Oprah Winfrey Mulls Return to Acting in Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' (Exclusive)
Oprah Winfrey may return to acting in what would be her first live-action movie since 1998’s Beloved.
Winfrey is mulling an offer to co-star in The Butler, Precious director Lee Daniels’ story of Eugene Allen, a black man who worked as butler in the White House, serving eight presidents from 1952 to 1986.
The project was initially set up at Columbia, which picked up Wil Haygood's 2008 Washington Post story A Butler Well Served by This Election. The project is now being financed independently, with Pamela Williams producing on behalf of Laura Ziskin Productions.
Financing is being still being cobbled together and no deals have been made, but Daniels has been busy putting together a top-notch cast.
Hugh Jackman, Mila Kunis and John Cusack are names that have surfaced to play real-life figures. Sources say that Daniels wants David Oyelowo, who starred in the recent Tuskegee Airmen action film Red Tails and will appear in Daniels’ upcoming thriller The Paperboy, to portray the butler.
Like many of Daniels’ projects, financing and players are moving around, but decisions on the two stars should be made in the next week and a half, according to those close to the project.
Haygood’s article focused on Allen, who started at the White House as a "pantry man" in 1952, when blacks weren't allowed to use public restrooms in his native Virginia. He ended up serving eight presidents and had a unique front-row seat as political and racial history was made, from the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
The story was published Nov. 7, 2008, just after the election of President Obama. Allen and his wife of 65 years marveled that a black man could be president. But on Election Day, Allen cast his vote alone; his wife had died the day before.
Danny Strong wrote the script which was rewritten by Daniels.
Winfrey would play Allen’s wife. Insiders say that Kunis would play Jackie Kennedy and Cusack would play Richard Nixon. It's in unclear who Jackman, who was to have appeared in Daniels’ stalled Selma project, would portrtay.
If deals are signed, Winfrey could make her first appearance in a live-action movie since Beloved, the Jonathan Demme-directed drama adapted from a Toni Morrison book. She also has attached herself to an untiltled Universal dramedy set at a home shopping network to be directed by Michael Patrick King and co-starring Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock, but development on that project has stalled.
Winfrey, who scored an Oscar nomination for 1985's The Color Purple, has voice-acted in films such as The Princess and the Frog and Charlotte's Web. She also has appeared as herself on television, most notably on NBC's 30 Rock, and is the co-owner with Discovery Communications of the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Winfrey also worked with Daniels on the director’s 2009 indie Precious, coming on board to executive produce the adaptation of the novel by Sapphire. The gritty drama, which benefited from hefty promotion by Winfrey on her talk show, grossed $63.6 million worldwide, received six Oscar nominations and won two.
Winfrey is represented by CAA.