Lee Daniels Wants Mariah Carey to Play Mariah Carey on 'Empire'
"She doesn't want to play herself. I sort of want her to. Her almost making fun of herself could be fun," says the show's creator, who's already directed the diva twice before ('Precious,' 'Lee Daniels' The Butler').
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
She’s the best-selling female artist in music history, with more No. 1 hits than any other solo artist, but landing a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame proved to be a big deal even for Mariah Carey. And also for Lee Daniels.
"I started crying — I did! I mean, how many comebacks has she had?" the Empire creator asked THR following Carey’s star ceremony during a Hollywood Roosevelt-set luncheon on Aug. 5. "I see a gentle soul; an artist who is always underestimated and who always comes back for more. I see a lady who is a lady — they confuse it with 'diva' but it’s old school. She’s the last of only a few."
The two are longtime friends who have collaborated on Daniels’ film projects including Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Tennessee. It was the former that earned Carey some of the best reviews of her acting career, playing a social worker who helps guide Gabourey Sidibe’s title character.
"She’s a friend whom I enjoy working with as an actor. She gives her soul to me," Daniels explained before adding that he has no experience with her reputation for tardiness (she even showed up to the luncheon more than an hour late). "I don’t know her to be tardy. For me, she’s on time. I know that she’s notorious for it but I don’t know that side of her. If we’re having dinner, she’s on time. If we’re having lunch, she’s on time. She doesn’t have breakfast. And if we’re on set, she’s on time. I’m so looking forward to her coming on Empire."
Speaking of, who will the famous chanteuse be playing on the hit Fox drama — recently honored with the top prize at the Television Critics Association’s 31st annual TCA Awards on Aug. 8 at the Beverly Hilton — when the show returns with a sophomore season this fall? "They are writing something specifically for her. I don’t know [if she’s playing herself] but she doesn’t want to. I sort of want her to because I want to have fun with her playing herself. I torture her, so what other things can we do together creatively that we haven’t done? Her playing herself and almost making fun of herself could be fun. We’ll see."
Daniels has a lot to sort out at the moment with a just-announced music drama pilot for Fox titled Star and a slate of other projects, which is why he laughs that he’s enjoying the afternoon respite provided by Carey’s big day. Also on hand to toast the mother of two: longtime friend Brett Ratner, record label honchos L.A. Reid and Sylvia Rhone, and Jeff Beacher, the latter of whom was going to host the luncheon at his newly restored Beacher’s Madhouse until a capacity crowd moved it to an upstairs venue.
"It’s a relief to come here and celebrate my friend because it’s a lot of hard work," says Daniels. "Plus this is a huge deal for her and I know how important it is. She’s a gentle human being and I’m so moved. That’s why I cried."