Director of “Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire”
November 12, 2009,
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, contributing at the roundtable
Q: Why the
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
.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.
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
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
, 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
, and I’m looking forward to your next project.