Excerpts from Interview with Lee Daniels
                        Director of “Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire”
                        November 12, 2009, Dallas , Texas
                        Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, contributing at the roundtable
 
 
Q: Why the controversial films?
A:  What’s controversial?  I think Hollywood insults the intelligence of the American public.  They give us these formulas.  I don’t look at it as dark; I look at it as thought-provoking.  Art is to learn from, and to learn about ourselves.
Q: Did you stay strictly with the script, or was there improvising?
A:  I’m the puppet master.  I think of us sticking to the script, but if it doesn’t feel honest to me in the moment, I’ll say, “OK, what would you say in this?”
Q:  How did you convince Sapphire to allow you to make a movie of her book?
A: I stalked her for eight years.  Her book stuck to me like hot grits.  I was gasping.  She didn’t want anybody to have her book.  She doesn’t like Hollywood .  She’s a scholar, and a poet, and a teacher.  She’s a genius.  She finally relented when I convinced her that whether I made a good or a bad movie, her work would still stand on its own.  That, or because she was tired of me stalking her.
Q:  Why make the story in the past?
A;  It would have been cheaper to do it in the present, then you wouldn’t have to worry about costume, and hair, and sets.  But it’s 1987.  The impact of HIV wouldn’t have been the same. 
Q:  What message would you have others take from your film?
A: There are lots of messages.  Even for me.  For example, in a recent Q and A, somebody asked me why the saviors are all lighter-skinner blacks.  That blew me away.  Here I am, a black filmmaker, directing a movie about blacks, and I’m a racist.
But making films, for me, is about how I grow as a man, and as a spirit of God.
When I was a kid, the lighter you were, the closer you sat to the altar, in my church.  Is that in the back of my head someplace? And I’m an “out” director, a gay director, yes, and that means that I’m free.  I’m uninhibited.  I don’t care about anything except what my kids think about me.  But at the end of the day, I want to tell the truth.  And I want to live in my truth.  And the truth is very powerful.  And the truth will set you free.
Q:  How did you decide about the cast?
A:  Mo’Nique is my friend.  I called and said, “This character is ghastly.  You’re going to lose your fan base.”  She said, “Sign me up.”  I said “You have to read the script.” She read the script and she said, “Sign me up.”  I think that if you trust someone, you get great performances.   Helen Mirren was supposed to play the Mariah Carey character, because she’d worked with me on my last film.  Three days before, she gets a call to make some real money.  And part of me says, “No, you can’t do this to me.”  But when you come from theater, or you come from independent film, you understand about a payday for your friends.  Mariah called me three hours later, and wanted to visit, but I told her I was working, and she asked on what, and I told her, and she’d read the book, and said she loved it, and a light bulb went off.  I said, “Let me call you back.”  So I called Helen back, and asked her about Mariah Carey, and she said, “If you cast her, it would be more interesting than if you cast me.  If you can get her to do something unexpected, it would be more powerful.”  So Helen helped me. I interviewed 400 girls for the main part, and I learned from them.  To walk around like they do, struggling with self-esteem, to be not seen, people look right through you, and there they were, in leotards, and tap shoes, and boas, and they were something.  There are many “Preciouses.”
 Q:  This film elicited an emotional response in me.  I just wanted to get up and slap Mo’Nique at the end.  Is this what you intended?
A:  Yeah, we found that magic on set, even.  She was Satan.  But in the end, you hate her, yes, but there’s something really tragic about her, that actually makes us empathize, and then we hate ourselves for empathizing, you know what I mean? .  There are angels guiding me in this movie.  How else could I have done a movie about a 355-pound black girl?  I figured I was just doing this movie for me, and for my family, and for my mother, and her church members, you know, Maybelle and all of them, but then Oprah called, and I knew it wasn’t going straight to DVD any more.  Whoda thunk? 
Q:  How difficult was it to film that kind of abuse?
A:  I’m not supposed to say this, but seriously, we did it by treating it like a big party.  We were laughing the whole time.  Probably to keep from crying.  It was so painful that we had to laugh.
Q:  This film was about race, and prejudice, and illiteracy, and abuse, and obesity, but also about socio-economics.
A;  I agree.  I think in our lifetimes, race isn’t going to matter.  Religion is, for a while.  But now we’re all interbred, we have a black President, and I think in our lifetimes race will no longer matter.  But this isn’t just a black thing.  The book was done in London with an all-white cast.  It’s not a color thing.  I happen to be of color, and I understood it.  But it’s not about race, it’s about socio-economics.  And I was blown away by taking it to Europe , to the French, the Germans, the Spanish, and they get it, too, and that was a very powerful lesson for me.
Q:  I think you’re an important voice in Hollywood , and I’m looking forward to your next project.
A:  Thank you so much.  I really appreciate that.