The life of famed pianist Liberace seems made for the movies: glitz, glamour, and love. Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh saw this and took on the task, making the HBO-backed biopic Behind the Candelabra that just premiered at Cannes. Receiving positive reviews out of the festival (Oscars rumours are already circulating), the film is looking like it’s set for smooth sailing. Yet the road to getting the film made was rocky. While shopping the project around Soderbergh said no one would touch it because the story was “too gay.”
Behind the Candelabra follows the six-year relationship between Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his younger lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Though Liberace publicly denied being homosexual (as it was still considered taboo during his lifetime), he has since become a gay icon. But even with the high-profile story and stars attached to the film, Candelabra was no easy sell. Earlier this year, Soderbergh confessed to The New York Post: “We went to everybody in town. They all said it was too gay. And this is 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 director ended up waiting five years for the funding, as backers considered the film too niche to make money on its $25 million dollar budget.
The premiere of the film comes at a crucial time in France, with the country finally legalizing gay marriage. Soderbergh said that “the socio-political aspect of [the story] was not really in [his] mind” while filming, but when asked at a Cannes press conference to address gay rights, he said: “When this issue comes up, of equal rights for gays, I am hoping 50 years from now we will look back on this and wonder why this was even a debate and why it took so long.”