Post “Precious” in 2009, the world seemed to be filmmaker Lee Daniels‘ oyster. The aforementioned drama had scored six Oscar nominations, won two and the gestating projects started to pile up. There was the civil rights drama “Selma,” which garnered interest from Robert DeNiro, Hugh Jackman and Liam Neeson, a potential adaptation of “Miss Saigon,” and Denzel Washington was attached to his project “The Butler.“
But after months of waiting on passion projects, Daniels switched things up and mounted an easier-to-finance thriller called “The Paperboy” starring Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey. It premieres in Cannes in about two weeks (it plays at the tail end of the festival, which kicks off on Tuesday).
But “The Butler” is back and picking up steam. Fans of Daniels already know that Washington is gone and replaced with Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker. Jane Fonda is set to play Nancy Reagan, Alan Rickman (not ‘Paperboy’ co-star John Cusak) will apparently play Ronald Reagan and Oprah Winfrey is on board as well.
Three more actors are evidently circling roles in the film, the story of The White House’s butler, Eugene Allen (Whitaker), who served eight American Presidents over the course of three decades. They include “The Paperboy” co-star Matthew McConaughey, former “Iron Man” star Terrence Howard and Academy-Award-winner turned lost-in-the-woods actor Cuba Gooding Jr. (the latter two having recently appeared together in the George Lucas-produced “Red Tails“).
No word on what roles the actors may play, but evidently several of the roles in the film might be smaller cameos. Danny Strong wrote the script, which Daniels rewrote. No shoot date yet, but with Cannes around the corner surely more details will surface when when film financing company IM Global attemps to sell the picture to foreign buyers. Previously discussed potential ‘Butler’ actors Hugh Jackman, Mila Kunis and David Oyelowo are nowhere to be found in this THR update, so presumably they are no longer in the mix. “The Butler” will be an interesting showcase for African American talent, especially for Whitaker who seemingly hasn’t had a great role since he won the Best Actor Oscar for “The Last King of Scotland.” In fact, arguably his career has been on the Cuba Gooding Jr.-like B-movie decline, but hopefully he and Gooding Jr. can once again prove that they have the right stuff, given the right material.