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Julia Roberts, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon to star in HBO movies

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MUMBAI: US broadcaster HBO continues to attract Hollywood A-list talent. It has roped in the likes of Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Michael Douglas.

HBO Films presents ‘Behind The Candelabra‘, starring Douglas and Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh from a script by Richard LaGravenese.

It tells the story of Liberace who was a virtuoso pianist, outrageous entertainer and flamboyant star of stage and television. A name synonymous with showmanship, extravagance and candelabras, he was a world renowned performer with a flair that endeared him to his audiences and created a loyal fan base that spanned his 40-year career of entertaining.

Liberace lived lavishly and embraced a lifestyle of excess both on and off stage. In summer 1977, a handsome young stranger named Scott Thorson walked into his dressing room and, despite their age difference and seemingly different worlds, the two embarked on a secretive five-year love affair.

The film takes a behind-the-scenes look at their tempestuous relationship - from their first meeting backstage at the Las Vegas Hilton to their bitter and public break-up.

When the film‘s executive producer Jerry Weintraub received a call from Soderbergh, asking his thoughts on Liberace, Weintraub responded with unbridled enthusiasm, noting, "First of all, I knew Liberace and thought he was an extraordinary character way before his time. Secondly, when Steven is interested in doing something, I am immediately interested because he‘s my favorite director."

Soderbergh was working with Michael Douglas on "Traffic," when the actor did an impromptu impersonation of Liberace between takes. Their interest piqued by the spot-on impression, Soderbergh and producer Greg Jacobs started searching for a Liberace story and were steered in the direction of Scott Thorson‘s book "Behind the Candelabra."

They then took the idea to Weintraub and reached out to "Ocean‘s Eleven" alumnus Matt Damon to come on board in the role of Thorson. LaGravenese was brought on to write the script.

Soderbergh said, "It‘s important that the people understand that Liberace wasn‘t a goof. He was a seriously talented, proficient musician. He was a real showman. That kind of ability is rare and it‘s important that audiences recognize that - otherwise, it just becomes a cartoon, if you don‘t take it seriously. He was really amazing."

Weintraub credits Soderbergh for being the kind of director who attracts such high caliber actors to the film. Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe, Tom Papa, Paul Reiser and the indefatigable Debbie Reynolds lend their talent to the cast of characters. "Soderbergh is a sought-after director by actors. They want to work with him because he gives them so much. He‘s just so good with the actors because he‘s right there at the camera, he‘s right in their face, and they know he gets it" explains Weintraub.

Shot in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Las Vegas many of the locations, the sets, the costumes and the props were connected directly to Liberace. The production filmed in Liberace‘s L.A. penthouse; in the United Postal Center in West Hollywood, where Scott Thorson worked following the break-up; in Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church, where Liberace‘s Palm Springs funeral service was held; and on the stage and in the showroom of the Las Vegas Hilton, where Liberace played.

Production designer Howard Cummings had to capture Liberace‘s world from 1977 to 1982, needing to create 30 sets depicting the entertainer‘s life, both onstage and off, in six weeks. Inspired by vast research and hours of watching Liberace footage, Cummings decided to embrace the numerous reflective surfaces depicted as a metaphor for Liberace‘s life. The mirrored, glittery, sparkly aspect is reinforced throughout the film and every set, whether in the home or on stage, has mirrors, including an enormous one hanging over the stage in the "Dueling Pianos" number.

HBO has also announced another movie ‘The Normal Heart‘ that goes into production later this year and will air next year. Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo will star in the HBO Films drama which will be directed by Ryan Murphy it was announced by HBO Programming president Michael Lombardo. Slated to begin production in New York City later this year for 2014 debut on HBO, the film is written by Larry Kramer, adapting his play of the same name.

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