Lee Daniels, the brains behind the new Fox series, Empire, is covering the latest issue of Ad Week. The Philadelphia-bred actor/director/producer was introduced to most of us with the film Monster’s Ball and later, Precious (which received 6 Academy Award nominations). And now he’s in the forefront of conversation about his current series (Empire).
During his interview, Lee dishes on whether or not it was hard to sell Empire; if he wants to eventually become Shonda Rhimes; if TV is now more inclusive for people of color and why his son doesn’t believe he’s black. Peep a few excerpts.
On how hard was it to sell Empire & if it took a while for him and Danny Strong to feel the Fox love:
Lee Daniels: No. There was a bidding war. Isn’t that crazy? We were red hot, Danny and I, coming off The Butler. We love working together. He wanted to do it as a film and I wanted to make money, so I saw it as a TV show. After The Butler, I was blown away by the amount of people who saw the story. It touched so many people’s lives. So I thought, wow, what would happen if we told the story in people’s homes?
If he eventually sees himself becoming a Dick Wolf or Shonda Rhimes, with lots of series on the air at the same time:
Empire was a very traumatic experience for me. It was very schizophrenic, and it wasn’t what I expected it to be. I think I’ve learned to become a better filmmaker because you have to make decisions immediately. You don’t have time to ponder. And if you don’t make those decisions, there are 80 people that will. And all 80 people have a say so. That, in itself, was shocking to my system.
I have a very specific way of working. I’ve never done a studio movie, let alone worked for a network. Every one of my films has been independently financed. I’ve been responsible for every frame that you see—and now I’ve got these people to talk to [laughs].
I had no intentions of going back [to television after Empire]. But I must be a masochist because once I looked at the success and all the people that were affected by it, I thought, OK, maybe the next time it will be easier.
I don’t profess to be Shonda Rhimes by any stretch of the imagination, or Dick Wolf. They’re icons. I’m a filmmaker. They’ve really done something and I guess I have, too, but I don’t see myself as astute, with a body of [TV] work like those two people.
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