Lee Daniels is the West Philly filmmaker who got Halle Berry her Oscar (he produced Monster’s Ball), who talked Kevin Bacon into playing a Philadelphia pedophile (Daniels produced The Woodsman) and had Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren entwined in each other’s nakedness on a grassy slope in Fairmount Park for the strange hitman romance, Shadowboxer (Daniels produced and directed).
And now, with Precious: Based on the Novel `Push’ by Sapphire, the fearless Daniels has brought the story of an obese, illiterate 16-year-old black girl who is pregnant by her father to the screen. And Oprah and Tyler, as well as audiences and critics, are talking Academy Award noms for the film and its stars. Whatever you think of the film's sometimes over-the-top depiction of abuse and domestic squalor, Precious, with the 350-lb Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe in the title role, represents another bold move for the 49-year-old filmmaker.
So, what’s next for Daniels? Two polar-opposite projects, he says: Selma and Miss Saigon.
“Selma is a moment in time,” Daniels reports. “Just a moment in time about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson…. Did you see Frost/Nixon? It’s sort of like that, and you see a white guy’s perspective go from being a complete racist and the arc of that transitioning into this president who signed major civil rights legislation…. The movie is about how this got to happen. And it’s so beautiful to see, and… you see King for the first time for the man that he was.... Now, that’s a leap from Shadowboxer,” he says, laughing.
And Miss Saigon? Daniels is set to tackle the Tony-winning, West End and Broadway smash musical. “I’m working with Cameron Mackintosh on that,” Daniels says. “I like that whole concept of trying to do something that’s not of my world. It’s really a leap.
“Both worlds are not of my world," he adds. "I’m safe in Precious zone. I know that world, that’s my DNA, it’s inside of me. But the research that needs to be done on both of these: I was a kid during the Vietnam war, so the work that needs to be done there is a lot of work, and the stuff for Selma, I mean, I learned about it in history but to tell the truth and to really give King justice, to do him justice and his memory justice in an honest way, and Lyndon Johnson’s memory – well, it’s work, it’s research. I feel like I’m back in school.”