With tears filling his eyes, Michael Douglas bravely spoke about his recent battle with cancer as he discussed his first acting role since beating the disease. The highly-respected actor broke down at the Cannes Film Festival press conference for his new film, Behind the Candelabra, in which he plays the flamboyant late musician Liberace.
"For me this has a… sorry," Michael said, his voice full of emotion, as he started to cry. "Because it was right after my cancer. And this is a beautiful gift. I am eternally grateful." His words were met with applause.
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It took doctors nine months to diagnose Michael with stage four throat cancer in 2010. The star, who is married to Catherine Zeta-Jones and has two children with the Welsh actress, is thankfully now in remission.
"This is one of the best parts I've ever had in my career," he added. "I was fortunate enough to be offered it after my cancer bout so it was a fantastic opportunity. What do you hope for — a great script, a great director and producer, and when Steven told me Matt (Damon) was going to play Scott (Thorson, Liberace's 'lover'), I'm such a fan, I was overwhelmed.
"As an actor, you can't ask for anything more. I'm very proud to be part of this picture."
The Wall Street star said the film did make uncomfortable viewing for his family when his character passes away from AIDS-related pneumonia, in particular his father Kirk Douglas, who was also a friend of Liberace. "I think he was very uncomfortable with my death scene," Michael admitted.
During the press conference, the star revealed he had once met the larger-than-life musician — known as Lee — many years before he decided to portray him onscreen.
"I met Lee briefly once when I was about 12-years-old," he said. "My father has a house in Palm Springs and Lee also had a house there. We were at the crossroads and this Rolls Royce convertible stopped and there was this guy, with the gold around his neck and his rings, the light bouncing off him.
"He has a great smile and not a hair out of place — now I know why! He was charming. I talked to my father, Kirk knew him well. He was gracious and loved nice things."
Michael admitted that initially he felt "trepidation" playing such a well-known character. "People knew him, and it's the first time I have played a character that people knew and I had a lot of trepidation.
"He was a big broad-chested guy, one of his thighs was the size of two of mine. I was a little put off by the physicality of it," he said. "But I attacked it vocally and tried to get the vice right. I'm not a pianist, I started off with a piano teacher but I know it wasn't going to work.
"I had some footage of Lee on a screen so I could watch and practice and get my hands in the right place and get close enough that only an expert could pick up the finger movements."