Lee Daniels Thanks God for Spike Lee

Black Academy Awards Series: Precious filmmaker gets real on Django, Oscar nods and his fellow director.

Lee Daniels at the Academy Awards nominee luncheon in 2010 (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Lee Daniels at the Academy Awards nominee luncheon in 2010 (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

As we gear up for the 2013 Academy Awards, airing Feb. 24, The Root is speaking with black Oscar winners and nominees — past and present — about the prestigious honor.

(The Root) — Lee Daniels is a known risk taker who doesn’t take no for an answer. It’s not an option for him. And his persistence clearly pays off. His production outfit Lee Daniels Entertainment’s first film, 2001’s Monster’s Ball, made Academy Awards history when Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for best leading actress. Though he wasn’t nominated that year, people became intrigued by the brown-skinned director and producer with a head full of coils.

Fast-forward and Daniels, 53, is now a two-time Oscar nominee — he netted best director and best picture nods for 2009’s Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire — and has become one of Tinseltown’s sought-after filmmakers. A magnet for top-tier talent, Daniels just wrapped directing an all-star cast for The Butler, a historical account of a butler who served eight U.S. presidents, featuring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Alan Rickman, Terrence Howard and Jane Fonda. The movie will be released later in 2013. And when asked about a rumored Janis Joplin biopic in the works, he told us “maybe.”

Daniels, who talked to The Root recently, exclusively shared his colorful commentary on Django Unchained, his experiences directing Oprah, why he’s avoided the Hollywood blackout and why he loves Spike Lee.

The Root: You have an all-star cast filled with Oscar winners and nominees for The Butler. Do you think we’ll see you listed among the nominees next year for this film?

Lee Daniels: I have no idea. I hate you for that question. What are you trying to do, drive me crazy, already? [Laughs.] Don’t even put it out there — I can’t take it! It makes me too nervous to think about it.

You know why? Because when I do films, I don’t think about it like that. I think about bringing truth to the screen and entertainment to the audiences, and anything else is really icing on the cake. Because if I do a movie to get an Oscar, it’s silly. It doesn’t work like that. You have to work from a place of truth and try to entertain people.

TR: What was it like getting best director and best picture nominations for Precious?

LD: It’s a fun ride. It’s a very, very hectic one, though. It’s busy, busy, busy, busy, busy. And I felt like my feet were barely touching the ground because you were whisked off and doing one interview after another, then one party after another. It’s exhilarating. It’s fun, exhilarating and a lot of hard work.

TR: Oprah seems to be very excited about being cast in The Butler, which is her first movie since 1998’s Beloved. She’s been tweeting photos of herself on set. What was it like directing her?