Filmmaker Lee Daniels is best known for his Academy Award-winning film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, for which he received a Best Director nomination. This summer he's set to become a household name (quite literally) with his newest movie Lee Daniels' The Butler. Based on a true story, the film chronicles the life of a black man, Cecil Gaines, who served as the White House butler for eight presidential terms. During his 34-year tenure, he witnessed and even became involved in some of the most important events of 20th century American history.
Lee Daniels' The Butler has been making headlines this summer. But it's not only because of its all-star ensemble cast, or female lead Oprah Winfrey's return to cinema. The film has been the subject of a heated legal dispute between two major film studios. Back in June, The Butler was all set for a theatrical release by The Weinstein Company until Warner Bros. filed a lawsuit, claiming that it owned the rights to the title The Butler because of its 1916 silent film of the same name. As a result, the upcoming historical drama has been retitled to include the director's name.
When we asked Lee Daniels about his feelings on the title change, the director still wasn't entirely sure of his opinion. "I want people to see the movie. And I don't want people to think I'm Martin Scorsese and that I think I can put my name in front of the movie. So I don't know how I feel about it. I don't know whether I feel good or bad about 'Lee Daniels' The Butler.' I don't know how I feel about it because it's still just fermenting in my head — trying to figure out this title that's been forced on me. Because I don't want people to think that it's Me. It's really odd!"
Another major talking point was one particular scene from the film in which a bus full of Freedom Riders is attacked by a gang of flame-wielding Ku Klux Klan members. We asked Daniels how it felt to shoot that privotal scene, and he compared it to a less severe but similarly emotional scene from Precious. "It was no different than shooting Precious in the mirror, seeing herself look like [a white blonde girl]. It was hard. I cried when I did it, like I cried during Precious, because it went deeper than the movie... It cut to the heart of Precious. Gabi couldn't complete the scene. Because the world wants people with blonde hair and blue eyes, that's considered beautiful and wonderful and life is good. And if you don't look like that, you're a freak, you aren't embraced, you aren't loved. So doing [the Freedom Riders scene] was sort of the same thing, you know."
Filming the action-packed scene also proved to be rather frightening. "When I was with the kids on the bus, because I'm a director who likes to sit with the actors and see what's going on, and we're looking outside, and all of the sudden I yell "Action!" And then the KKK members start swarming the bus, and this is the first take, and it's hot in there because we don't have any air conditioning. And we see these wonderful extras, coming at us, full force, and I yell "Cut!" But they didn't hear me. And then everyone on the bus is like "Holy shit! Let's get out of here!" And I knew then — I put myself in what those kids, both black and white, were doing. They were willing to die for what they believed in. I had a quick sense of "Oh my God. This is what those kids felt." They were 17, 18, 19, 20 — they were kids, fighting for freedom. Not just black kids but white kids." Recalling that emotional day of shooting, Daniels' voice started to become shaky, as he added, "I'm going to get emotional. It's really hard to talk about it. It was difficult."
On a lighter note, the director reminisced on the experience of directing the powerful presence and highly influential figure that is Orpah. "She was very nervous in the beginning. And I was nervous because I was directing Oprah! So we were both a bundle of nerves," Daniels said. "And I finally said, 'Okay stop it! We need to get this done. Oprah, I need you to do this and sit here and I need you to just smoke a cigarette, etc'." The direction clearly worked — Oprah's powerhouse performance as the butler's wife is already creating Oscar buzz. And having seen the movie, we completely agree.
Lee Daniels' The Butler hits theaters on August 16.
Follow Caroline on Twitter @carolinesb | Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter @Hollywood_com
More:The Butler Serves Up A New Side to the White House with Oprah, Forest, Whitaker, and MoreRobin Williams to Play President Dwight Eisenhower in 'The Butler'Nancy Reagan Approves of Jane Fonda's Casting in 'The Butler'
From Our Partners:40 Most Revealing See-Through Red Carpet Looks (Vh1)15 Stars Share Secrets of their Sex Lives (Celebuzz)
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is moving forward with the big screen adaptation of author Eoin Colfer's children's book series Artemis Fowl. The producer has teamed up with bosses at Disney to bring the first two novels in the eight-book collection to movie theatres. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix screenwriter Michael Goldenberg will pen the script, while Robert De Niro and his business partner Jane Rosenthal will executive produce.
Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro are teaming up on the big screen again for the movie adaptation of Ann Leary's bestseller The Good House. The project - which will be adapted for the cinema by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham, who worked with Streep in The Hours - will be the fourth film the actress and De Niro have worked on together.
De Niro's business partner Jane Rosenthal, who picked up the rights to the book, will produce.
Streep will play a recovering alcoholic who rekindles a romance with a former flame, played by De Niro, in a sleepy New England town.
Australian actor Joel Edgerton has called off his engagement to his fashion designer fiancee, according to reports Down Under. The Great Gatsby star was reportedly planning to marry fellow Aussie Alexis Blake, who is based in Bali, Indonesia, but the Sydney Daily Telegraph reports the engagement has now been broken as the actor has been spending so much time in America filming new Western Jane Got a Gun with Natalie Portman.
A source tells the publication, "(He) falls in and out of love quickly... He fell hard but has pulled back a bit more recently. They're in different countries and it is hard to keep it all going.''
A spokesperson for Edgerton adds, "Joel is very private and we don't comment on his personal life."
Edgerton and Blake reportedly remain in an on/off relationship even though the engagement is over.
Rocker Joan Jett is planning to capitalise on her Sunset Strip Music Festival honour in Los Angeles on Thursday night (01Aug13) by announcing the release of her first new music in seven years. The I Love Rock 'n' Roll singer has teamed up with Dave Grohl and Against Me! star Laura Jane Grace to record new album Unvarnished, which is scheduled for release on 1 October (13).
Jett, who will be the subject of a tribute gig that will kick off this year's (13) SSMF, tells Billboard.com the new release will feature tracks about the death of her parents and the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
British Culture Minister Ed Vaizey is appealing for British literature buffs to step forward and buy a ring once owned by writer Jane Austen, so singer Kelly Clarkson doesn't take the jewellery item out of the country. The Since U Been Gone hitmaker bought Austen's rare turquoise and gold ring for over $225,000 (£150,000), but Vaizey has put a temporary export ban on the gem because he wants to try and keep it in Britain.
Calling it "a national treasure", the minister has asked for someone to match the $228,700 (£152,450) price tag before the 30 September (13) deadline.
Vaizey says, "Jane Austen's modest lifestyle and her early death mean that objects associated with her of any kind are extremely rare, so I hope that a UK buyer comes forward so this simple but elegant ring can be saved for the nation."
The ring, thought to be one of only three Austen jewellery items in existence, has been in the writer's family since her death in 1817.
Clarkson will be able to collect the gem and take it home to America if no one steps forward to match her auction bid.
Broadway's Spider-Man is close to spinning his last web - actor Reeve Carney is leaving the stageshow in September (13). Carney, who has been donning the Spidey suit to play the superhero and his alter-ego Peter Parker onstage since Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark began in 2010, will exit the production on 15 September (13).
Two open casting calls in New York City and Los Angeles will be held next month (Aug13) to find his replacement, as well as an actress to play Spider-Man's love interest Mary Jane Watson. The producers are looking for "males in their late teens to early 20s of any ethnicity." Hopefuls must have "a great rock singing voice... an understated sex appeal and a good sense of humour."
Producers of the upcoming Emmy Awards are planning to stage a tribute to late Glee star Cory Monteith. The actor, who was found dead in a Canadian hotel room earlier this month (Jul13) after a drink and drugs binge, will be remembered at the 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards.
Emmy Awards executive producer Ken Ehrlich has revealed show bosses are busy working on a fitting tribute, but he admits the pressure is on as the ceremony is less than two months away.
He tells Deadline.com, "Something that reflects an homage (is in the works but) what the extent of that is, or how we're going to approach it... well, it's too early to tell... If Cory had passed away in March, we'd have had four months to look at this with a little more perspective. The reason we're getting all of this discussion now is because he passed away two weeks ago. But we are going to deal with it."
Monteith's tribute will be separate to the show's In Memorium segment which honours late stars.
Glee is nominated for three prizes at the ceremony, including an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series nod for Jane Lynch.
The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on 22 September (13).
"I think it's smart, honestly... MJ was in I think four scenes. I shot three days and they were good scenes, but they were also like 45-second long scenes, and to introduce such a vital character like that doesn't make much sense in the end... After they sort of started cutting it together, they realised that it didn't make much sense..." Shailene Woodley insists she is not upset her scenes as Mary Jane (MJ) Watson in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were cut from the final edit.