Hollywood studios have shown an affinity for pulling red hot indie filmmakers out of the low-budget space and into the director’s chair for big-budget tentpoles (see Colin Trevorrow following “Safety Not Guaranteed” with “Jurassic World” or Jon Watts going from “Cop Car” to “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” for starters). Such a career trajectory could have been in the cards for Lee Daniels, who revealed to Collider that he pitched a Wolverine movie to 20th Century Fox at the request of Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman. It turns out Jackman was a huge fan of “Precious,” Daniels’ 2009 indie sensation that won Mo’Nique the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
“A lot of actors call me. I remember after I did ‘Precious,’ Hugh Jackman called and wanted me to do a Wolverine,” Daniels said. “And he sent me into the studio to Fox, I guess that’s where they do them at. And I had never done a studio film before and it was a disaster.”
Daniels continued, “I literally pulled over…Yeah, it was at Fox because I pulled over to the Kentucky Fried Chicken afterwards and ate a whole six-pack of wings. It was the worst meeting of my life. I don’t know how he gets Wolverine from ‘Precious,’ but I love him and he’s a friend to this day…I pitched. I pitched my way right out of the room.”
“Precious” was one of the biggest indie darlings of 2009, debuting at the Sundance Film Festival and winning the U.S. competition’s Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. With Lionsgate as a distributor, “Precious” earned $63 million at the box office on a $10 million budget. The film picked up six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Daniels’ nomination in the latter category was historic as it made him just the second Black filmmaker at the time to be nominated for Best Director. Daniels would be followed by Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), and Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”).
The year “Precious” became an indie hit was the same year Jackman’s Wolverine tenure nosedived with the release of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” so it makes sense he would want to bring in a fresh-blood visionary like Daniels to shake up the franchise moving forward. Daniels bombed his pitch meeting, and it would ultimately be James Mangold who got the gig for what would become 2013’s “The Wolverine.”
Daniels’ most recent project, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” is now streaming on Hulu.