Daniels at the 2013 Outfest Legacy Awards
|Born||Lee Louis Daniels
December 24, 1959
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
|Residence||Manhattan, New York City, US|
|Occupation||Film producer, film director|
I see the world from a very specific perspective. It is how I grew up. It is what I am proud of, and I vocalize it. And for those who have not experienced my experience, it is odd, and it's not mainstream.
I'm not really vegan. I'm vegan-ish. I have a piece of lamb every now and then.
I've never done a studio movie, let alone worked for a network. Every one of my films has been independently financed.
I love actors, and I'm very protective of them. I trust them. It's a mutual trust.
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.
Some of my friends don't have a cell phone. Patti LaBelle doesn't have a cell phone.
I want to live in my truth. Tell me you don't like me, and I know it. But when you don't tell me, and you work behind my back, it's a lie, and I don't know how to fight that.
Theater was always in the backdrop. Nursing was a way to pay the bills. I wasn't a nurse; I had a nursing agency.
What attracts me to material are characters that I know – characters that I know people don't know but I know – and bringing them to the screen. Spotlighting voices that have not been heard before on screen.
I knew that I'd end up directing because I'm so hands-on with my films.
I always question if somebody else is going to love my films. I think that's what art is about – it's so individual.
I look at my movies; I call my movies 'the kid.' It's like I'm giving birth. I'm in the cocoon, you know?
Here's the thing: I think the media underestimates the intelligence of the moviegoer. We need to be fulfilled. People want to sit down and think, and I try to make people think.
While I am not a musician, I love music. I have over 15,000 songs on my iPod. Everything from hard core rap to the soundtrack from the original 'Cinderella.'
I want to see movies I can walk away from and say, 'Wait, what happened there? Hold up, what did I just see? What?' and then it connects to something that you personally, unequivocally know to be truth.
To come into my world, I've got some M&Ms and some potato chips, and I'm asking you to move furniture. We're making a movie. We're making it like we're putting on a play.
I'm not going to be labeled a black filmmaker. I am not here to just tell black stories. I'm here to tell all kinds of stories, musicals and dramas.
It's hard for me to accept love. I wish I could lie to you and tell you that it's easy for me, but it's not.
I want to learn. I want to stretch my muscles as a director and work under different circumstances.
I don't profess to be Shonda Rhimes by any stretch of the imagination, or Dick Wolf. They're icons. I'm a filmmaker.
There are servers, and there are people that are served. There's something contradictory about that in a democracy, certainly.
I went back-to-back from 'Paperboy' to 'Butler,' literally with no break.
My kids tell me to Instagram, so I do that. I have a few thousand followers.
My earliest experience was reading Edward Albee's 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' at 8, you know, with a bunch of kids on my steps – on the stoops – and knowing that I wanted to direct them saying the lines. I don't really know how to articulate that 'cause there wasn't someone to show me.
Stars make money on real movies. They make big money on real movies. To come into my world, I've got some M&Ms and some potato chips, and I'm asking you to move furniture.
I'm still pulled over… We were nominated for two Oscars for 'Monster's Ball,' and I almost didn't make the Oscars because I got pulled over in Beverly Hills.
My work is therapeutic: 'Monster's Ball,' 'Woodsman' and 'Shadowboxer,' because I don't go to therapy, and I sort of live life through my films.
I come from a family of servants. My father's father was a servant, and my father's father's father was a slave.
'Precious' is so not P.C. What I learned from doing the film is that even though I am black, I'm prejudiced. I'm prejudiced against people who are darker than me.
Most times when I do a film, it starts out with one idea and ends up not being what I thought it was going to be.
I had 'Push' and 'The Paperboy' next to my bed for many years. Those are some of the great, great novels.
I thought I could write. So it was my intention to start off as a writer. But I wasn't really great at delivering the word at the end of the day.
I went from off-off Broadway. I would direct plays in Baldwin Hills. Almost Tyler Perry-like, really trying to express myself in that and not really knowing how to, knowing acting in story, but not really knowing how to technically hold a camera.
I've met Shonda Rhimes a few times, and certainly she's an inspiration for me in television.
I started casting. I cast music videos, but I kept getting fired from jobs because I was iconoclastic in my ways of casting.
I don't know – I haven't seen any of my movies after I finish them. I leave the editing room; I don't go back.
I've had all types of beautiful girls tell me that they ugly when they look in the mirror, as if it's someone else's reflection they see.
I am so used to having two faces. A face that I had for black America and a face for white America. When Obama became president, I lost both faces. Now I only have one face.
My mom knew early on that I was gay, and she knew that I had to get out of the ghetto.
If you really spend time with movies, it's three years of your life from beginning to end. I started out planting the seed with 'Monster's Ball' about independent cinema and raising money and that whole thing as a producer, and then it becomes easier for me.
I was always in trouble. I was mischievous. And movies were always a part of my world.
I have twins that I didn't want to have the life that I had. I didn't have a great life growing up.
'Empire' was a very traumatic experience for me. It was very schizophrenic, and it wasn't what I expected it to be.
I think this last film I finished, 'The Butler,' is the closest I will come to as a work-for-hire.
Putting on a movie is like going to war – for me, at least. It's all about time; time is money, and we don't have it. So it's all about getting to know each other intimately quickly. You are with family members that you like or don't like, but you can't leave them because you're stuck with them.
People enjoy making fun of people who are famous; they love putting people down.
