The first movie Lee Daniels directed, the 2005 drama Shadowboxer about a terminally ill assassin and her unusual relationship with her partner in crime, was largely derided by critics and virtually ignored by audiences, grossing less than $1 million worldwide.
So when Daniels, who had also produced other films about profoundly dysfunctional families (Monster's Ball, The Woodsman), set out to try again, he kept expectations low. Even though his second film, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, is adapted from a highly lauded and widely read book, Daniels didn't believe many people would turn out to see it.
``I basically made this movie for my mother and her demographic,'' Daniels says. ``She was always telling me `Why are you making movies about pedophiles and killers? Why can't you make movies like Tyler Perry?' And I said `OK, Mom, I will.' So I was really thinking about an African-American audience when I embarked on this. I really didn't expect it to go anywhere but straight to DVD. I expected my mom and her churchfolk to embrace this marriage of my art into an urban setting. And it really was made primarily for her.''
Shot for a modest $10 million with a first-time actress in the lead, the movie, which opens Friday, tells the story of Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), an overweight, borderline illiterate 16-year-old pregnant with her second child by her father and living with a monstrously abusive mother (Mo'Nique) who belittles and exploits her.
Daniels says he was so awestruck by Sapphire's novel, published in 1996, that he spent eight years trying to convince the author to allow him to turn the book into a movie. But the hard work really began after Daniels secured the film rights.
``The book was not filmable, and it was not easy,'' says screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, who shaped the novel's first-person, stream-of-consciousness narrative into a story about Precious' painful and gradual emergence from her state of shellshocked detachment. ``When Lee asked me to adapt it, he told me it would be difficult not only in terms of translating it to film but in terms of the content, the language. It's written in her voice, someone who is barely literate.
Read the rest of my interview with the makers of Precious here.