Lee Daniels gave his parents an early Christmas present when he entered the world on December 24, 1959; unfortunately, the Philadelphia native was to have a difficult relationship with his police officer father who later reacted violently to his son's sexuality. Despite the brutality of his childhood, Lee completed high school and became one of the most successful and noted graduates of Lindenwood University in St.Charles, Missouri.
After graduation, Daniels's career took an interesting and profitable turn. He moved to Los Angeles but instead of getting involved with the film industry, Lee worked for a nursing agency and by the age of 21, had started an agency of his own. He later sold the agency for a substantial sum then began his career in entertainment, first as a casting director and later as a manager. By his mid-twenties, he was working with Prince on Purple Rain (1984) and Under the Cherry Moon (1986). Despite being involved in film production, Lee continued to manage talent and grew a roster of clients that included several Academy Award nominees and winners.
He created his own production company, Lee Daniels Entertainment, and its first film was the acclaimed Monster's Ball (2001), which starred Billy Bob Thornton, the late Heath Ledger and Halle Berry, who went on to win the Best Actress Oscar. Monster's Ball was a critical and financial success and as its producer, Daniels became a force to be reckoned with.
In 2004, Lee used skills honed as a filmmaker to produce a series of public service announcements aimed at inspiring young people of color to vote. He worked with former President, Bill Clinton and was able to enlist actor/rap artist LL Cool J and actor/singer Alicia Keys. Lee's next production, The Woodsman (2004), was another edgy tale about a pedophile trying to reform after being released from prison and starred Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and Mos Def. While The Woodsman (2004) was not the critical success that Monster's Ball (2001) was, it attracted a great deal of critical attention and earned its star, Kevin Bacon, raves for his performance.
Daniels made his directorial debut with his next project, Shadowboxer (2005), a provocative drama with an intriguing cast that included Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding Jr., Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Stephen Dorff. Shadowboxer (2005) was also the first time Lee worked with Mo'Nique; unfortunately, despite an interesting cast, Shadowboxer (2005) received mixed reviews and failed at the box office. Lee's next production, Tennessee (2008) was not a critical or financial success but allowed Lee to help singer 'Mariah Carey' gain acting credentials after the failure of her first film, Glitter (2001).
Daniels hit the mother lode with his next effort, Precious (2009/II), which he directed and produced. The film won at the Sundance Film Festival and has garnered every imaginable accolade under the sun. The film stars newcomer Gabourey Sidibe in the title role as a Harlem teen who is the victim of unimaginable abuse from her father, mother and society. The film allowed Daniels to re-team with both Mariah Carey and Mo'Nique, who has been a revelation to both critics and audiences as Precious's abusive mother. Daniels has said that he felt compelled to bring this story of child abuse to the screen to help heal the scars from his relationship with his abusive father.
Often casts musicians
Raised twins Clara and Liam, who are biologically his niece and nephew, as his own children since they were three days old in the mid-1990s. They were born to his brother and his girlfriend, and were adopted by Daniels and his then-boyfriend, Billy Hopkins (who is also his casting director).
The second African-American to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars(Precious (2009/II)).
Second African-American to be nominated for an Oscar® for Best Director (for Precious (2009/II)).
First African-American to direct a Best Picture Oscar nominee (Precious (2009/II)).
Good friends with Mariah Carey.
Suffered a heart attack when he went for a run in the mid-2000s.
Boyfriend since 2009 is Andy Sforzini, an actuary at Prudential Life Insurance.
Has four younger brothers.
He and Billy Hopkins ended their relationship in 2009. They share custody of their children Clara and Liam.
Sister is casting director Leah Daniels.
My roots, my DNA , what I know is what it's like to live as an African-American and as a gay man. And I think trying to marry myself, ad stories that speak to me, to the studio world has been hard. They want Precious (2009), they want another something like that, but they're afraid.
