In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_hercules

Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

Thumb_f8f20egntzlhnjjletts89sx5lt

Magic in the Moonlight

While Allen’s new picture, "Magic In The Moonlight," isn’t even close to being a disaster (for that, see, well, "Scoop"), I don’t think it’s unreasonable…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Life Itself Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives
Primary_leedanielsthebutler-2013-2

"History is the Backdrop": Lee Daniels discusses "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is inspired by the real-life story of a black man who worked in the White House for decades, serving eight Presidents from Truman to Reagan. Born in the Jim Crow-era South of lynchings and segregation, Eugene Allen lived long enough to cast a vote for Barack Obama. Forest Whitaker plays the fictionalized Cecil, the butler, with Oprah Winfrey as his wife, Gloria, and David Oyelowo as their son, Louis, who becomes a leader in the Civil Rights movement. The cast also includes Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and Vanessa Redgrave as a plantation owner.

How do you evoke the important details of such a large swath of history without getting lost?

We don't focus on history. History is the backdrop. The focus is the family. I have to tell what I know. I've never been in the White House. So that was really a specific choice to focus on the father and son love story and make the rest of it a backdrop, the White House and the Civil Rights movement. Otherwise it is not a story; it's a history lesson. Danny Strong wrote an incredible script. He knows so much about history. I had to do some research on the White House, but the sit-ins, the bus rides, the different drinking fountains, those were things my family and I experienced. I once drank from a "whites only" fountain and got slapped by my dad. I thought there would be Sprite coming out of there! My experience is that experience, either from personal experience or from my mom or my dad, or my aunts and uncles and grandparents.

How did you talk with Forest Whitaker, who plays the title character, about the way his character would show his age over the course of the film?

He is one of if not the premier actors of our generation. He brings a load of stuff that he's studied and thought about. For me, it was really about being a puppeteer, guiding him, telling him maybe a little too much here or there but it's all him. I just told him when to bring it down or bring it up, like adjusting the volume. He comes at you like a cannon, but with humility.

What do you want people to talk about on the way home from this film?

How they could laugh and cry at the same time. How I didn't take it too seriously. In the research I did with the slaves and the Civil Rights movement, they didn't take it too seriously. If they didn't laugh, they got terrified. So they had to laugh through the tears. I hope people will say, "Lee Daniels did not take it too seriously, and by that he told the truth."


Read a longer version of this interview on Nell Minow's Movie Mom blog.

Popular Blog Posts

Exploring Israel-Palestine through Movies: Part 1

The first part in a four-part series on what film can teach us about the relationship between Israel and Palestine.

Able-Bodied Actors and Disability Drag: Why Disabled Roles are Only for Disabled Performers

Scott Jordan Harris argues that disabled characters should not be played by able-bodied actors.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Simply Do it: Talking with Woody Allen About Directorial Style

An interview with Woody Allen about his new film, "Magic in the Moonlight."

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus