THE PAPERBOY directed by Lee Daniels, written by Daniels from the novel by Peter Dexter, with Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron. A D Films release. 107 minutes. (See Review) Opens Friday (October 19). See times.
Lee Daniels is as intense as his movies, hard-hitting pics like The Woodsman, Precious, which copped him an Oscar nod, and now The Paperboy. In fact, the openly gay black director – a real rarity – is voluble and as charismatic as any of his stars.
Get him talking about the price of making controversial movies and, eyes flashing, he can go on a tear, especially if his thoughts turn to one of his actors.
“If people don’t like my movie, I can take a bullet,” he says, filling every inch of psychic space in a hotel room during TIFF. “I escaped bullets in the projects, I escaped the AIDS bullet – I can take a bullet. What I can’t take is my actors being criticized when they’re that vulnerable and that fragile and they’ve exposed a side they’ve never exposed before. That’s when I start swinging.”
After getting that Oscar nom in 2010, Daniels was inundated with scripts, but he tends to resist the let-me-cash-my-cheque kinds of projects.
“It’s hard to turn down $3 million for a movie, but when I’m dead, my work lives on. Twenty years from now, when I’m gone, I want people to say, ‘That’s a bad-ass courageous movie.'”
Like Precious, which featured a spectacular performance by, of all people, Mariah Carey, The Paperboy is anchored by the presence of another recording artist, Macy Gray, who plays the family maid. How does he elicit such terrific turns from inexperienced screen performers?
“We start with a friendship and trust,” he says with his typical relish. “If you’re honest and you tell them your flaws, your insecurities, your fears, they let their guard down.
“Then you can tell them what they’re doing’s not good – do it again. Stars aren’t used to getting their asses kicked. That disarms them for a minute. And then I go in for the kill,” he ends with a cackle.
He’s aware that The Paperboy’s plot is riddled with holes, but that’s fine with him because what interests him are characters. He says he knew every one of The Paperboy’s.
Gray, he says, is his grandmother, who worked as a domestic. “I’d seen The Help, and I knew it wasn’t the whole story.” John Cusack’s terrifying jail inmate and Charlotte (played by Nicole Kidman), who’s hot for him, were familiar because his sister wrote a book called Men In Prison. But Yardley, the black colleague of Matthew McConaughey’s troubled journalist, Ward, was a figure Daniels had to develop.
“Yardley was written white, and he was the only character I didn’t understand. But I knew he succeeded by misleading people. Yardley’s an homage to my own experience of pretending to have gone to Harvard, being embarrassed by the projects I grew up in. It wasn’t until I embraced the beauty of my origin that I was able to rise to the top.”
And Ward, the deeply conflicted gay journalist?
“I dated many white men in the 80s who had issues with their sexuality, more so in the South if they were dating black men. They weren’t just dealing with homophobia they were engaged in the ultimate taboo. That aspect of the film is dedicated to a friend I used to date who committed suicide because of his distress around those issues.”
Daniels knows the movie will divide audiences. He himself calls it harsh, violent and nasty. But he’s always been happy to court controversy.
“If you’re grey about my movie and you’re, like, ‘Whatever,’ I haven’t done my job.”
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