Lee Daniels certainly knows how to draw in the stars. After breaking through with his low budget indie “Precious,” which found people like Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey and Mo’Nique appearing, the director (after a highly publicized stalled project in “Selma” — which we’ll get to in a moment) put together “The Paperboy” with Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, David Oyelowo and more. And now, a project Daniels became involved with nearly two years ago is bubbling back to life, and it seems like he’s slowly building a roster of regular players.
THR reports that “The Butler” — which Daniels first signed to back in the summer of 2010 — is being put together, and while financing isn’t quite there, the director is once again looking at an all-star cast. Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman, Mila Kunis, Cusack and Oyelowo are among the names being sought for the based-on-a-true-story film. The story would follow the life of Eugene Allen, a servent who worked in the White House for 34 years, under eight presidents, and watched the political changes that allowed segregation to come to an end.
Oyelowo is being eyed for the lead role as Allen, with Oprah to play his wife (an odd bit of casting considering Winfrey is two decades older than he is; in real life the Allens were three years apart), with Cusack to play Richard Nixon, and intriguingly, Kunis to play Jackie Kennedy. As readers familiar with the gestating “Selma” know, Oyelowo and Jackman were lined up for roles in that civil rights drama, but it never got off the ground. As for Oprah, she was an executive producer of “Precious,” so her name here is no surprise. Cusack, of course, is in “The Paperboy” (with Oyelowo) while Kunis is the new face in the mix.
It should be stressed nothing is formal and this could all change, shift or just fall apart entirely. But should Oprah take the role, it will be her first big screen appearance since 1998’s “Beloved” (not counting animated voice work). The movie is using Wil Haygood‘s articles for the Washington Post as the foundation, with Danny Strong (“Recount,” “Game Change“) having penned the first draft and Daniels doing a rewrite. Sounds like great material (even if it will continue the grousing in certain quarters about “black movies” only centering on maids and servants), so it’ll be interesting to see if this can succeed where “Selma” failed.