Rob Lowe makes a startling physical transformation in his role as plastic surgeon Dr. Startz in the HBO Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra that premiered on Sunday.

The Steven Soderbergh film starring Michael Douglas as Liberace, Matt Damon as his longtime lover and Lowe as their infamous plastic surgeon , was deemed too eccentric and essentially “too gay” by studios. But not only did it eventually find a home on the premier network, it also screened at the Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews, including positive assessments of Lowe's mystifying performance.

Although Douglas and Damon had a lot of information on which to base their representations of the real life individuals, Lowe only had the references to Dr. Startz in Scott Thorson’s novel that inspired the movie. As an actor committed to his character, Lowe created his own back story for Dr. Startz.

“I wanted him to be at once repellant and engaging, if that’s possible,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “He reminded me of a certain genus and species of guy that you would see at Laker games during the Magic Johnson era. He looks almost like a transgendered Bee Gee. You know what I mean? He’s the fourth member of the Bee Gees: the transgendered Bee Gee, the lesser known one. But I wanted his voice to be really macho, like maybe he was a transplant New Yorker who just bought in way too hard in the LA scene. That’s my backstory for him.”

The look Lowe ended up with in the movie, which includes chin length auburn hair with a soft wave, sun-kissed skin and a constant facial expression that includes raised eyebrows arching dramatically over squinted eyes, took roughly an hour and 45 minutes a day to achieve.

Dr. Startz ultimately committed suicide after a combination of drugs, booze and distorted ideas of himself and others caused him to mutilate others with his scalpel. “There is that element underneath of a guy who is trying to make himself something he’s not,” Lowe explained to EW. “Which by the way is one of the main themes of the entire movie, weirdly enough.”

Behind the Candelabra can be watched anytime on HBO Go, HBO On Demand and at various times on the network.

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