About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Home
December 2004
A Producer's Take On Hollywood:An Interview with Producer/ Director Lee Daniels

A Producer's Take On Hollywood:An Interview with Producer/ Director Lee Daniels

By Nasser Metcalfe
Previous Page

NM: So you next film coming out is The Woodsman, correct?

LD: Yes, sir.

NM: When is that released?

LD: The twenty fourth of December. That's my birthday.

NM: A birthday gift to you and a Christmas gift to the world.

LD: After Monster's Ball, I got offered a lot of bullshit to produce that I think would have made everybody happy. [It would have made] the studios happy and I think people of color happy, if I had made the type of films that were offered to me. I chose not to. I chose to stick to my heart and to tell the truth again. I've had people come to me from my own family, my mother even. It's hard to please everybody.

NM: You can never please everybody.

LD: I know, right. That's what I learned.

NM: And you'll go crazy trying so that was a wonderful lesson to be learned after those experiences. With The Woodsman, however, I'm curious how this film differs. What is the subject matter of this film?

LD: Wow. The subject matter is about a man in recovery. It's about a man who likes little children. Sexually, he likes little children.

NM: A pedophile.

LD: Yes, and he's in recovery from that. Kevin Bacon plays him. How did that come about? Well, at first, somebody called me. It was either a writer or director and said I would love for you to do this film and they told me the subject matter and I hung the phone up. Because I felt that there are certain things that should never be talked about. Or I felt so at that time. And I felt that there was a border, there was a line and that would be crossing it. But then the manager, a woman of color, Kathy Atkinson called in New York and she said, you should check out this script, its really good. I'm not going to tell you what it's about just read it. And I did and it read very much like Monster's Ball. Very sparse. Nothing complicated. Just a simple story. Half way through the script, it had me. I was tricked because I didn't know what he was doing. I knew that he had done something but I just knew that he was in turmoil. And that was what was messing me up. And just when I was hooked, then it was exposed. And I knew that I could get a good actor with that type of material. I knew that this was the next film that I was going to do. A learned a bit from Monster's Ball in my choice of picking directors too. I got all the flack from the black community in Hollywood because I didn't pick a black director. I wasn't even looking for an American director, specifically. I felt that for Monster's Ball, I needed someone that had not been exposed to the South, that had not been exposed to American racism, as we know it today. And I felt that the only way to go there was to tell it from a child's perspective and hire a European director. It would have been jaded telling it from a black man's perspective or even a white American's perspective. I would have hired an African or anybody that was not from America. I felt that this lady, Nicole Kassell, was qualified, [she was] the writer who co wrote it too. I felt that it was really interesting to tell the story of this man struggling with this sexual demon from a woman's perspective, because she would have told it very differently from a man. Men think with their dicks. We think with our dicks. We're quick [to do that]. And it would be a completely different spin and often times a more rightful place[to be]. And often times it takes a little longer getting to that right place. And I felt that that was a good choice and that she was a good choice for telling the story. So we began the casting search. In the casting search the dilemma was whether this man was going to be a black man or a white man. For me, I wanted a black man. So I guess the Monster's Ball backlash did affect me in that I went against what my spirit told me and that was to hire a black man. I went against my spirit. My mother said if you put a black man in this pedophile role, I'm never speaking to you again. (Laughter)

NM: And you can't have that. You gotta be able to speak to ya mama. (Laughter)

LD: Right and I thought, why should we, as African Americans, hold ourselves so high and accountable. Why are we on a pedestal? We're as human as everybody else. We got stories like everybody else. You know what I mean? Why? Why? And then my politics got all deep and stuff and I thought with backlash of Halle and everybody's feelings towards me and Monster's Ball. And plus my mother, I found a white boy for it.

NM: You do have some black talent in the film. I understand that Mos Def and Eve are in there.

LD: Yeah, because I like to saturate my films with people of color in unexpected roles. Because we've been conditioned to think that we really don't exist in [certain roles]. We've been subconsciously and subliminally brain washed into thinking these people don't exist because we don't see them on film. And if we do they're caricatures or they're not real or they're in unreal situations. You know what I mean? It's weird. It's a very weird, uncomfortable place to be. I feel like I'm alone. I feel like I'm very alone. I'm trying to speak for our people in a unique voice, and at the same time feeling like I have some sort of accountability or responsibility. I cannot please everybody and that really upsets me. I definitely feel ostracized from studios.

NM: But you still find a way to get your projects made and people see your work and are affected by it so at the end of the day it seems like you're still doing what you set out to do.

LD: Oh, yeah. I don't take no for an answer. But, sometimes, like with an interview like this, I sit back and think that it's more theraputic for me. I'm so used to going into the process that it's rare that I analyze. So it goes back to my origin of casting. I just felt that if you walk into an office, guaranteed that we're represented by a good thirty percent in any sector of society, and yet we rarely see it. I always try to implement that into the casting process too. And I always try to bring an element of hip-hop to whatever it is that I'm doing.

NM: I was going to ask you about that because between Monster's Ball and The Woodsman you've got P. Diddy, you've got Mos Def and Eve. There's been a little controversy if you will or concern and various schools of thought about do rappers make good actors and should rappers take actors jobs.

LD: I go against the grain on that too. A lot of black actors in Hollywood don't respond because I'm constantly doing that. I feel that, black people, give us a basketball and we're the best at it. Give us a pen and nobody's better at spewing out some of the most original thoughts. I think that we're great at what we do and that these rappers are artists, ultimately at the end of the day. And if directed properly, they're exquisite sometimes and they bring a sense of reality, which is at times lost through Julliard. The actors for the most part are brain washed by the studios into thinking that this is the way they're supposed to act. And they lose, often times, a sense of color. Not that I'm saying this in general. What I'm saying is that it would make sense to me in theory that that's sort of the way the cookies fall. There are many actors that [are great] so I'm not categorizing but rather just stating that we have a very interesting culture that's often time lost in translation. I try to bring that culture that often times hip-hop or rappers [bring]. They speak the truth.

NM: Absolutely. So are there any rappers in Shadow Boxer?

LD: No but I got a rapper/producer.

NM: Oh yeah? Who is that?

LD: Damon Dash. He executive produced The Woodsman. He and Lisa Cortes who runs my company, she's the first woman [as well as] the first black woman to be the president of Polygram records. They are the producers of the film. [Damon] came in and helped me finance The Woodsman.

NM: So it's a partnership with Dash Films?

LD: Yes, but it wasn't a complete partnership. There were two different financial entities, Dash films was one of them.

NM: That makes for an interesting combination.

LD: I love it too. What amazes me too, was all the mufuckas who told me no. Not only can we act, direct, and produce; we can get our own films financed so that was really important to me to have Damon there for that support. [In The Woodsman] we have Eve who plays a very nosy woman who wants to get to the bottom with this guy. She's almost like the bad guy if you could say that. She wants to find out what this guy has done. She's got kids. She sort of thinks from like my perspective. What I've learned is that it only take two seconds for your kids to be molested. It was a learning experience for me to do The Woodsman. I found that [it takes] two seconds, man and your kids are gone. And they will not discuss it because they're too afraid. That was great for me because it really helped me understand my kids. And appreciate and teach my kids what to do if something like this were to happen. So, Eve plays a very conservative, pulled back, uptight mother; which was really an artistic and interesting way of seeing Eve like you've never seen her before. As opposed to the Eve that she's been branded for. Mos Def plays a cop that is just all over Kevin Bacon, and watching his every move. I really thought it was a good, honest follow up to Monster's Ball. It's something that I could be proud of.

NM: Can you tell us a little bit about Shadowboxer? How is it different?

LD: The same writers as Monster's Ball wrote Shadowboxer, Nicole Kassell and Steven Fechter. They had given it to me when I shooting Monster's Ball. We were so caught up in just trying to make this movie. We didn't have time to read scripts when you're worried about where you're going to get your next dollar from, and all of the day to day problems one has to deal with when producing a film. So I didn't pay attention to it. But then I read it and was like oh wow. It's really deep. It's about a mother and stepson who are killers and are lovers and it's good. I think it's the most commercial of all the films that I've worked on thus far because it's got a lot of shoot em up.

NM: This is your first time in the director's chair. How did that come about?

LD: My favorite director in the whole world, who I originally wanted to direct Monster's Ball, this German director, Oskar Roehler, he was going to be the director. He said, Lee, you're so hands on with your projects that you should direct it. And I felt that it would be great for me as a producer to direct, because I could learn how to treat my directors better. I'm really hard on everybody that I work with. I felt that I would learn a lot about how to handle my director by just directing. It was really a task in learning how to treat directors. I think I'll direct again. I know I'll direct again. The next movie I'll produce.

NM: Who is in Shadowboxer?

LD: Macy Gray, Mo'nique, Steven Dorff, Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding, jr., and a new girl on the scene, Vanessa Furlito who stars.

NM: When can we look for that film to come out?

LD: I don't know. I still have to find a distributor. I'm not finished with it. I'm still editing. Macy Gray is doing the music for me. She's doing the score. It's a rough one. It's a roller coaster. It's about a woman who's dying of cancer who is raising her stepson and they are lovers. The movie opens with a kid who is being violently abused by his dad. Which is young Cuba. His dad was a killer, a hired assassin. And his mother was abused. The dad is also messing around on his mother with this white lady. This woman is [played by] Helen Mirren. The father kills the mother and is blatantly having an affair with this woman in front of the mother. But, this new woman won't tolerate the abuse that the mother let happen. When he goes to beat his kid, young Cuba is crying over the death of his mother. She shoots the father mid stroke of this beating. We cut to twenty-five years later and the kid is now an adult. A few things have changed in that time. Cuba does what his father and his stepmother did which is kill people for a living. She's dying of cancer, it's discovered. Somewhere in that time period, they started having sex. So they go on a kill and one of the people that they are set up to kill is nine months pregnant. As she holds the gun to her stomach, the woman's water breaks. And she has an epiphany, Helen Mirren does and she can't kill this woman or this baby because she's dying. So she and Cuba take this baby and raise it as they run from the killers. Steven Dorff is the bad guy.

NM: Which he does so well. We can't wait to see that one. Best of luck on all your postproduction.

LD: Thanks. Man, [postproduction] is rough!

NM: Yes, definitely. Do you have your next project identified?

LD: It's one of two. I'm definitely doing a lighter film. I've been in a dark place for a long time. I need to come up and see the light. So I'm probably going to do this fun little movie called Ladies Night with Beyonce, Missy Elliot, Mo'Nique, Macy Gray, Diana Ross, and Patti LaBelle. It's like a modern day, edgier version of Waiting To Exhale. It's about a group of ladies who get together and go out for a night on the town and deal with everybody's problems. But it's going to have a little Lee Daniels hot sauce on it. It's as close to a comedy as I can come.

NM: Right. You said it may be one of two. Can you tell us about the other one?

LD: The other one is about a black man addicted to crack. Sort of a black version of Requiem For A Dream. Every body tells me to do this commercial one because I need to make some money for once. So I may do that then come back to direct in this other one.

NM: We're honored that you shared so much with us and gave our audience a chance to get to know you better.

LD: Well man, anything I can do for yŠll let me know.

NM: Thank you. It's definitely been a pleasure.

Previous Page

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy