Lee Daniels Reveals Details of His Drug-Fueled Days Managing Wes Bentley and Michael Shannon

5:00 AM PST 08/14/2013 by Merle Ginsberg
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Before finding success behind the camera with "Precious," the "Butler" director says he repped several emerging actors, including the troubled "American Beauty" star.

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.

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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!”

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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.

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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!

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