I can't embrace anything unless I can identify with the world. I think what made Precious (2009) so true is that, down to the wallpaper, I worked from a snapshot of the room that I grew up in, the hallway I grew up in. I knew exactly where the paint was going to chip from the wall. Whether or not I'll be able to capture that detail and that truth again, I don't know.
[on making Precious (2009/II)]: There wasn't the name game where you have to have this person or that person, and this person equals this amount of money, and that person means it will sell foreign. It was, 'You have X amount of dollars,' __I think we started at $8 million--and 'go with God.'
I was always intrigued with European cinema, and hated most American cinema. I didn't like the one, two, three-boom! style, with a neat and tidy ending. That was never my scene.
[on how much the commercial prospects of a project play into what he decides to make] Of course it does. When you have two kids about to go to college, you have to say it is a business. Unfortunately, I think my artist supersedes that [Laughs]. It's a problem when your artist supersedes your brain! I end up going with what my gut and spirit tell me.
[on what he associates with a Lee Daniels film] That you always find truth. Some people call my style shocking, but I don't know what the hell that means. You can't throw a dart at any of the actors, because they'll always bring their A-game with me. You know, that's what bothers me a little bit. When people don't like the film, I can take a bullet. I don't mind you talking about me, but I'm protective of my actors, because they bared their soul for me. I can't take it when they attack an actor for his or her work, because I think that stops them from being unafraid for their next director or their next piece of work.
When I make movies, I don't ever go out there to please anyone other than myself. I never try to make a film for the masses. I just try to tell my story. Here's the thing: I think the media underestimates the intelligence of the moviegoer. We need to be fulfilled. People want to sit down and think, and I try to make people think.
[on how he responds to criticism of his films] I think that they don't get it. It's like a Democrat or a Republican or a poor person or a rich person, in that you understand this world or you don't understand this world. If you don't, then that's okay! Look, my own mother doesn't like my movies [Laughs]. I'm okay with it, because you're entitled to your own opinion.
[on actors and how he works with them] I love these actors [on "The Paperboy"], and we're very close. Matthew McConaughey just came to visit me on the set of "The Butler," and it was cathartic. I sort of wept in his arms, because I'm so proud of him and his work. You know, I'm in Butler world creating magic, or a painting, or whatever the fuck it is! When Matthew came to visit, I told him he surprised me and that he did it. Heath Ledger came to visit me on the set of "Precious," and I did sort of the same thing. I love actors, and I'm very protective of them. I trust them. It's a mutual trust. It's not just them trusting me. We don't rehearse. I never say, "Okay, let's go through this scene. Here's the character's motivation and blah, blah, blah!" We talk. They get to know me. They get to know about my weaknesses, my past, and my battles with drugs over the years. We talk about sex, rock 'n' roll, food, and literature. We know who the characters are, because they're already written. It's about getting to know you and to really become friends, so we can make magic. That only comes from knowing each other. By the time I'm ready to yell "action," we know each other so well. We just go for it.
[on the editing process] - You know what happens? ... The miracles happen through the accidents. I'll give you an example: I made a mistake at Cannes and shouldn't have said this, but this guy was irritating me. He was making such a big deal about Zac Efron in his underwear [in "The Paperboy"] and I was, like, "fuck." I had every character based on somebody I know. When the guy asked why I have Zac in his underwear, I said, "Because I'm a gay and I like it." I just thought the question was so stupid. Then I realized I shouldn't have said that, since that isn't the truth. The truth is, as a kid, my mother used to always say, "Why are you always in your underwear? Why are you always walking around in your underwear?" She slapped my head and told me to put some clothes on. Of course, I didn't look like Zac Efron, but that part of movie was on the screen, except without the Efron body. When he goes out and dances in the rain, that was an accident. It rained that day, and it was Nicole's last day. When you're making an independent film, your time is money, and you ain't got money. God told me to put some music on during the scene, so I put my iPod on, picked some songs of the period, and told them to dance after the scene. That's just how it happened. It was the most beautiful, pure moment in the film. The accidents are the miracles.
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