“I think the movie is a lot about family and healing and love – certainly the backdrop of the civil rights movement is moving through it,” Whitaker says.
He puts on not only the clothes but the unassuming demeanor of White House butler Cecil Gaines in the blockbuster movie, “Honestly, this is one of the most difficult parts I have ever played.”
“It was very specific, very detailed, you know trying to figure out – one, even how to be in service – how to be a butler, you know. I trained with someone to like how to understand that,” the Academy Award winning actor explained.
This star studded movie is sure to give Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey who plays his wife, suffering from loneliness because of Gaines dedication to his job, another Oscar nod for their acting. You may remember Winfrey garnered a chance for the golden statue her first time on the silver screen – nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her phenomenal acting as Sophia in the “Color Purple.”
Winfrey was bestowed an honorary Academy Award in 2011 for the humanitarian work she does. Whitaker picked up his Oscar for Best Actor for his critically acclaimed performance as brutal dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.” Daniels was nominated for an Academy Award for his brilliant direction of the movie, “Precious.”
In “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” the focus is not just on the man who served eight presidents beginning with President Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 to when he retired during the administration of Ronald Reagan in 1986. The movie also gives a glimpse into the civil rights movement from the presidents – in addition to the civil rights activists who were fighting to overcome injustice.
The film was inspired by “A Butler Well Served by This Election,” a 2008 article written by Washington Post national reporter Wil Haygood. He says he got a lot of offers to do a movie about Eugene Allen, the real life White House butler he wrote about; however he chose to work with Daniels.
“Lee was hell bent on making this about the butler and his family,“ Haygood says.
It was mentally tough at times for Daniels when making the movie – particularly directing a scene where freedom riders got accosted by a group of racists, including the Ku Klux Klan wearing hoods – setting fire to the bus they were on.
“I’m inside of the bus with the actors because I like to be close to the actors when I’m working. I yell action – then all these white hoods come from out of the blue and the crosses and the Nazis and the swastikas and everything. They started rocking the bus and shaking the bus and spitting on the bus,” Daniels said.
However, when he yelled cut the actors in the Klan and Nazi costumes didn’t hear him.
“They keep going. They can’t hear me because I’m in the bus,” Daniel says with a lot of emotion while remembering shooting the scene. “Then for a millisecond, just for a millisecond, I said oh my God – I know what these kids went through.”
One of his first screenings of the film was in Maine for President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, after they sent Daniels an e-mail requesting one.
“Barbara was crying,” he said after seeing the movie.
Allen died in 2010 at the age of 90 after voicing in 2008 his elation at the election of then Senator Barack Obama the first African American president of the United States.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is now in theaters and also stars Terence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Mariah Carey.
See clips from the movie and comments from Forest Whitaker, Lee Daniels and Wil Haygood in this video.:
Reach Tene’ Croom at [email protected].