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Michael Douglas plays the legendary Las Vegas entertainer in Steven Soderbergh‘s film, which shows the actor (as Liberace) tickling the ivories as only a skilled piano player could.
It probably won’t come as a surprise that Douglas wasn’t actually playing. But how did the movie make it look so real?
According to the Las Vegas Sun, special effects were used to digitally graft the actor’s head onto the body of Philip Fortenberry, a Juilliard-trained Liberace virtuoso who was the in-house entertainer at the (now closed) Liberace Museum in Las Vegas for years.
“This is a very high honor,” Fortenberry told the Sun. “To have studied Liberace’s repertoire, and played a lot of the same music and had the type of training I’ve had, it is just an honor to be chosen to do this.”
So how did Fortenberry get involved in the project? Former Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular music director Jack Gaughan heard that Soderbergh was looking for someone who could play the piano like Liberace, and he thought of Fortenberry.
“He explained to me that they were looking for a hand double for Michael Douglas and asked me to literally take pictures of my hands, and then take video of my hands at the piano, because Michael Douglas doesn’t play the piano,” Fortenberry told the Sun, adding that Soderbergh also needed someone who could fit into the costumes worn by Douglas.
During filming, “I would be seated at the piano, then they would film Michael Douglas doing a number, then me,” Fortenberry said. “We would do a couple of different takes so they could take my head off my body and put his on. It was all sort of eerie, actually.”
Fortenberry — who has worked steadily as associate conductor of Jersey Boys, which recently celebrated five years at Paris Las Vegas — also learned that it wasn’t as easy to perform while wearing all of Liberace’s signature jewelry as the entertainer made it seem.
“These rings kept flopping around and clicking on the keys,” he said. “They had to glue them onto my fingers.”
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