Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic ‘too gay’ for Hollywood

Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh's upcoming film, “Behind The Candelabra,” a biopic of entertainer Liberace, will be airing on HBO this February, but it almost wasn't even made. According to Soderbergh, when looking for financing, “We went to everyone in town....they said it was too gay.”

The film deals with the long-term romantic relationship between Liberace (Michael Douglas, almost unrecognizable in promotional photos) and his younger lover Scott Thorson, played by Matt Damon, who characterizes Liberace and Thorson's partnership as “[a marriage] long before there was gay marriage.” Soderbergh said he was “stunned” at the difficulties he faced in bringing this material to the screen, lighter in tone than something like “Brokeback Mountain,” but that HBO immediately seized the opportunity to release the film, which they regarded as “a slam-dunk.”

Even as more states across America adopt marriage equality and other civil-rights protections for LGBT citizens, the commercial prospects of “gay” movies, particularly ones about gay men, remain uncertain for major Hollywood studios, who are faced with the challenge of marketing films to the entire country (and, increasingly, world), not merely the progressive coasts. From decades of invisibility, through the awkwardness regarding Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia” and Will Smith (perhaps apocryphally) being told “Don't kiss no man” with regards to his role in “Six Degrees of Separation” to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal repeatedly (excessively?) declaring their heterosexuality while promoting “Brokeback Mountain,” the movie business still has an uneasy relationship with LGBT material. Cable TV, conversely, has done better with such material, dating back as far as series like “Queer As Folk” and “The L Word,” and films like “And The Band Played On” and the adaptation of “Angels In America.”

“Behind The Candelabra,” again, will be airing on HBO this February.