It’s often said that a filmmakers’ greatest inspiration comes from personal experience. Lee Daniels, producer of the Oscar-winning Monsters Ball and the acclaimed drama the Woodsman, put that theory into practice when he slipped in the director’s chair for the first time on the set of Shadowboxer.
Although he was originally slotted to produce the film, which stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Helen Mirren as a team of assassins who go on the lam when their conscience gets in the way of a job, Daniels wanted to broaden his experience and took the helm himself.
Like Daniels’ past work, this one also touches on controversial social issues and delves into characters’ psyche at the rawest possible levels. “What I found out was that as I was telling the story, I was sort of basing these characters on people I knew and had grown up with and had affected my life,” he says. “I know killers, I know drug dealers. All this stuff is in my past and all this stuff is very real to me.”
Also very real to the producer-director are the challenges of getting films made outside the studio system with almost no budget. To make matters worse, Daniels has that tendency to make the tough films that studios are loathe to promote and some audiences find hard to watch. But with Shadowboxer as with his previous projects, the filmmaker felt the story was one he had to tell onscreen. “I just remember when I was trying to get Monsters Ball made, they thought I was on crack. Who would see a movie about a fat kid getting hit by a car? After it was received I made history and we got the Oscar.”
• Shadowboxer opens in theatres today.