*Whenever I can sit through a film more than once it goes without saying it is not only a must see movie, but it can stand the test of time.
“The Butler” is this kind of film. Besides being extremely entertaining, with extraordinary performances, it educates, informs how important the Black press is and mirrors just how much things haven’t changed in hundreds of year later.
At a press conference for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” recently at the Waldorf hotel in New York where the presidents of the USA have stayed, director Lee Daniels and cast explored their remarkable experience.
One of the lines in the film mentions wearing two faces. How relevant is that statement today?
Cuba Gooding: There is an area of my life that I have a very specific face for. I think the film is indicative of the faces that Black men had to wear at that time specifically in the south and specifically as domesticated and professional people. Then there were other faces that David Oyelowo’s character had to wear around people. I think that the Trayvon Martin situation sparked another reminder that we do need to wear certain faces that represent a mentality indicative of our surrounding. Terence Howard spoke wonderfully about this the other day in terms of if Trayvon had recognized the face that he needed to wear at that particular moment, it might’ve been a very different outcome. A lot of wonderful statements have been made about historical times and presidents and whatnot but I think what attracted me to this movie was the duality of the existence of the African American male. So faces are a theme in this movie that can’t be ignored or slighted. I think that it’s something that even though we all wished that we could be as open as certain personalities, we as African Americans still deal with this very real situation.
Also, there is a serious disconnect with today’s youth in terms of what happened during the civil rights movement. Lee and I were in an interview in Philadelphia and there was a white 27-year old college graduate radio disc jockey who had a sea of 13-year old listeners and he was a fan of the rapper Macklemore who has a lyric in a song about the sit-ins. He totally did not understand what that lyric was until he saw ‘The Butler.’ This young man who had a college education was not aware of the atrocities that happened on American soil so long ago. So we hope that we can squelch a lot of the disconnect that young people today have with the fact that there was slavery in America and that there were white and black people who died for a cause.
Forest, what drew you to this project and what was your preparation?
FOREST WHITAKER: I thought it was an amazing story. This character allowed me the opportunity to deal with my family, the love of my family, my wife, my son our relationship and also at the same time my own stance on the world. Quality of life is something everyone deserves and the civil rights movement showed that they had to fight for it. I did research on the period and time so that I could make that an organic part of myself; so the experiences of that would be inside me. I worked with a butler coach to learn about how to serve, the concept and their way of thinking. It is an extraordinary, unbelievable experience.
Oprah, after being pursued for some time by Lee, what made you say yes?
OPRAH WINFREY: I finally said yes because of the story itself. I’m a student of my own history, African American history and I believe when you know who you are, you have an ability to move forward with the strength not just of yourself but the strength of your entire ancestry. So the ability to tell that story of the butler in an entertaining way that would offer an opportunity for the rest of the world to experience a part of our history that made our nation who and what we are. It was to demonstrate the love story of African American families, to show that tenderness and to expose to the world that we are all more alike than different. When you see the two of us at the bus station sending our son off to college that’s how every parent, regardless of race, regardless of economic background feels when you have to let go of your son. When you see us sitting at the breakfast table in the morning, I wanted to communicate that sense of love, connection and tenderness. I also wanted to allow the spirit and integrity of all African American women—colored, Negro—at the time who stood by their men and held the families together with their grit and determination and allowed their own dreams to be repressed. I thought a lot about what it means to be a woman in the 50s and 60s, a woman like Gloria or a woman like myself, or any of the other women in this room, all of us got a little fire inside. Gloria had a little fire inside of herself. It was the opportunity to show who the women of that era were, who scarified, who were the stabilizing force in the family because the butler could’ve been who he was and still had a family had it not been for her. So I loved all of that.
Lee, why this particular story?
LEE DANIELS: I did the film because for me it was a father-son story and I loved the affair, which transcends race. So really the civil rights movement was in the back of my head. I loved how Danny Strong (Screenwriter) constructed this father and son sort of love affair because we don’t see it with African American families. That was the beauty of the story.
OPRAH: I have a question for Yaya (Alafia). Did it take you to a primal place when someone spit on you?
