Jerry Weintraub on Liberace: 'He Was a Tortured Guy' (Q&A)

The executive producer of HBO's just-announced biopic tells THR how the project came together and why he and director Steven Soderbergh brought it to the premium cable network.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO
Jerry Weintraub

With Tuesday’s announcement that his Liberace biopic had landed at HBO, Jerry Weintraub is pushing hard and fast into the next chapter in his prolific career: the small screen. For Behind the Candelabra, the Weintraub is reteaming with director Steven Soderbergh and several of his Ocean’s producing team for the project, which after a positive experience with his documentary, His Way, he felt comfortable in bringing to the premium cable network.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Weintraub shortly after Tuesday’s announcement that the project had landed at HBO Films with Michael Douglas starring as Liberace and Matt Damon as his younger, live-in lover, Scott Thorson to discuss how the project came together and what’s next.

STORY: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas to Star in HBO’s Liberace Biopic

THR: How did you first get involved with the Behind the Candelabra?
Soderbergh approached me and asked if I was interested in doing something on Liberace. I said yes, I knew him very, very well. He said there was a book [Thorson’s Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace] we should buy and told me about it and we optioned it. I knew Liberace when he was in California and in Las Vegas and Palm Springs. I knew him quite well and he’s a fascinating story. That’s why I got involved.

THR: Is there anything from your time spent with Liberace that you’ll be tapping into with this project?
Everything. He had two lives: he had this whole life that he hid because in those days you couldn’t come out of the closet. It’s not like today where you can be a man who gets married to a man and have children, you couldn’t do that then. So he hid it. He was a tortured guy; [living that life] would torture anybody. It’s an interesting dichotomy, having to live that quiet life and that life away from the spotlight and then having the spotlight when ever you wanted it. And he had it – he was a huge star.

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THR: Interesting timing on the cast announcement, today being National Coming Out Day.
I had no idea but that’s interesting. But I’ll take credit for it. (Laughs.) I’ll tie it in during the next interview.

THR: How did the casting come together for this?
It was Soderbergh’s idea to do Damon and Douglas and we went to them and they were both up for it. We got a great script from Richard LaGravenese, which is really the key. When you have Soderbergh directing, LaGravenese writing you know you’ve got a pretty good package.

THR: There’s a large contingent of the Ocean’s team assembled for Candelabra. Was that a stipulation you had coming in?
No, we work together a lot. We’re all good friends and we like to work together.

TV REVIEW: 'His Way'

Soderbergh and I discussed this and we felt we would get the largest audience. We wanted the largest audience we would get in America and we felt the way we could do it best would be on HBO. I’ve worked with them in the past and they did my documentary and I just did another documentary for them. I’ve gotten very close to the people there: [HBO co-president] Richard Plepler, [HBO programming president] Michael Lombardo and [HBO Films president] Len Amato. I suggested HBO and he said it was perfect, that’s what we should do. So we did.

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THR: You’ve started to do more on the small screen, most recently with your period drama project The Producer landing at CBS. What is it about the medium that interests you after such a long career in film?
I like the fact that you can do different things on the small screen and tell stories that you just can’t tell in an hour and 45 minutes. That’s why I’m interested in [doing] series now. I never was really interested in it before but it’s interesting now, maybe because I’m older, and I can stay on one project for a long time and really zero in on it and tell the story week after week. I think that’s going to be fascinating for me.

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PROFILE: Producer Jerry Weintraub