LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” directed by Lee Daniels, is generating a large amount of Oscar buzz this season and getting a push from executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.
Prior to this film, Daniels was best known for producing “Monster’s Ball” in which he cast Halle Berry in the role of a downtrodden, small town waitress that saw her make history when she became the first black woman to win a best actress Oscar.
Similarly, “Precious” is earning plaudits for performances by Mariah Carey, Mo’Nique, and newcomer Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe in the central role of an obese, abused teenager.
Daniels talked with Reuters about making the movie, its strong reception at the Sundance, Cannes and Toronto film festivals throughout 2009, and Oscar odds.
Q: Are you surprised at the success of “Precious,” so far.
A: “Honest to God, I originally thought this movie was going straight to DVD. I did not make it for mainstream America. It wasn’t until I was at Sundance and this Chinese lady in her 60s started crying in my arms outside a (convenience store) did I realize this was a universal story. That was an epiphany.”
Q: What about being in the international arena at Cannes?
A: “I was walking the red carpet and looked over my shoulder and there was Gabby, posing, surrounded by photographers. It was like an extended version of that first fantasy sequence in the movie. At that point, I felt the movie was not just a movie anymore. It was a life force. I knew that this entire process had changed this girls’ life and I was a part of it.”
Q: Clear up the rumors about Mo’Nique not wanting to promote the film unless she was paid cash for her appearances.
A: “Let me tell you something. Mo’Nique does two shows a day on BET. She gives everything she has to her work and her family. She wanted to be treated and flown a specific way and it was misconstrued that she wanted money.”
Q: So it was blown out of proportion?
A: “I understand her logic. If I’m on a tour promoting this movie, going from city to city, I’m not technically ‘working,’ but I’m working. So I think, ‘Who is paying my babysitters while I’m doing this?’ She didn’t make an actual cash demand, but she wanted to be taken care of and I don’t blame her.”
Q: ‘Precious’ is your second directing effort. Your first, ‘Shadowboxer,’ was not well received by critics.
A: I had critical success with the first two films I produced, ‘Monster’s Ball’ and ‘The Woodsman.’ I got confident and cocky. I knew not of anything but good reviews. I expected the same from ‘Shadowboxer’ as a director, and I was in for a lovely surprise! It was a humbling experience. I read every review from ‘Shadowboxer’ and it pained me deeply. That was the lowest point in my career. I haven’t read reviews since then.”
Q: Not even for ‘Precious’?
A: “Never. Except the one my mother sent me through e-mail. Why does she find the one bad thing to send me? And of course, I read it because when it’s an e-mail from your mother, you’re gonna open it!”
Q: There’s lots of Oscar talk with ‘Precious.’ Thoughts?
A: “They said the same thing about Kevin Bacon with ‘The Woodsman’ and that didn’t happen, so I can’t pay attention to that. That’s not just some line. That’s me protecting myself. The minute I embrace that talk, the more my heart will split open if it doesn’t come true.”
Q: You’ve cast hip-hop stars and other musicians in your movies, and they’ve all played against type — Diddy, Mos Def, Eve, Macy Gray and now Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz in “Precious.” Anyone else you want to get your hands on?
A: “I’m interested in seeing what Christina Aguilera can do. I’m interested in Robin Thicke and seeing what he’s all about.”
Q: What are your future goals?
A: “The ultimate goal is to teach. I’d like to open a school for underprivileged teenagers who want to learn how to direct and act. My immediate dreams are to get a TV show going, get my next movie off the ground and to make enough money to send my kids to private school.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte