Lee Daniels Reveals Details of His Drug-Fueled Days Managing Wes Bentley and Michael Shannon
With his fourth film, Lee Daniels has achieved not just above-the-title status in Hollywood, but in-the-title status. While the name Lee Daniels' The Butler may be the result of legal infighting among studios, the well-received new film -- about a White House servant whose tenure spaned eight presidents and three decades -- looks primed to establish its namesake as a mainstream filmmaking force.
The always candid director sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about the challenges of working within a PG-13 rating, his crazy days overseeing the careers of Wes Bentley and Michael Shannon and the secret to cashing in on a modestly budgeted movie. (Hint: It's about the music.)
The Hollywood Reporter: The Butler is such a wholesome-seeming movie for you -- the man who made Shadowboxer, Precious and The Paperboy. Did you feel restrained making a PG-13 movie?
Lee Daniels: I get in trouble all the time for not being able to restrain my mouth. But I don’t know any other way to be. The truth is, I wanted to make a movie my mama and my kids could see and be proud of. Finally my mom can brag to her church group about one movie I made. I wanted people to see I could do it. This was my chance. I needed to show myself, “Yes you can!” and “Yes you will!”
THR : We hear there were interesting things cut out of the movie.
Daniels: Nah, it was always PG -- the script was PG. There were a couple of “f---s” in there. Cuba [Gooding Jr.] says one -- and if you listen carefully, you can tell he still says it -- we just put a kitchen sounding clang over it. No, there’s no masturbation in this movie, only one F-bomb, so now my kids, my mom and her church group can finally shut up! My mother has been saying for me for years: “Why don’t you make movies like Tyler Perry? Enough with the pedophiles!”
THR: It's funny to think that even with your very varied résumé -- you were once Wes Bentley's manager!
Daniels: And Michael Shannon, too! I found those kids doing theater. I was doing theater back then. But I had to make some money, so I started managing actors.
THR: What do you think of Bentley’s comeback after many ruinous years?
Daniels: Oh, back then, we all did drugs. I lived it up. Are you kidding? But even though Wes was messed up, his soul was in the right place. Michael’s, too, though he’s not as complicated as Wes. I wasn’t the best role model back then, but now I’ve been sober many years. I watched Wes fuck up a lot of opportunities -- he created many, many movie stars. Him not doing [2002's] Spider-Man – that was the killer.
THR: With the release of The Butler, you seem to have willingly entered the ranks of mainstream Hollywood directors.
Daniels: I am happy -- because there’s a place for black cinema all of a sudden, with Fruitvale Station and Mandela -- that means all of us get more employment. What was so difficult about The Butler is that, unlike any of my other films, it spans many decades.
THR: The soundtrack is pretty great, too.
Daniels: I have a brilliant soundtrack music supervisor -- Lynn Fainchtein is brilliant. But baby, I got a piece of it! It will probably make me more money than my entire directing fee!