace?
LaGravenese: He had a very strong sexual drive that conflicted with his very strong monogamous DNA. He didn't enjoy a very active social life. He was labeled the hardest working man in show business, and given his act, you don't doubt it. So at the end of the day, he wanted nothing more that to be at home with the one man he loved. He wanted to cook and take care of him in a very traditional way. But the times were the times. Sexuality had become much more public. For a man who spent his life hiding his sexuality, I imagine the seventies were something of a revelation to him.
Look for Behind the Candelabra on HBO on May 26.
The film will also be available for online viewing at www.hbogo.com
A full broadcast schedule, including encore showings, can be seen at: