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Lee Daniels Talks The Ratings Struggles Of 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' And A Musical Remake Of 'Nights of Cabiria'

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist August 13, 2013 at 4:00PM

Lee Daniels is used to a good fight. He had to fight perceptions of his first film, “Shadowboxer,” in order to make “Precious: Based On The Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire.” He had to fight for the right to direct “The Paperboy,” a project that had switched hands amongst filmmakers as lauded as Pedro Almodovar. But nothing could have prepared him for the ratings fight that greeted him in regards to his new film, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
The Butler Lee Daniels

At the very least, Daniels is experiencing press much more generous than the notices he received for his last film, “The Paperboy,” which he remains passionate about. “I think the studios screwed me on it,” he says, noting the dishonesty about press coverage in relation to actual truth. “I’m really proud of it,” he beams. “I don’t understand what happened, it was a strange situation. I was at the press screening in Cannes, and we were never booed, but it was reported that we were booed. We were not booed, we were applauded. I got a longer standing ovation at the actual event than I did at ‘Precious.’

“My first movie was ‘Shadowboxer,’ and what I learned [from Cuba Gooding Jr.] was that I should never, ever, ever read reviews,” he decrees. “But with ‘Precious,’ they seduce you with these things and you find yourself weakening and then you’re reading. And it happened again with ‘The Paperboy.’ And you cannot [read the reviews], because it will chip away at your artistry and self-esteem.”

Daniels has a lot of potential projects upcoming, though he sighs and admits, “It’s hard to get a movie greenlit.” Among the list of follow-up films, it looks like his next will be “Get It While You Can,” the biopic of Janis Joplin. “That’s the closest to being greenlit,” he says. “We still have Amy [Adams] onboard.”

Lee Daniels' The Butler

He’s also still involved in a remake of “Nights Of Cabiria,” though he suggests it will be very different than the source material, with a different title. He also suggests it will be a musical. “I’m developing that with Universal, I haven’t had time to finish the script,” he admits. He cautions, “It’s not ‘Nights of Cabiria.’ I took the idea of it, and made it about three blacks girls. It’s a musical version, and we took the idea from that.” In regards to musicals, he’s also still developing adaptations of “Scottsboro Boys” and “Miss Saigon,” of the latter he says, “I’m waiting to hear back from them.”

He backed away from involvement in an incendiary film called “Orders To Kill,” a true story about a lawyer’s quest to prove conspiracy in the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking of the project, which was to team him with Hugh Jackman, he says, “I will not be doing that. That’s a good one. Fascinating script, but I won’t be doing that.” No stranger to controversy, Daniels demurs when he says, “I can’t tell you why. It’s just that the story is deep, and so are the politics beyond it.” But it’s probably just politics as usual in Hollywood, particularly as far as struggling to get any project made that doesn’t involve a superhero. 

“I’m very specific about what it is that I want, it’s hard for me to get what I want,” he says. Speaking of the project “Selma,” which he was along attached to but will now be directed by Ana DuVernay, he claims, “It was hard for me to greenlight the movie because David [Oyelowo] wasn’t a star.” Though he points to “The Butler” when he freely admits, “I’ve done my Civil Rights movie, I’m good!”

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” opens Friday, August 16th.

This article is related to: Lee Daniels' The Butler , Lee Daniels, Nights Of Cabiria, Get It While You Can, Interviews, Interviews