Cannes: Michael Douglas Gets Emotional at 'Behind the Candelabra' Event

Behind The Candelabra Cannes Damon Douglas - H 2013
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Behind The Candelabra Cannes Damon Douglas - H 2013

"It was right after my cancer, and this beautiful gift was handed to me," the actor said of getting to work on Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic.

Michael Douglas, one of the screen's most self-assured performers, momentarily lost it.

At Tuesday's official Cannes press conference for Behind the Candelabra, Douglas, 68, was recounting how the project about the famed pianist Liberace and his relationship with a much younger man, Scott Thorson, came about. Director Steven Soderbergh first tossed out the idea of Douglas playing the flamboyant showman way back in ?2000, when they were making Traffic together. Several years ago, enlisting producer Jerry Weintraub to option Thorson's memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace, Soderbergh returned to the idea, engaging screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and approaching Matt Damon to play Thorson.

"Matt said, 'It sounds great,'" Douglas recalled. "And so for me …" Suddenly, his voice choked with emotion. Collecting himself, he continued, "Sorry, because it was right after my cancer, and this beautiful gift was handed to me, and I'm eternally grateful for Steven and Matt and Jerry for waiting for me."

PHOTOS: Liberace in Cannes: 'Behind the Candelabra' Premiere

Later, speaking with THR, Douglas said of the moment, "It totally came over me." Although his throat cancer, diagnosed in 2010, had been treated successfully, the actor still was recovering his strength when the project suddenly gathered momentum. "For this to come along, when you're wondering if you have a career -- you've had this big hiatus, you don't know what repercussions cancer has for being hired. It was something so much to look forward to."

Douglas' performance in the film, which HBO will air May 26, already is being hailed as one of the best of his career, immediately putting him into contention for a Cannes award and making him a formidable Emmy contender. But while it marks a new beginning for the actor, it also may mark the end of a long chapter for Soderbergh, 50, who has said he intends to take a sabbatical from filmmaking.

The director, whose first film, sex, lies, and videotape, won the Palme d’Or in 1989, was asked if Candelabra is his swan song.

"I don’t know," Soderbergh said, reflecting on his own career. "I'm absolutely taking a break. I don't know how extended it is going to be. I can't say that if this were the last movie I made I would be unhappy. I'm really, really proud of this film. I feel there is a connection on one hand to my first film, because at the end of the day, it's about two people in a room, and that's what my first film was about, and at the same time, stylistically, it's a progression." He concluded, "So it's been a nice run."