Soderbergh: ‘Scared’ Studios Thought Liberace Biopic Starring Michael Douglas And Matt Damon Was ‘Too Gay’


Steven Soderbergh has been working on a biopic of legendary entertainer Liberace for four years. And for most of those years it seemed that the movie, Beyond the Candelabra, starring mega-stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as the singer's secret relationship with Scott Thorson, would be a shoe-in for the Oscars. But no studios would take it. According to Soderbergh, the Hollywood big-wigs were frightened off by all the gayness.

"Nobody would make it," the Traffic and Magic Mike director told 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."

But the big studios' loss is HBO's gain: "This is a magnet for attention. The whole package to them looked (to HBO) like a slam dunk. The studios didn't know how to sell it. They were scared." For real: this could be HBO's 2013 Game Change, the political biopic of McCain's 2008 election that swept the Emmy Awards.

Soderbergh, Douglas and Damon were on hand yesterday to discuss the movie with the Television Critics Association. Discussing Liberace and Thorson's relationship, a relationship Liberace denied after Thorson revealed all to the press, Douglas described it as a "great love story" destroyed by the closet. "This is a couple that felt for each other. There's a lot of joyful moments; there is humor to it," he said.

And Soderbergh pointed out at the event that while Douglas and Damon's respective portrayals are appropriately over the top, particularly Douglas', he was sure not to over do it.

"I was very anxious that we not make a caricature of either of their characters or the relationship," he said. "The discussions they're having are discussions every couple has. We take the relationship very seriously."

Then, about the closet in which Liberace lived, "It's unfortunate to see the movie through a contemporary lens and know they were not allowed to be as open back then as people are today."

Soderbergh also told the Post that this will be his last movie. He decided to quit filmmaking when he turned 50, and his birthday is a week Monday. "I can feel these things coming," he explained. "I just need a complete reboot."

The Liberace biopic, Beyond the Candelabra, will air this spring.


  1. says

    Liberace STARTED at “over the top” — and built from there.

    I had a chance to chat with Matt Damon lasgt week at en event for “Promised Land.” He’s qyite brilliant and very nice.He knew tons about Liberace and Thorsen (who he told me is “with a woman today, hard as that is to believe”)and is as nice as he is adorable. He’s played gay before in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” as I trust y’all will recall.

    Hollywood studios these days are just into maing cartoos with “celebrity” voices. That’s all they care to market. So it’s not jut about Teh Ghey. Making a serious film for the studios these days is just about impossible unless you happen to be Spielberg.

  2. woodroad34d says

    They didn’t know how to sell it? Half the PR people in Hollywood are gay…of course they know how to sell it, they just didn’t want to make it. The studios are manned by bean counters and they’re afraid of losing any money on something THEY think the American people don’t want (despite how polls and voting practices prove otherwise). Remember that Liberace was something of a hetero sex symbol in his day to the “ladies” who found him sensitive, cultured and an alternative to the brutes they married.

  3. says

    Soderbergh is making it very clear how Hollywood studios feel about gays. They’ll make 10 movies about Leatherface killing people with a chainsaw, but they won’t touch a gay love story. I worked in Hollywood for ten MISERABLE years. I worked in front of and behind the camera and the homophobia I encountered was endless. My co-workers made it very clear to me many times that gay men were allowed to work in film production as long as they stuck to the hair and make up department, casting or costuming (I’m not joking – they actually said that). I was asked on job interviews if I was a homosexual (and believe me, they didn’t want me to be). If I got the job, I would always be asked, “You seem kind of effeminate. Are you gay?” Many other people were more subtle and some how, it was nastier. I wish I could say this was 50 years ago, but it wasn’t. This was in 2008.

  4. nick says

    Hollywood’s demographic is what plays with 14 year old boys with the occasional ROMCOM for the straight dating set. If it doesn’t have a body count,pyrotechnics, special effects that render it cartoonish in nature it isn’t likely to be made unless you are one of the handful of producers and directors who can stray occasionally and make something intelligent -otherwise don’t bother. And if something that assumes you have an IQ greater than 80 does slip through-it isn’t likely to play in Peoria or any other city outside of NY,LA,SF and a handful of other urban centers.

  5. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says

    What I don’t understand is the casting of Matt Damon. Thorson was only-17 when he was hired by Liberace, and just 24 when he filed his famous lawsuit. Matt Damon is 43…and TWICE the age of Thorson at the time.

    Was it the star-casting needed to green-light and finance the film…or casting a much-older Damon to deflect the “ICK”-factor in Middle America; presented as two consenting adults Douglas (68) and Damnon (43) vs. the 39-year age difference between the 56-yo Liberace and then 17-yo boytoy Thorson?

  6. Glynn says

    How novel? Make a movie about a flamboyant “star” from the past who was forced to deny his homosexuality. Sounds too familiar dahlinx. The main stream media is always two steps behind public opinion so we shouldn’t be surprised that Hollywood is lagging eight or nine steps behind and is held back by self-hating bean counting and munching closet dwellers.

    There is a catalogue of movies that have been swept aside or quietly released straight to DVD (straight to DVD? How ironic) – Anyone Stateside remember “I Love You Philip Morris”?

    HBO on the other hand – way to go – again!

  7. TampaZeke says

    “Too gay” and “too over the top”?

    How old are these executives? They’re clearly to young to have ever seen Liberace. If there is such a thing as “too gay” or “too over the top”, Liberace was the living embodiment of it.

    I think Liberace was FABULOUS and his hyper gay, over-the-topness is precisely why.

  8. Caliban says

    I don’t really think it’s that surprising that Thorsen is “with a woman” now, any more than it’s surprising that Nick Gruber identifies as straight despite being in a relationship with Calvin Klein and the quasi-gangster he’s with now. Prostitution, which is basically what’s going on with these bimbos and himbos dating wealthy codgers, doesn’t really have a sexuality. Is that chick who’s marrying Hugh Hefner really straight? Would it matter if she were lesbian? All she has to do is close her eyes and think of the bank account.

    Which doesn’t mean that their relationship wasn’t “real,” within the confines of that somewhat limited prostitute/john relationship. But we pretty it up by calling them “trophy wives” and “boy toys” when really a hooker is a hooker is a hooker. The only thing that’s different is the stakes.

  9. Paul R says

    It’s hardly surprising that no studio wanted this. Liberace doesn’t exactly have a huge fan base at this point. (The movie also has a terrible title, but that’s just a quibble.) Most of his audience was older women who denied that he was gay, so they won’t want to see this if they’re even still alive. Some gay men will enjoy it, but many others have zero interest. The main draw is the two leads, but that doesn’t fully compensate for the subject matter.

    And no, I’m not against effeminate men and I don’t hate Liberace. I just don’t have much interest in him and his much younger, seemingly awful lover.

  10. gregory brown says

    Maybe the movie execs ARE too young to “get’ Liberace. I saw some reruns of his shows on cable maybe 15 years ago. They always preceded Fulton Sheen’s LIFE IS WORTH LIVING. It was an easy elision. Both were entertainers with a clear sense of audience, both wore fancy dress, one had a candleabrum as his prop and the other a chalkboard–but the Bishop wore a LOT more makeup.

  11. says

    Back in 86 there was a made-for-Tv Liberace biopic starring the openly gay Victor Garber and written by the openly gay Gavin Lambert

    Soderbergh tells me his film came about because of Michael Douglas’ interest in Liberace. He (Soderbergh) didn’t knowall that much about him and couldn’t see the point of doing a biopic. But when Douglas said “It’s a love story,” Soderbergh got on board.

    Clearly Douglas saw Liberace’s act when he ws young and probably met him, as Liberace was quite sociable — and popular — in Hollywood circles.

  12. UFFDA says

    What PAUL R says. Liberace was a ridiculous bore, ergo the film. I wouldn’t see it for free unless I were more intrigued than I am to witness Matt actually kissing Douglas which is, bleh, retch-worthy…so, right, count me out.

  13. Yupp says

    I think it looks great. Hoping it will be. So grotesque, and yet so amazingly definitively Americana, as is Liberace, Las Vegas, the whole thing..So in-the-closet, yet so out-of-it.

  14. Contrarian says

    Great and thoughtful comments here, particularly those noting the type of audiences attending multi-screen theatres and films we have in mass release these days. Agree totally. This film would only appeal to the art house circuit. “Lee’s” fans of yore are in the cemetary or taking strained beets through a straw at the nursing home. His shtick never appealed to me back in the day and his fan base was older matronly women.

