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CANNES 2012 | 'The Paperboy' Director Lee Daniels On Why He Listens To His Critics

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire May 23, 2012 at 10:13AM

After seeing his directorial debut "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 sophomore effort "The Paperboy" in Competition at Cannes on Thursday.
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The Paperboy
What was it about this source material that drew you in as a filmmaker and really made you want to make the movie?

I think the characters. As you know, that was the case with “Precious.” The characters were so mind-blowing because we know them all. And we haven’t seen them before. That’s what excited me.

Did you feel this huge amount of pressure going in to "The Paperboy," or did you feel free as a filmmaker to explore, now that you'd been validated?

No, I’m more cautious, you know? When I wasn’t… I started listening to people. I didn’t know that it would affect people, “Precious.” A lot of people didn’t like it. A lot of people loved it. But I tend to listen to the few voices that didn’t respond to the film more than the adulation that I got for it. So I found myself more cautious in the making of “Paperboy.” And then I said, “Fuck this, I gotta be me.” Three quarters of the way through it, I said, “Fuck it.” I started questioning myself and doubting myself. And I gotta live with this thing at the end of the day. It’s me, it’s my name on it. It’s me.

"My dad told me early on that I would be nothing. That you’re a faggot who will be nothing. So I revert back to that when I get negative criticism for the work that I do."
Why do you even pay heed to your critics? Why not just go with the praise?

It’s important to tell your kids that they can do anything. I tell my kids that every day. That you can be president, that you can be an astronaut. Because my dad told me early on that I would be nothing. That you’re a faggot who will be nothing. So I revert back to that when I get negative criticism for the work that I do. It takes me right back to what my dad told me.

Now it must be asked: Why did the "The Paperboy" appeal to Almodovar and you -- two reknown gay filmmakers. Is there something I'm missing?

Well, when you see the movie you’ll know. I can’t answer the question without spoiling it for you.  You’ll really appreciate it I think.

From the looks of it, Nicole Kidman looks like she's attempting something she's never done before onscreen. What made you think of her following Sofia Vergara dropping out because of scheduling conflicts?

The Paperboy

Well, I like casting against the grain. I think everything in the universe works out the way God planned it. And everyone is cast against the grain in this movie. Every character is unexpected. You will see Matthew and you happen to catch Nicole. She’s a girl here. Every character is cast against the grain and when Sofia dropped out, I was told “No” by several people about Nicole, but I remembered her performance in “To Die For.” And I knew that she would bring justice to the character. And people hadn’t seen it before. Very similar to Mo’nique. It was unexpected. And with Mariah. Just unexpected ways of going. Acting is acting. An actor’s doing something that they ain’t comfortable doing. Or not seen to do. And that excites me.

I interviewed John Cusack earlier this year, who you're set to reteam with for "The Butler." He praised you to the high heavens, but noted how intense you are with your cast. How do you approach performance?

Well some people say my movies are shit, but my actors are all great. I don’t know what that means. I like looking at it as if it were real life, as if it were most like a documentary. And people… it’s hard to act. It’s hard to be. And so I try to get people to be. And when I’ve captured an honest moment, you can move on. It’s getting actors out of their heads and into a space of truth.

The Paperboy
Mariah Carey penned a song for "The Paperboy." Does she appear in it as an actress?

No. Well that’s a plot spoiler, I can’t tell you.

Oh...

I’m joking! Mariah wrote something for it. We’re trying to make sure that it makes Cannes, yes.

She received the best critical praise of her career, acting wise, after appearing in "Precious," but she’s since layed low on the actin front. Are you egging to get her back on set to collaborate again?

Yes.

Any potential things in the works with her?

Yes. I can’t talk about it, but yes.
 

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival, Interviews, Lee Daniels, The Paperboy