Precious to Go Straight to DVD” width=”560″/>
Precious is up for six Academy awards, including Best Director, for Lee Daniels, who also produced. This was a film that Daniels didn’t think would be seen, outside of a small circle of people, let alone on the big screen, he says.
Q: What made you want to adapt the book, in the first place?
A: When I was 11 years old, this little girl from the neighborhood came to my door, and she was bleeding, and she was naked, and she was crying, and she said her mother was going to kill her. She had been whipped with an extension cord. And my mom came to the door, and I can’t even begin to describe the look in her eyes. It was the first time I had seen her afraid. But it wasn’t just fear. There was nausea and anger and embarrassment for this little girl, who was trying to cover herself up. She put hydrogen peroxide on her, fed her, wrapped her. But she knew that she’d have to send this little girl home, and that was what disturbed her — that she couldn’t save her. She tried to make it easier for her. That’s all she could do. And I don’t know what word describes all that. So when I read the book, I felt what my mother felt at that moment.
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Q: So did you think you could help that little girl by doing this film?
A: I thought, if I could do a film from this, maybe I could heal. And maybe I could heal other people, too. My mom used to say, “Why do you make movies like Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman? Why can’t you make movies like Tyler Perry?” Because most of what I do are art films. I did want a bigger audience, and Oprah [Winfrey] and Tyler Perry opened that up for me. But I didn’t make this for the bigger audience. I thought it was for my mom, our family members, the people on our street. It wasn’t until we took it to Sundance that I realized that this was a bigger story, a universal story. Beyond universal. And, you know, in London, they had done a production of Precious where everybody was white.
Q: You really thought this was a small story, at first?
A: I thought it was going to go straight to DVD. That it made it to the big screen says there was an angel looking after me. Think about it: it’s a movie about a 300-pound black girl. But I had angels. I had Sapphire. I had Gabby [Sidibe]. I had Oprah. I had financiers who just said, “What would you like to do?” And that’s never happened to me before. Normally, I have to fight for everything I want to do.
Q: So you didn’t anticipate any potential Oscar buzz?
A: Well, let me first of all say that I’m in a bubble. And Mo’Nique has taught me to stay in that bubble. So I don’t read anything online. And it’s hard. But I’ve already won. My win is that people saw the story, and it didn’t go straight to DVD. We won Sundance. We went to Cannes. And at Cannes, I look over my shoulder and I see Gabby doing her red-carpet-fantasy thing exactly the way she does in the movie. So that’s a win beyond a win.
Q: How did you elicit that performance from Mo’Nique?
A: There was a moment where I told her, I said, “Mo’Nique, throw the baby.” She said, “What?” It wasn’t scripted, but I thought we really needed to show the depth of the insanity. And she threw the baby — this is Mongo, in the social-worker scene — and I had to cut out really quick to the grandmother, because she broke down crying. The baby’s having fun, and I was like, “Throw the baby! Just throw her!” And then we all broke down laughing. And, you know, for her big monologue — they all had very long, very profound monologues — but I had to trim, because I had to tell one person’s story. Was it Precious’s story, how she felt? Was it Ms. Weiss’s story, her why? Or was it Mary’s why? But I felt that to stay with Mary was to stay with the smarter choice, because I then understood where the insanity started. It shows the gray area.
Q: Mo’Nique’s been criticized a bit for not promoting the movie.
A: That’s what’s cracking me up. I say to her, “Girl, you threw down in that scene! That is award-worthy!” And she’s like, “Lee, that’s all I need.” She gave me her soul in that movie. But she gives her boys her soul, too. She wasn’t at Toronto because her kid was sick. She wasn’t at the New York Film Festival because it was her twins’ birthday. If people say, “Where’s Mo’Nique?” I say, “With her kids!”Read More