YAYA ALAFIA: We tried to do it fake and it just didn’t work. Lee is relentless so yes, it felt real; the stench was real. I had to vomit afterwards. My heart rate was high I was shaking and my body temperature rose. You’re lending your body over completely to a character and at times it can really affect you and it can take a really long time after he yells, ‘cut,’ to shake it off. That was probably the roughest scene that I’ve shot this far.
LD: We were shooting a bus scene where Black men were actually hung. They were actually hung from that bridge that we were shooting at. In the scene from nowhere come the Nazis and the KKK and they’re cursing, and the spiting, and the shaking of the bus and I yell, ‘cut,’ and the actors, the kids, they can’t hear me and they continue on. David, Yaya and I are looking at each other like, ‘what the hell?’ And then, for that milli-second, I understood what it was like to be them. Not just the Black kids that were there but the White kids that were there that were willing to risk their lives for freedom. They were heroes and I broke down crying because I knew then that this was not just a father and son love story. This was some other kind of other big thing that Oprah says is the ‘ah hah’ moment.
‘Kick-Ass 2’ kicking foes to the curb
*Not only does “Kick-Ass 2” have to keep the momentum going and fight crime, but fend off an attack by one of its admitting that the violence was overbearing. Back for a second round of kicking butt are high scoolers Chloe Grace Moretz, Aaron Taylor Johnson, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Morris Chestnut is also back as Hit Girl’s surrogate father after Nicholas Cage was killed in the first installment. Jim Carrey and Donald Faison also star. Super villain Christopher Mintz-Plasse and evildoers are responsible for an all out bloody campaign. Moretz, Taylor and Mintz-Plasse basically became overnight successes after “Kick Ass.” So I asked them how their lives have changed since then:
CHLOE GRACE MORETZ: Yeah, I think for me, definitely. Hit Girl is that character that really did put me in a different light. It’s the character that I would say is my breakout role and put me in the minds of people in this business. It’s an amazing role and fun to revisit. It’s one of those characters that I think changed me as an actor for sure.
CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE: I think it was good for people, because I just did a bunch of comedies before ‘Kick-ass,’ to see me do something a little darker with a little more action involved.
Chloe, does Hit Girl have Daddy issues?
One thing is that she watched her father burn in front of her and held him in his final moments while he died. So she definitely has daddy issues in that fact. She doesn’t have anyone looking out for her except for Marcus and he’s a cop and the most opposite of who she is. What we tried to bring into it too is that she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s confused.
How was it to go back to your character?
CMP: It was hard. We both had really cool different arcs in this one. I am a lot more dark and twisted and Hit Girl is a little lady now and getting emotions for boys in high school. I feel we had a little bit more character traits than the first movie so it was a little bit easier.
CGM: Yeah, it was interesting trying to find the reason to come back to her and find what we didn’t see in the first film that we would even want to see in a second film. I think that was the main struggle with her because you saw so much Hit Girl but you never saw Mindy McCready. You never saw the girl behind the mask. That’s what we wanted to show. Whether she’s wearing this designer outfit going head-to-head with a bad girl or she’s wearing her wig and her mask, she’s a superhero in her heart. That’s what we really wanted to show; these superheroes and what’s coming from inside. They don’t need to be Kick-Ass or Hit Girl, they need to be who they are. With the van sequence it shows that and we never saw that in the first film…just that she’s a superhero.
Q: Playing Hit Girl more vulnerably here, did you have to take a different approach?
CGM: That was another thing is trying to find out how realistic can it be, Hit Girl going head to head with Olga [THE RUSSIAN BEHEMOTH] and how much could she fight back. How much could this martial artist, crazy, wily little kid fight back realistically without just getting killed? Obviously, we fudged a lot of stuff. But you know, at the end of the day you have to show that vulnerability of when she does get hit in the face and when she does get thrown into a glass-top table. This girl isn’t the superhero. She’s a 15-year-old kid and the coolest bit is that vulnerability there.
What’s tougher Chloe, these Daddy issues or Mommy issues with ‘Carrie’?
CGM: I think they’re equal in different ways.
Aaron, what are you doing next?
ATJ: I just finished filming ‘Godzilla’ and that should be coming out May 2014 and then I’m taking some time off.
Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment journalist who reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]