Today is the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and it's amazing to see how the city of New Orleans has rebuilt itself, becoming what's known as Hollywood South.
So we called up one of the big-name directors who's currently filming there, Lee Daniels, to get the scoop on his latest movie, The Butler, which is due next year and has halted production this week due to Tropical Storm Isaac.
The Oscar-nominated filmmaker had a lot to say about working with Mariah Carey for the second time — all of it good, despite his choice of the "D" word (diva). He had previously cast her in Precious as a social worker, a role that got her a ton of praise.
Read on for our full interview with Daniels...
Tell us what about the work you are currently doing in New Orleans.
I'm doing two films here. I just got done doing The Paperboy [a thriller to be released in October] and I am currently filming The Butler. The Paperboy was shot in New Orleans but takes places in Miami. Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey are all in it.
The tax incentive is a very powerful reason to be filming here in New Orleans. I'm able to get so much more for my money. Investors love it! That's the primary reason and then the other is reason is that the weather is so fabulous, the food is so good, the people are so wonderful. After Katrina, you know that you are giving back. There were so many people that were unemployed and in just such rough situations, so it's the totality of all that that excites me about working in Louisiana.
Is filming in NOLA really that "easy"?
New York, it's so fast! And I live there. I've also lived in L.A. for quite a while too. It's just a different way. It's the Big Easy baby [laughs]! And just be prepared to walk away 10, 15, 20 pounds heavier, so if you can hang with that then, yeah. You just gotta hit that Equinox treadmill when you get home. But we are out in the country and it gets a little scary sometimes cause you can see that confederate flag.
Are there alligators?
In Paperboy we have Zac Efron swimming with alligators to escape from a mythical John Cusack.
Your current project The Butler stars a lot of big names, including Forest Whitaker and Oprah and focuses on the life of the White House butler Eugene Allen, who spanned eight US Presidents. How did you get involved with it?
My friend who passed away Laura Ziskin wanted this movie made so bad [Editor's Note: this great article from Indiewire discusses just how much Ziskin pushed to have this movie made].
She was the producer of As Good As It Gets, Pretty Woman, Spiderman. She wanted me to direct this film and I was so honored to work with her. She fought on her deathbed to get the movie made. And a beautiful woman named Shelia Johnson who created BET (who no longer is with BET). Between the two of them they pulled it together and they believed in me. People that are silent heroes are not normally vocal about the film, but they are the matriarchs of The Butler.
I always get nervous but you know all I can do is my best. I pray that I can make something that they can be proud of.
You've got a very particular directing style. Can we talk about it?
Well, I got some chains and some whips [laughs]. I'm really frank, very open, very honest about myself to people — obnoxiously honest, which forces them into a place of honesty. There are no egos on the set. The ego is the film. We're here to serve the film and if you are not doing it right, then you really suck, do it again!
Did you know that Mariah tweeted from the set of The Butler?
Wait a minute, you will be the first one to tell me this because it's a big deal! I don't tweet or anything like that. I do Instagram because my boyfriend turned me on to it. Mariah said, "[Being here] it's a big deal so what do I tweet?" I said, "whatever you wanna tweet!" She was like, "Lee I don't wanna like freak you out or anything." I said "Mariah, I don't care what you say!" So now I'm about to hear from you what she said.
I'll read it to you, it says: "Just finished my first day on "The Butler", what an honor working with such a legendary, stellar ensemble. Thank you Lee Daniels."
Awwwww…I would have cast her as a stripper having sex with John Kennedy. I would've cast her as a bartender you know, as a white southern racist bartender. I would've cast her in anything you know what I mean because she is my buddy. But I can't tell you what she plays. Did she tell anyone what she plays? I'll kill her if she did. Kill her! I was going to hang up the phone and stop the interview right now.
I would've cast her in anything because she understands me. She is not a diva. But she is a diva, don't get me wrong. She is a complete psychotic diva in the best way the minute I yell "Cut!" when she is in the work. I don't have the words to describe the love I have for her. [Editor's Note: though Mariah didn't tweet a photo to go along with her aforementioned tweet, she did tweet a photo of her shoes in costume].
Is there a Latino actor or actress that you dream of working with?
Jennifer Lopez. If you watch all those movies that she has done you can see she is talented but I don't think anyone has really tapped into her. They did it close when she did that movie with her ex-husband, El Cantante.
And Édgar Ramírez. He was going to be in a movie of mine. He did that BBC mini series, Carlos. He is a brilliant actor. If you really want to know that's the one!