I have a very clear vision, and I come from film, where director is God, so if there's a clash, it's painful.
That's the gift 'Precious' has given me. You really think you're telling a story about a fat black girl, and only fat black girls will understand it, and then you realize we're all Precious.
I came to Hollywood to write and found out I don't have the attention span.
With TV, you're in people's houses every night. And you have so much time to tell stories. I don't know why I didn't do it before.
'Push' had a story, 'The Paperboy' story you could just throw up in the air and shoot holes through the book because the story wasn't as strong. But I felt the characters were stronger in 'The Paperboy'; they were vivid.
I don't work with fear, and I don't work with actors that are fearful.
I'm in a great place because I trust people behind the camera as I go off, and I still go back to my day job and do film.
When I was young, I went to a church where the lighter-skinned you were, the closer you sat to the altar.
I don't know whether everybody likes the films that I do. I know that I love them, and I believe the way that I raise my kids that they will love them, and that's what most important to me.
I don't know what gives me more pleasure: watching my story unfold or going in and watching a room full of black people talking for me and writing words for black people.
I believe in life that you know that everything prepares you for the next thing – whether it's a hit, whether it's not a hit, whether it's a… your failures are your accomplishments because it makes you prepared for whatever it is that you are going to do next.
I worked at Warner Bros. for a while. I was the head of the minority talent casting. It was like pre-Spike Lee and post-blaxploitation era.
Every African-American I know has two faces. There's the face that we have for ourselves and the face we put on for white America for the places we have to get to.
I don't want to sell my soul to Hollywood – to just make run-of-the-mill stuff.
I have a partner, Danny Strong; he's an incredible writer and, really, my backbone. So when we don't see eye to eye, it's painful.
I want to go to places that are unexpected of me because people really think they have me pegged.
I had trained myself not to go to the bathroom throughout my elementary and junior high school years because I was bullied. And you don't understand why you're being bullied, so you just suppress it.
I'm a filmmaker. I'm always searching for the truth in everything I do. I demand it from my writing partner and my crew, actors, and so hopefully, we're making people think.
I don't read the reviews, the blogs, or anything else. Instead, I feel the audience when I show the film.
I didn't have the sensibilities of your ordinary filmmaker, let alone your ordinary African-American filmmaker. My heroes were John Waters, Pedro Almodovar, and actors that were part of that world.
Some of the most provocative TV that I'm inspired by is in the U.K. You guys take it for granted, but in America, we can't do it.
I was always intrigued with European cinema, and hated most American cinema. I didn't like the one, two, three – boom! style, with a neat and tidy ending. That was never my scene.
When I make movies, I don't ever go out there to please anyone other than myself. I never try to make a film for the masses. I just try to tell my story.
In L.A., I was a talent manager for many years. I represented many African-American actors. After a while, I became disheartened over the shortage of roles for African Americans.
I went to school at Radnor High School. And I went to a liberal arts college in St. Louis, Missouri, called Lindenwood College.
My partner, Danny Strong, came to me with this idea of telling a story about my life and merging that with music and the hip-hop world. He wrote 'The Butler' and originally wanted to do 'Empire' also as a movie.
I love black women. I live for them. They are everything to me. I'm obsessed with them. They are sophisticated, resilient and smarter than me.
Most of my friends are dead. I watched friends die in my arms at 5, 6, 8. When I grew up, the rest of my friends died of AIDS.
I moved on to a nursing agency as a receptionist just to get a job, and ended up managing it, which led to me opening my own – say your mom is sick and needs someone to help her, then you call something like what I had: a home health agency.
I'm always more comfortable and in a good place when I'm with friends because I know they trust me. I'm able to get great performances from people who trust me.
I believe strongly that characters are five-dimensional, and they're complicated, and life is complicated, and people are complicated.
I was the oldest of five children, each about a year apart, and my mother, bless her heart, had her hands full.
I think it's very important that we don't sound like militants. Often what we do is we give a comment, and because it comes across with passion, then we're 'angry black people.'
I hate white people writing for black people; it's so offensive. So we go out and look specifically for African-American voices.
The ratings board is completely different when it comes to film versus the television arena.
I think that, as African-Americans, oftentimes we have to put ourselves on pedestals as opposed to really looking at ourselves and trying to understand ourselves and become better people. We always have to be on pedestals.
I come from a family of domestics. I think most African-Americans of my age do. They were trusted by their bosses. I have met so many white people that spent more time with their nannies than they have with their own parents.
As a film director and as film actors, you get used to a certain rhythm that's slow. But with TV, it's hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry. It's a different pace.
When people don't like the film, I can take a bullet. I don't mind you talking about me, but I'm protective of my actors, because they bared their soul for me.
I definitely caught the acting bug, but that lasted for about two seconds when I found my way to L.A. and found that my talents were better suited behind the cameras.
I drank from colored water fountains and from the white water fountain just to see what it was like when I was a kid. What shocks me is that these kids today don't realize that this happened in many of our lifetimes.
My dad was a cop. My mom worked at various jobs – she worked as a homemaker, a bank teller, a bartender.
When you're paying everybody nothing, I mean, they have homes to pay for. And my movies are like putting on theater. Nicole Kidman is at craft services, and John Cusack is moving furniture; there are no egos. The only ego is the story.
I think the father-son love story is a universal one which transcends color.
My mom had five kids. And she came home after working three jobs, and I'd rub her feet. We'd all rub her feet. We were lucky to get any time with her.