*Since the film’s premiere at Sundance, Lee Daniels has said that the maid role in his upcoming film “Paperboy” was first offered to Oprah Winfrey – who turned it down — before ultimately going to Grammy Award-winning singer Macy Gray.
Now — Daniels calls it a blessing in disguise.
“In hindsight, I can’t imagine Oprah on the floor trying to masturbate,” Daniels laughs. “Everybody has [their] own interpretation. She would have played it very stoic, you know, something very different. I think Macy Gray was the right choice after all.”
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Daniels admits that he expanded — or “evolved,” in his words — the role of Anita significantly after Gray was cast. (Says Gray: “I had four lines… he sent me another rewrite, and my part was a lot bigger.”)
As previously reported, Gray’s character narrates the story of love, deception and murder in the Deep South, opening in select theaters today (Oct. 5). Wearing a stocking cap and no makeup for the part, Gray’s on-camera appearance couldn’t have been further from the glamorous movie star she had envisioned. “I wanted to be Diana Ross, the glamorous housekeeper, but he wasn’t feeling it,” says Gray.
Anita did get her glamorous moment, albeit during a heartbreaking scene in which she’s en route to a baby shower. The lady of the house (played by a venomous Nealla Gordon) requires her to stay and pick up shards of glass before she’s allowed to leave.
“It was a very tragic moment,” says Daniels.
For the role, both Daniels and Gray drew on past experiences of housekeepers in their own lives. Aside from working on an appropriate accent for Florida in the 1960s, Gray also observed those who currently care for her own house.
“I learned a lot from like people who clean your house or do your garden, and you don’t always pay them a lot of attention. I just watched them,” she says. “They’re part of the family, but they’re a little bit irritated because they don’t want to be cleaning your underwear and stuff like that. It was good to get to know that side of it, for sure.”
Says Daniels, he wanted to show a different sort of maid than Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help.
“I just didn’t think that the maids were right [in ‘The Help’], because I had so many family members that were maids. I really wanted to tell my version,” he says. “[The maids] that I knew that really took care of these white kids. They loved them deeply as their own.”
“I think the most powerful scene in the movie is when Macy hears the ‘N—–‘ word, and she’s not fazed by it at all,” he adds. “She loves her son so much — I mean, she loves Zac [Efron] so much — that she’s somebody who would probably even laugh over that. She’s more protective of him for saying the word than insulting her.”
The film is a departure for many of the actors involved, including Nicole Kidman as a sex-crazed woman married to an alleged killer (played by John Cusack), Efron as a young, directionless man infatuated with Kidman, and Matthew McConaughey as a reporter with a secret.
And for what it’s worth, Daniels did eventually wind up directing Oprah for his recently wrapped project, “The Butler.”
“She’s so sweet,” Daniels says of the OWN boss. “She sent me a beautiful letter because when we wrapped, she said, ‘I can’t believe you still wanted to work with me after we turned you down for Paperboy.’”