‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

kwilliamns@tri-statedefender.com | 8/6/2013, 5:20 p.m.

KW: I was born in the Fifties, so all of the ground you cover in terms of the father-son relationship and the civil rights movement resonated with me and touched me very deeply.

LD: That makes me feel good. Thank you very much.

KW: So, what inspired you to make the movie?

LD: What attracted me to the project was the father-son story, which I looked at as a love story with the civil rights movement as a backdrop. That was intriguing to me both because I'd had issues with my own dad, and because I have issues with my teenage son. I think the father-son love story is a universal one which transcends color. That's what was sort of there on the page, but it wasn't until I started shooting that we began getting into the Woolworth's sit-ins and the Freedom Riders with the Molotov cocktails that I asked myself, "What have I stumbled upon?" It was then that I realized the film was much bigger than just the father-son story.

KW: Did you decide to tackle the civil rights material because of the Trayvon Martin shooting?

LD: No, it hadn't happened when Danny Strong wrote the script, including the line "Any white man can kill any of us at any time and get away with it."

KW: You got Oscar-winners in Forest Whitaker, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams and Melissa Leo, and Oscar-nominees in Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey to come aboard. How were you able to assemble such an outstanding cast?

LD: My usual way... throwing out a net, and fishing. (LOL) This one was easy because the material was so good. The actors I approached took the bait because they wanted to serve the material. We really didn't have any money to pay them, so most of them lost money in relation to what their normal acting fee would be.

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: "How has the tempest over re-using the title "The Butler" affected you?

LD: Well, I just finished editing the movie five days ago. ...when I'm working on a movie, it's like being in a cocoon. I consider it like giving birth, and I don't leave the bubble, because if I do, then it's bad and affects the child. But I was pulled out for a minute when my kids told me about something they saw online. I didn't even hear about it from the studio. It disturbed me, but I didn't have time to think about it.

KW: Well, it's now called "Lee Daniels' The Butler.'

LD: The MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America) gave me that title and I still don't know how to feel about it. I just finished giving birth to the movie. "Lee Daniels' The Butler." It sounds like "The Greatest Show on Earth!"

KW: Well , Tyler Perry, Dino De Laurentis and others are famous for placing their names before the title.

LD: I'm not Tyler Perry. I'm not Dino De Laurentis. I think it's a bit much to put one's name in front of the film. It makes me uncomfortable. Here's the thing. Insiders like you know the whole story and about the legal issues, but not the average person. I worry that young kids in Oklahoma or Alabama might end up asking, "Who is this filmmaker to be so full of himself?" That bothers me. The MPAA handed down this edict. So, I don't know how I feel about it right now. Ask me tomorrow. (Chuckles)