Make no mistake about it; Lee Daniels has had a consistent track record of pulling together some of Hollywood’s biggest names to star in his feature films. In addition to casting both Halle Berry and comedienne Mo'Nique for their Academy Award-winning performances in Monster’s Ball and Precious, Daniels aims to repeat his success with his forthcoming film, The Butler.
Featuring an all-star cast including Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda, and Cuba Gooding Jr., to name a few, the film depicts the life and times surrounding an African-American butler, Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House during eight administrations.
While promoting his current film, “The Paperboy,” the bold auteur spoke candidly about filming the forthcoming biopic, in addition to his thoughts on critics.
What can fans expect from your latest film The Paperboy?
I think that you’ll find it very provocative. It’s definitely an unexpected choice after Precious. The reviews have been mixed. They’re the same as Precious, but I’m not here to please you as I did with Precious. With Paperboy, there’s some big stars in it [including Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman] and they were surprised that I got them to do what I got Mo'Nique and Gabby [Gabourey Sidibe] to do. But I think die hard Lee Daniels fans will love the film and those who can’t stomach the truth will be appalled and call it disgusting.
Well, a lot of African-Americans went for me with Precious, and I flipped the script this time. But I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s a very complex study into the minds of African-Americans, it’s my version of The Help, sort of.
What are your thoughts on those who refer to your films as being shot with a dark undertone?
I don’t know what to say about that. I guess it’s a style I’m learning about now that is therapeutic to me, and I’m learning about myself. I’m addressing many of my demons in all of my films. Though I’m criticized often times for portraying African-Americans in a certain way, I love my people. But I also love telling the truth. I don’t hide behind the truth. I take a lot of heat for being honest with my cinema. Even with Monster’s Ball I didn’t know I was going to be attacked the way that I was attacked. A lot of African-Americans are disturbed by Halle Berry having sex with a white man, but I have to tell experiences that I know [from people that I know], otherwise what’s the point? And I think, oftentimes they’re not pretty. Often times, life isn’t pretty. But if you want to see pretty, go see a Tyler Perry movie or go see The Help, or something. And that’s fine.
I think The Bulter isn’t dark. [Laughs] I’m pleasing everybody with The Bulter. I’m giving you PG-13 with just a splash of Lee Daniels.
One of the parallels between The Butler and The Paperboy is that you chose New Orleans as the city to film both movies. What is it about the city that has grabbed your attention?
The food, the people, the general way of living down there, and just the laid-backness of it all. We had a couple of options to shoot The Butler and I decided to shoot in New Orleans. It’s been a great experience for me to shoot this film.
You managed to land another star-studded cast, not to mention you’re reuniting with Mariah Carey.
Yes! Well, you know, we rock like that. I love her and we’re obsessed with each other. Very much like Mo’Nique and Nicole Kidman. I have an affinity towards women and so it’s been a wonderful experience. She’s really quite good in the film. She just wrapped her part a few weeks ago.
Since Cuba Gooding Jr. made headlines in July, have you cracked down on the after hour schedule for the cast?
Yes, yes of course. [Laughs] What can we do? This is my second time working with Cuba. But here’s the thing, I’m like their father and so I have to start screaming and acting like a crazy man for them to pull it in. When you’re making a film you become a family and you have each other’s back. And plus, them people was just f**king with Cuba anyway. But it caused a negative buzz, and we really want to keep it positive for “The Butler.”
How has Oprah’s starring role as the Butler’s wife taken shape thus far?
She’s a monster, man! She’s bringing it and I’m really proud of her. It’s crazy when you’re working with her because people are obsessed. I have to make sure there are no phones around. But we’re having a good time and I think that she’s able to escape the pressures of being Oprah while on my set, because she’s able to sort of be the character. Which is really nice to witness. I wrote this film for her.
Can fans expect the film to debut at Cannes in 2013?
I don’t think it’ll be ready for Cannes next year, because I’m not leaving the edit room until this one’s ready. I would hope to, that’ll be nice. But it’s like a monster. It’s long and detailed, so it’s going to take a while to edit. I’m hoping to make Cannes, but I don’t think that I’m going to be able to make it.
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