Consider These Ivories Tickled

At a casting call, the legend of Liberace lives on

It’s inexplicably humid as a summer swamp in the ballroom at LVH, where hundreds of aspiring actors are already perspiring through their polyester.

The substantial sequins, bouffants and bushy sideburns aren’t helping matters.

“Oh my God, it’s a flop sweat,” my friend says, furiously fanning herself with her info card. “Look at this frizz. I’ve got a sweat mustache.”

On a lark, we have decided to attend the Aug. 20 open-casting call for Behind the Candelabra, an HBO biopic about Liberace, who headlined here, at the former Las Vegas Hilton, for years. The movie stars Michael Douglas as Mr. Showmanship, Matt Damon as his much younger, shaggy-haired lover, and many hundreds of extras.

Instructions for potential background performers include: “Bring a pen, a small recent photo of yourself and a good attitude.”

Already my friend and I aren’t taking this seriously enough. We’re wearing street clothes, for one thing. On her info card, under “dress size,” she has written: “I don’t wear dresses.” Where others have professional headshots, I have a bad copy of my Facebook profile picture. My friend is clutching a 5-by-7 of herself in Air Force blues and flight cap, taken when she was 20 years old. She’s now 43.

Our attitude? Smirky.

We don’t possess a smidgen of the sincere enthusiasm of Larry Edwards, who shows up wearing a 6-inch-high Afro wig, sparkly sneakers and a T-shirt emblazoned with the iconic shot of Liberace in star-spangled short-shorts.

Mr. Showmanship died 25 years ago, but he performs on in the expansive showroom of Edwards’ heart.

“He’s given so much to the entertainment industry,” Edwards, 57, says dreamily. “I’m a really big supporter.”

Edwards, who portrays Tina Turner and Beyoncé in Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas at the Imperial Palace, is interrupted by Rich King of Rich King Casting, who is now sweatily calling for everyone’s attention at the front of the room.

“They don’t want me to say much” about the movie, King says. He adds that, if hired, actors will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement. They will earn $66 for each eight hours of work.

“If you’re a newcomer, don’t buy a house or anything,” he jokes. “You can thank Michael Douglas for taking so much money.”

Local filming continues through Aug. 31, King says, and 1,600 extras are needed for up to three days’ work each. You could be called at any time, but “not past 10 p.m.,” he explains. “I’m usually drunk by then.”

The wannabe players, who range in age from about 20 to about 90, line up to hand over their info cards and photos. They chat easily among themselves; many of them know each other from previous gigs.

It’s all old hat to Ali Pirouzkar, 66, whose bio sheet lists his portrayal of a high-roller in 1995’s Casino. He looks like he just stepped off that movie’s set in his pinstripes, sideburns and old-school glasses. He’s available for “political, Mafia and action” movies, his sheet says.

“I’m a feature player, not an extra,” he says. “But I love Michael Douglas. He’s very masculine. I want to see what he does with the role.”

Pirouzkar has also brought along his wife, Nancy Wescombe, 44. The two married about a year ago after getting to know each other at their cosmetic dentist’s office, which explains their respective toothy grins.

“Hollywood looks at your character, your acting ability … and your teeth,” Pirouzkar says.

After standing in line for about half an hour, my friend decides not to surrender her info card and photo. She has better prospects—a schedule and a full-time job that pays a little more than $8.25 an hour.

I have no such limitations, and the collective hopefulness of the assembled amateur actors has rubbed off on me. So I brush aside the hair now sticking to my forehead and gamely hand my photo to a casting assistant.

I’m waiting by the phone.