  15. Scar2 says

    Though I would have preferred for this to be in the theatres, I still can’t wait to see it on HBO. Soderbergh is a talented filmmaker – he managed to find some nuance in male strippers in Magic Mike. Also, HBO also just announced its adaptation of The Normal Heart. Here’s hoping those two projects will continue HBO’s reputation for quality movies.

  16. jamal49 says

    I believe my mother once told me that Liberace had his own television show in the early 1950s and it was in black and white and Liberace wore these glittering suits and the camera was always close up to Liberace’s face and there was a candelabra with lit candles that sat on his grand piano and she never missed a show because she thought he was so elegant.

    Yeah. My mother told me that. Later on, during the Scott Thorson scandal, she also thought that it was all lies that “that young man” told about Liberace, that he was a homosexual. Mother thought that Liberace couldn’t have been a homosexual because he was so nice.

    I remember that Rolling Stone magazine did a piece about Liberace and had a great photograph of him with Scott who was also Liberace’s chauffeur both of them posing next to Liberace’s limousine–Liberace was cloaked in a lavish chinchilla coat and Scott was in a rather sexy chauffeur’s suit. Liberace looked like The Joker, he wore so much makeup and the cosmetic surgery had his mouth in a fixed smile and his eyes nearly squinted shut.

    I think I need a drink.

  17. dms says

    Studios are interested in making money.

    I don’t think they are homophobic, they are simply afraid to put their jobs on the line and take a gamble.

    Trust me, if gay biopics were the new Transformers, that’s all we’d be seeing.

    To suggest that they are homophobic or have some responsibility to fund and release any movie is a politically short-sighted perspective.

  18. dms says

    PS those saying it was a sure thing due to “box office stars” damon etc.

    Damon’s latest is a huge, stinking turd at the box office. Well-intentioned, pedigreed director. But a giant money loser.

    SO forget the, “but it has stars” line to support the claim that studios are homophobic.

  19. DC Arnold says

    My Grandmother was a huge Liberace fan and braved the blue rinse crowds whenever he came to town. Being African American she didn’t care that he was “light in the loafers”. Hollywood will gladly take your money but their attitude towards us is strictly from the 1950’s. I get my movies from a human red box nowadays.

  20. Diogenes Arktos says

    My horrendously anti-gay grandfather went gaga over L. His reasons were those why he hated gays – and he couldn’t see the contradiction.

    On another gay movie, The Birdcage, I remember being the only gay in the audience because I was often the only one laughing. I suspect many straights wanted to see Robin Williams and had no clue about the plot.

  21. says


    Don’t talk about things you obviously know nothing about. Your “huge, stinking turd” comment shows your five-year-old mentality. You are way too concerned with defending the studios when they think absolutely nothing of you. Don’t come back until you can write like a grown up.

  22. Mikey says

    Is there anyone who did not know, or at least suspect, that Liberace was gay? I mean, he “acted” gay in manner and showmanship. A pity thathe could not really be himself; he didn’t take his candelabra and flashy costumes to bed. I can picture him fellating his b.f. Scott got the real man, naked and horny. (And he was pretty cute himself.)

    The closet is little more than a cell.

  23. ratbastard says

    1] This flick will BOMB. You heard from me first.

    2] I have zero desire to watch a biopic of Liberace. No offense to the [dead] man, I find nothing particularly heroic or noteworthy about him. He was a flamboyant queen in an age when they had to pretend they weren’t gay. End of story. On a personal level, he may have been a nice, decent guy, I don’t know.

  24. Yupp says

    Ratbastard : But isn’t there something interesting, in maybe just a cultural/historical way, about one of THE biggest stars of ’50’s America (on this new thing called Television) being so unbelievably closeted and yet so “out” there? And the development into the Vegas/Scott Thorsen chapter ? I do feel like there is quite a film-worthy story to the whole thing.

  25. Lars says

    Isn’t it possible that there simply is a very small audience for this film? I frankly have scant interest in a biopic about a closeted Las Vegas entertainer who died when I was 4 years old. Yawn.

    With all due respect, maybe big studio resistance to this film has less to do with a homophobic agenda, and more to do with executives who know how to count. Barely anyone under 40 knows/cares who Liberace was, much less who he was schtupping.

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