After seeing his sophomore film "Precious" premiere in Sundance's US Dramatic Competition and go on to become a Academy Award-winning phenomenon, Lee Daniels is set to unveil his latest "The Paperboy" in Competition at Cannes on Thursday.
Although "The Paperboy" only marks his third feature ("Shadowboxer" was his first), this won't mark Daniels' first time with a film on La Croisette. In 2004 "The Woodsman," which he produced, played in Director's Fortnight, and "Precious" played in Un Certain Regard in 2009 following its Sundance run.
Based on the novel of the same name by Pete Dexter, "The Paperboy" is set in Miami in the 1960s, where a directionless young man Jack James (Zac Efron) is drafted in to help his journalist brother (Matthew McConaughey) investigate the possible wrongful conviction of a man (John Cusack) on death row. Nicole Kidman co-stars as a woman corresponding with the prisoner.
Indiewire caught up with Daniels prior to Cannes in New York to discuss his follow-up to "Precious," what drew him to the material and why he still listens to his critics.
From world premiering "Precious" at Sundance, to unveiling "The Paperboy" for the first time at Cannes -- does this feel like a natural evolution for you as a filmmaker on the rise?
I don’t know. I didn’t think [about that]. Whether it’s “Precious” or whether it’s “Shadowboxer"; you love your films but you don’t know how they’re going to be received. And it was certainly humbling. I was surprised and excited.
Pedro Almodovar has long been involved with this project. Given his history with the festival, it's fitting the film's premiering here in many ways.
Yes. I don’t think where to unveil films at. I should be smart enough to think this is a Cannes film or this is a Sundance film. I just do the film and wherever… this could have been not ready for Cannes. So I never think about it like that. I worry about finishing the film to the best of my ability and it ends up wherever it’s supposed to end up if that makes any sense at all.
Three days ago? Four days ago, in totality. You give them your cut, but it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles on it. And they had to kick me out of the editing room.
How do you feel about the finished product?
I love it. I love ‘em all. I don’t leave until I love it. Now will you love it is another question!
On paper, "The Paperboy" seems to be a return to the pulpy nature of “Shadowboxer." Is that a fair assessment?
No, no, no. I think “Precious” was closer. I don’t know, it’s a hard question. This is different. Completely different. It’s more of a coming-of-age thriller. There’s some sexy stuff going on in there but for the most part it’s really a thriller.
So how did you come on to the project after Pedro had been working with the writer of the book for such a long time to develop this?
Yeah, I had read it at the same time that I had read “Push," and I couldn’t figure out which one I wanted to do; whether it was going to be “Push” which ended up being “Precious” or whether it was going to be “The Paperboy.” And my lawyer read it and said, “No no, you have to do ‘Push’ first.” And so, I loved them equally. They were incredible books. Pete Dexter’s book is “Wow,” it’s a ride into debauchery. It’s crazy. It’s a psychological study of the human condition. It’s heavy. I decided to do this right after. I had all of these other things I was trying to connect to. I had all of these other films that were twirling around and this one I was able to focus on. I had all of these films I was gonna do. But I think my focus… I wasn’t focused on a specific film, but rather several films. And that’s not how “Precious” got made, or “Monster’s Ball” or “The Woodsman” or any of the other films I’ve been involved with. I had to go back to what it was I had true passion for and this was that.