Oprah Winfrey returns to the screen for ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

Oprah Winfrey (opposite Terrence Howard) plays the wife of Forest Whittaker's titular character in "Lee Daniels' The Butler." Credit: The Weinstein Company
Oprah Winfrey (opposite Terrence Howard) plays the wife of Forest Whittaker’s titular character in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
Credit: The Weinstein Company

There was one major reason Oprah Winfrey returned to screen acting for her first prominent role since 1998’s “Beloved”: “Lee.”

Winfrey worked with director/producer Lee Daniels behind the scenes of his breakout work, “Precious,” which she also executive produced. She was coerced in front of the camera for his fourth directorial work, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” playing the wife of a man (Forest Whittaker) who works at the White House from the 1950s through the ‘80s.

“I wanted the opportunity to be in his hands, really,” she says. She said she was relentless in pursuing her. “I was telling him, ‘Lee, I got a network thing going on. But he wouldn’t listen to me. He’d been stalking me for some time.”

Of course, there was also the subject. The film spans the beginning of the civil rights movement and ends with Obama’s election. “I’m a historian of my own history — of African American history. I believe that when you know who you are, you have the ability to move forward not only with your own strength, but the with the strength of your entire ancestry,” Winfrey says.

While specifically about black culture — and in a way that doesn’t portray it through white eyes, despite a Caucasian screenwriter (Danny Strong) — it’s also, she says, universal. “You see the two of us at the bus station sending our son off to college. That’s how every parents, regardless of race, regardless of economic background, feel when you have to let go of your son.”

There’s also her character: the long-suffering wife of a workaholic, who spends days with drink. “I thought a lot about what it meant to be a woman in the ‘50s and ‘60s. All of us got a lot of fire inside us. What is it like to have that fire but have nothing to do with it? You can’t just sit around watching ‘The Edge of Night’ all day long, make a sandwich, have a beer, tiptoe with the next door neighbor,” Winfrey explains. This gave me the opportunity to show the women of that era. Gloria for me is not just herself but a composite of the women of the era, who sacrificed herself to become the stabilizing force of her family.”

In terms of race relations today, Winfrey doesn’t feel like she has a side she shows white — or black — audiences. “I feel I have made a living being myself. I’ve made a career out of my own authenticity. I don’t have one face I present to the white world or to the black world. I talk to my dogs the same way I’m speaking right now.”

But she understands that her being able to feel that way was heard-earned, by others. “I am the daughter of a maid, and my grandmother was a maid, and her mother was a maid, and her mother was a slave,” she says. “I feel validated by the war that the butler and his entire generation fought in their own way. And the fact that there’s another generation of freedom writers and freedom fighters that, because of evolution and growth and change, decided they weren’t going to do that anymore. Both wars were necessary for their times.”

On rumors that she’s too hands-on:
“Contrary to what everyone assumes about me, I’m really not a control freak. I like to hire someone who knows what they’re doing so I don’t to do it. Then they come back to me and tell me it’s done. That’s how I like to operate.”

On her director:
“What is exciting about him and why we love him is he is a truth seeker. He will not let any of his actors get away with a single breath that’s a false moment. I can testify to that. He doesn’t allow you as an actor get away with anything that’s remotely fake. And if you do he’ll yell, ‘Fake!’”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

NYPD looking for man they say assaulted elderly…

      The New York City Police Department is asking for the public's assistance in locating a Hispanic male 20's wanted in connection with…

Local

Three arrested after allegedly assaulting off-duty officer in…

Three men were arrested early Saturday morning after allegedly assaulting an off-duty officer at a Bronx bodega, and the NYPD is asking for the public's…

Local

Healthcare union creates vibrant West Indian Day Parade…

Volunteers worked almost around the clock through the weekend, putting the flashy finishing touches on hundreds of costume pieces 1199SEIU members will wear while marching…

National

Top 10 most hipster college campuses

Hipsters are everywhere these days. You can't walk down the anywhere anymore without seeing a pair of skinny jeans on a handlebar mustachioed 20-something, a…

Arts

Theater: Discouraging 'Poor Behavior'

Theresa Rebeck's latest off-Broadway play, about two couples sparring on a weekend getaway, repeats a few mistakes of her past.

Gossip

Chef Todd English arrested for DWI in the…

Celebrity chef Todd English is facing DWI charges after a traffic stop on Sunday.

Movies

Box office: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is 2014's…

This weekend "The Guardians of the Galaxy" passed the fourth "Transformers" movie to become the highest grossing film of 2014.

Gossip

Spears back with controversial ex?

Is Briteny Spears back with Adnan Ghalib?

Sports

Novak Djokovic feeds off US Open crowd to…

Novak Djokovic isn't a native New Yorker, but he sure knows how to use the U.S. Open crowd to his advantage.

NFL

Odell Beckham still 'weeks away,' Tom Coughlin angry…

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has fought a losing battle against the media all preseason over the status of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

Education

These college students think breakfast is the most…

  It should be no surprise that the city that never sleeps is also home to the most students who like to order food in…

Sex

When it comes to dating, height matters

Does a man’s height really matter when it comes to dating? Unfortunately - according to a new study - the answer looks like it’s yes.…

Travel

10 free apps to make traveling easier

Finding the nearest bathroom, calculating currency exchanges and locating your departure gate must have been difficult for travelers of previous generations. But we wouldn't know,…

Travel

How to get a seat upgrade to business…

It used to be much easier to upgrade your coach seat to business or even first class, but rigid rules and tighter schedules have made…