Today, I had the pleasure of going to the Waldorf Astoria (fancy!) for a press junket for Lee Daniels’ new film “The Butler.” The entire principle cast was there including the bigger names like Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whittaker, Cuba Gooding Jr, Mariah Carey, Terrence Howard and many more. (Trust me, it was star-studded.) The answers the actors and Daniels gave to each question were very thoughtful and insightful. But easily, the most entertaining moment from the junket when a film critic stood up to express her concerns about the film, just after Daniels spoke about how this project was not just a movie for him, but a movement. Here’s how the exchange went below. And just because it’s always best to hear how people say certain things, I encourage you to listen to the actual audio on the next page, which also includes commentary from Cuba Gooding Jr. as well.
LR: Thank you and congratulations to each of you. My name is Lavar Renee (sp) and I’m a film critic, so my question is going to be a concern that I had in watching the movie.
Lee Daniels grasps Oprah and Forest Whittaker’s hands.
No Lee, that’s not necessary… And a trend that I see in many current movies and that is the inauthenticity in casting. When I saw the young man who was to portray John F. Kennedy. I was concerned because there was a disconnect between the president and what I saw. And that was true for Reagan as well as LBJ. My question is will you explain how you cast when you are producing and directing a biopic which is supposed to reflect truth of reality?
Lee Daniels: Well let me first, let me ask you a question, did you like them as those characters?
LR: I did not.
Daniels: Ok. Well that is…I’m sorry that you felt that way…
LR: I liked the movie…
Daniels: Oh good…
LR: I just was concerned, when I saw these I said ‘why aren’t they real?’ Another point and then I’ll sit down. When Louis was presenting himself at the table as a panther, I interviewed panthers, they did not look the way he was dressed and attired. So that’s what threw me off but I liked the movie and I commend each of you. Thank you.
Daniels: Thank you. Let me first address the panther. I’ve had uncles that were panthers and Louis was based on my uncles that were panthers. So you might have interviewed panthers, ma’am, but I have lived with them and I’m proud of my uncles that were panthers. And in regards to the presidents I think they have done a tour de forcible job and I think that’s what makes me a filmmaker and you an interviewer. Next.
Forest Whittaker: I’ve gotten the opportunity to play historical characters a number of times. And this is not a documentary. These are artists trying to convey the spirit of a person in a time. Liev and James did, I think, beautiful jobs. I don’t look like Charlie Parker. I really don’t look anything like Edi Amin and I feel what we’re trying to find is the spirit or the soul of a character to give that, for you to feel that energy. Things are energetic, things are about energy and their being-ness. And that’s what they’re trying to give to you. It’s unfortunate that you look to more the drawing or the painting and not as much towards the spirit or the soul, which is what I think we’re trying to convey.
Liev: I am authentically sorry that you didn’t like what we did. I really am.
Lee Daniels: I’m not!