Despite the presence of two fellow Academy Award-winners, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, in the leading roles, executives repeatedly passed on putting up the movie’s relatively meagre $5m budget. Titled Behind the Candelabra, Soderbergh’s film centres on the relationship between Liberace and his younger long-term lover Scott Thorson, who met when the latter was just 17. The film will screen on the pay-TV channel HBO in the US following Hollywood’s lack of interest.
“Nobody would make it. We went to everybody in town,” Soderbergh told the Wrap. “We needed $5m. Nobody would do it. 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.”
The Ocean’s Eleven director denied being disappointed by the lack of a theatrical release for his film, which is based on Thorson’s book Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace. “[HBO are] 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,” Soderbergh said. “Studios were going: ‘We don’t know how to sell it.’ They were scared.” The film-maker said reaction from executives to Behind the Candelabra differed markedly to that received by his low-budget, sex-themed drama The Girlfriend Experience, which successfully achieved a theatrical release despite the presence of porn star Sasha Grey in the lead.
Soderbergh’s film, which will screen in the spring, is intended to be his final movie before entering self-imposed retirement. It stars Douglas as Liberace, who spent more than 50 years performing and lived a highly colourful life prior to his death in 1987 from an Aids-related illness. Damon plays Thorson, who famously sued his former lover for $113m in palimony in 1982, claiming he had been the pianist and singer’s companion for five years.
Soderbergh also has the thriller Side Effects – starring Channing Tatum, Rooney Mara and Jude Law – due for release in US cinemas in February (March in the UK).