Making gay themed movies is tough, especially if you’re planning a film that can’t be made on a micro-budget. As we just reported, it took Ryan Murphy more than a year to get backing for his adaptation of The Normal Heart, despite Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer and Mark Ruffalo being attached.
Now Steven Soderbergh has been talking about how tough it was to get the funding for his upcoming Liberace biopic, Behind The Candelabra, about the relationship between the piano player and his younger lover Scott Thorson. Gay Star News reports that at a press conference Soderbergh said that when he shopped it to the major studios, ‘They said it was too gay… This is after Brokeback Mountain by the way. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us. Nobody would make it, went to everybody in town.’
That’s despite the fact it had box office draws Michael Douglas and Matt Damon attached, who had both agreed to take a pay cut to get the movie made. Eventually HBO agreed to fund it with a budget of $5 million (HBO has also now backed Murphy’s The Normal Heart_. Soderbergh seems quite happy about that though, ‘I’m really glad we ended up at HBO because I think ultimately more people will see it and that’s all we care about. There just would have been more anxiety [at the studios]. To HBO, the whole thing looked like a slam dunk whereas the studios were going, “We don’t know how to sell it.”‘
Matt Damon, who plays Liberace’s lover, Scott Thorson, was also at the conference and suggested the movie shows an intimacy between two men that’s unusual in the movies. ‘It’s really rare to even see a script this good. It was so complex,’ Damon said. ‘Their relationship, Richard LaGravense [the screenwriter] so got. This dynamic. Whether it was the actual dynamic or not I completely believed what he’d written. What it felt like was if this was a relationship between a man and a woman, you’d feel at moments like, “This is too intimate, maybe I shouldn’t be here.” But it’s between a man and a man and I’ve never seen that in a movie before.’
When asked whether it’s a comedy, Damon pointedly said, ‘No’, adding, ‘Look, there were aspects of their relationship that were absurd,’ he said. ‘But to me, it just pointed our that there are aspects of all of our lives that are absurd but it’s not absurd to us because they’re our lives.’
While some have wondered whether the much younger Thorson was using the incredibly rich Liberace to live a luxurious lifestyle, Damon says, ‘I think his love was genuine but I think it was complicated. He was somebody who was a foster kid and was looking for a family and [Liberace] gave that to him. They had profound love for each other and it ended badly but there were a lot of wonderful moments and a lot of ups and downs – a lot of things that everybody goes through in long-term relationships.’
It did indeed end badly, with Thorson suing the closeted Liberace for alimony, despite the fact the Vegas mainstay was resolutely in the closet and remained so until he died. They eventually settled out of court and it’s been suggested they reconciled before Liberace died.
Behind The Candelabra is due to air of HBO in the US in May and should reach the UK (probably on Sky Atlantic, but there’s a chance of a cinema release) shortly afterwards.