In a January 2013 interview with the New York Post, director Steven Soderbergh said that this movie was originally planned for a theatrical release but was ultimately produced by and aired on HBO instead because the story was "too gay" for Hollywood movie studios: "Nobody would make it, We went to everybody in town. They all said it was too gay. And this is after Brokeback Mountain (2005), by the way, which is not as funny as this movie. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us." Despite this, the movie was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it received its worldwide premiere. It was also theatrically released in Europe/rest of world.
Michael Douglas was older at the time of filming than Liberace was when he died. Although played by 42-year-old Matt Damon, Scott Thorson was only a teenager when he met Liberace, and 23 when their relationship ended in April 1982. He was still only in his twenties when Liberace died.
In May 2013, the New York Times reported that Scott Thorson received a little less than $100,000 for his participation with this movie, and that he spent all of that money "in about two months, mostly on cars and jewelry."
Ironically Debbie Reynolds was a close friend of the real Liberace, and was familiar with the real Scott Thorson and Francis Liberace. Reynolds claimed that she was thrilled to play Francis, as she was very familiar with her peculiar dialect.
According to an interview with Michael Douglas at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Debbie Reynolds, who plays Liberace's mother in this movie, was personally acquainted with the real Liberace and appeared as a guest on his variety show. Douglas also said that when he was younger, his father, Kirk Douglas, had a Palm Springs home down the street from one of Liberace's homes, and although Michael Douglas never met Liberace, he did occasionally see him in the neighborhood.
In a May 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly magazine, Rob Lowe described the makeup regimen used to transform him into the heavily plastic-surgeried Dr. Jack Startz: "It's tape and pulled behind my head. It's literally what they used to do in the early days of cinema before there were facelifts for actresses. You know, Joan Crawford, her whole career was this. You tape, you pull around the back of the head, but you have to have a wig because it covers the elastic. We did that, and I'm also wearing a dental piece and then I'm doing a couple of things, a couple of tricks with my own face, the way I'm holding it. Then of course the makeup is literally like Earl Scheib autobody paint sprayed on my face....It was actually really painful, because being pulled that long and that hard for a 12-hour day - it gave me migraines. We shot during the summer. It was unbelievably hot. The wig, being pulled, it was definitely not the most comfortable experience physically for sure."
In 'Scott Thorson''s book "Behind the Candelabra", he notes that "In celebrity-saturated Palm Springs only two stars...took the trouble to pay their last respects" at the memorial service for Liberace. One was actress Charlene Tilton, and the other was Kirk Douglas, father of Michael Douglas.
Steven Soderbergh is particularly famous for his fast rhythm shooting and editing, having things very clear and not over filming. According to Matt Damon, this movie finished shooting on a Friday and Soderbergh had a first cut by Monday.
Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick and her team had to reproduce a large number of Liberace's iconic stage outfits for this film. These included a copy of Liberace's 16 foot long white virgin fox fur coat, which though made of synthetic fur was nonetheless studded with $100,000 worth of Austrian crystal just like the real one. The originals were too valuable to alter to fit star Michael Douglas, and were used only as set dressing for Liberace's walk-in closet. Many were also extremely heavy due to the large quantities of rhinestones; each original suit weighted upwards of 60 lbs.
The New York Times obituary for composer Marvin Hamlisch, who died on August 6, 2012, said that before his death he had already completed the score for this film (which didn't air until nearly a year after his death). The movie is dedicated to Hamlisch.
Liberace's Beverly Hills penthouse was shot on location in the actual apartment space. The art department was able to recreate the apartment's original black and metallic look based on photos provided by the owner (who was a huge Liberace fan).
The Liberace Foundation (in Las Vegas) owns many of the original portraits from the pianist's famous home. However, the paintings which appear in the film are all recreations, with the original facial features altered to resemble Michael Douglas.
The film's two top-billed lead stars, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, who played Liberace and Scott Thorson respectively, both share the same initials, "M.D.". Interestingly, the only other actor to ever play Thorson, which was in the 1988 tele-movie Liberace: Behind the Music (1988), also had the initials "M.D.", the actor being Michael Dolan.