RACISM, RAPE, PEDOPHILIA, AIDS, incest, Dame Helen Mirren gettin’ her freak on — Lee Daniels movies are not for the faint of heart. Neither is the man himself, and in an industry full of whirlwind personalities, there’s no one in Hollywood like the 50-year-old Southwest Philly native. Daniels never plays it safe, and the risks he took with Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire have paid off with six Oscar nods, including Best Director. Before the March 7th ceremony, Daniels discussed his competition, his YouTube moment with Mariah Carey, and his plans for Cinderella. Seriously.
Where were you when they announced the Oscar nominations? In my bedroom. I was tossing and turning. I’ve become friends with all my fellow nominees, and Jason Reitman was texting me: “Can you sleep?” And I was like, “No, fucker, as long as you’re texting me I can’t!” I said, two years of my life for this moment. I’ve been pretending this doesn’t mean anything. And it means everything.
The competition is fierce this year. Any thoughts of putting a hit on James Cameron? [laughs] No. They each bring something different to the table than I do, as filmmakers. They’re as insecure as me, and that’s a great thing. [Cameron] got off the stage at the Golden Globes and came right up to me and gave me a hug. He’s wonderful.
Give me a few words on your stars, Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique, who are both up for awards. They’re two completely different women. It’s been joyous watching Gabby’s growth as a celebrity and her confidence as a woman blossom. And it’s great to have Mo’Nique validated. And hey, who’s not getting a shout-out is Mariah [Carey] and Paula [Patton], who I love.
A director who makes Mariah look like Meryl Streep deserves an Oscar. How did you pull that performance out of her? And convince her to rock some upper-lip hair? Mariah is a smart girl. She trusted me unequivocally. At one point, I was angry at her because we had a fake nose that really morphed her into something else completely. We spent $10,000 on that fucker, and she had excuses—all of a sudden, her nose started breaking out. So we ended up not using it. But when you’re in the two-dollar outfit and your hair is dyed and you don’t have makeup on, you’re forced to be real. It was great watching that.
What happened with Mariah’s drunken speech at the Palm Springs Film Festival? Did you see that coming? No, no, no. We like our bubbles and our wine. But Mariah hadn’t eaten, and I said, “I’m getting drunk.” [laughs] So it’s really my fault. I’d eaten, and we both had two glasses of champagne. We’re fine. We go backstage, and the stagehand says, “Mr. Daniels, 30 seconds.” Just as I hit the podium [to introduce her], I hear, “I SAID I WANT ANOTHER GLASS OF WINE!” I’m like, “Oh my God!” [laughs] It happened. And you know what I love? She didn’t care. [laughs] The following morning, she says to me, “Why isn’t anyone calling me back?” I was like, “Baby. YouTube. Now.”