Rob Lowe Suffered Migraines to Transform His Handsome Face for 'Behind the Candelabra'

Lowe plays a plastic surgeon who used his own alien-like face as a billboard in HBO's Liberace movie.

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Rob Lowe in HBO's "Behind the Candelabra."
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Rob Lowe in HBO's "Behind the Candelabra."

Did you catch that glimpse of Rob Lowe in the "Behind the Candelabra" trailer? Or maybe you didn't recognize the "Parks and Recreation" star (around the :40 mark) as plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz, whose own face had been the subject of quite a bit of surgical revamping.

Startz plays a key role in the HBO movie about Vegas legend Liberace and his relationship with his young lover, Scott Thorson: He's the doc Liberace turned to when he decided he wanted Thorson to not only live like him, but look like him.

[Related: We Break Down the 'Candelabra' Trailer, Including Matt Damon in a Speedo]

Startz's mug may have served as his calling card to patients who sought his silicone injection treatments to sculpt their features, but Lowe says transforming his own handsome face to look like Startz for "Behind the Candelabra" required an elaborate combination of tape, elastic, and wigs that left him with serious headaches during the movie's production.

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Matt Damon and Rob Lowe in HBO's

"Being pulled that long and that hard for a 12-hour day gave me migraines," the actor told Entertainment Weekly. "It's what they used to do before there were facelifts for actresses -- you know, Joan Crawford's whole career was this. Then the makeup is like Earl Scheib auto body paint sprayed on my face."

[Related: Liberace and Lipstick: Michael Douglas and Matt Damon on the Cover of EW]  

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Scott Thorson and Liberace at a movie premiere on April 6, 1979

"Behind the Candelabra" is based on Scott Thorson's 1988 memoir of the same name, in which he describes his then-lover Liberace arranging an extensive, age-shaving surgery with Startz, then bringing out a painting of himself and asking Startz if he could make the much-younger Thorson look like him via surgery.

Thorson, who's played by Matt Damon in the HBO movie and whose book will be re-released in May by Tantor Media, also describes Startz in his memoir as having had "so many silicone implants that he looked more like a Kewpie doll than a living, breathing human."

[Related: Rob Lowe Narrates 'The '80s: The Decade That Made Us']

"I've taken great glee in showing pictures I have of Dr. Startz on my iPhone," Lowe told EW. "People, honestly, fall over. They are at once so repelled and engaged."

Thorson also writes in his book that:

  • He became a drug addict after Startz (who was also an addict, Thorson says) gave him pills, first to lose weight and then to deal with the pain after his Liberace look-alike surgery.
  • Startz tried to convince Thorson that cocaine was not addictive.
  • Startz would allow Thorson to trade expensive jewelry (purchased with Liberace's credit card) for bottles of prescription drugs.
  • Startz's surgery on Liberace did leave the performer looking decades younger, but it also left him unable to completely close his eyelids, even while he was sleeping.

Though the mysterious Startz is not the central focus of "Behind the Candelabra," he's certainly worthy of a biopic treatment of his own. Once the owner of a thriving Beverly Hills plastic surgery business, Startz was eventually sued by more than 100 patients, according to a 1988 New York Times report, and in May 1985, committed suicide.

"Behind the Candelabra" premieres Sunday, 5/26 at 9 PM on HBO.

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