Michael Douglas choked back tears during a news conference to discuss the premiere of Behind the Candelabra, in which he plays flamboyant pianist Liberace.

The film premiered Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival in France, where it is competing for the prestigious Palme d'Or award.

Flanked by the movie's main stars, Douglas and Matt Damon, who plays Liberace's lover Scott Thorson, director Steven Soderbergh acknowledged that the film's subject matter was timely.

“In making the film, the socio-political aspect of it was not really in my mind but I was focused on … trying to make this relationship as believable and realistic as we could,” Soderbergh said. “When this issue comes up, of equal rights for gays, I am hoping 50 years from now we will look back on this and wonder why this was even a debate and why it took so long.”

Douglas, who fought off a diagnosis of throat cancer in 2010, became emotional when he was asked how he became involved in the project.

“It was right after my cancer and this beautiful gift was handed to me and I am eternally grateful … to everybody for waiting for me,” Douglas said with tears in his eyes.

Behind the Candelabra will premiere on HBO in the United States on Sunday.