Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh has directed well over twenty films, yet it wasn’t until he set out to make his long-gestating biopic about legendary singer Liberace that he ever had a film rejected by a studio for being “too gay.”
“Behind the Candelabra”, based on the memoirs of the late singer’s lover, Scott Thorson, features Michael Douglas the celebrated showman, alongside Matt Damon as Thorson. Though Soderbergh had intended the film for theatrical release, yet despite the relatively lean $5 million budget request and the trio of A-list talent involved, he was met with universal resistance from Hollywood.
“Nobody would make it. We went to everybody in town,” Soderbergh said in an interview with TheWrap, at the Television Critics Association press tour. “We needed $5 million. Nobody would do it.” The director recalls, “They said it was too gay. Everybody. This was after ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ by the way. Which is not as funny as this movie. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us.”
Soderbergh, whose latest theatrical release, February’s “Side Effects,” a psychological thriller starring Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara, said he’s happy the film ended up on HBO.
“They’re great and they’re really good at what they do, and ultimately I think more people will see it, and that’s all you care about,” said Soderbergh. “Studios were going, ‘We don’t know how to sell it.’ They were scared.”
This beggars all belief, since Soderbergh was able to procure a theatrical release for “The Girlfriend Experience,” a film starring then-working adult film star Sasha Grey. However, the director waved away the ease with which he was able to sell that particular film to studios, citing that the movie had a budget of only “a million-and-a-half bucks,” which is basically peanuts to a studio. Or, at the very least, it’s easier recouped than the $5 million Soderbergh requested for “Behind the Candelabra”. Although it’s still perplexing that an A-list director with two Oscar-winning stars couldn’t get an endorsement from Hollywood.
“Yeah, I was surprised,” he said.
It could be why Soderbergh is vowing to retire from film. Regardless, “Behind the Candelabra” is among HBO’s most anticipated releases. The film will premiere on the network this spring, yet HBO announced Friday that it will air another “gay-themed” project that had once been planned for a theatrical release, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play “The Normal Heart,” starring Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo, next year.