During a Q&A after an exclusive screening of Lee Daniels' The Butler last night at Hearst tower in NYC, Oprah Winfrey revealed quite a bit of her process behind appearing in her first film in over fourteen years: Hire an acting coach, learn to cry on cue, don't look at the clock when your character is supposed to be making love—and no nudity because the audience would "never forgive her."
The discussion was moderated by Oprah's bestie Gayle King, and also featured director Lee Daniels and star Forest Whitaker. Vulture posted a few gems from the event, including the fact that Lee Daniels apparently enjoys referring to himself in the third person sometimes.
Gayle: It was interesting to see Oprah have a lover in this movie. [Terence Howard plays the neighbor who comes on to Oprah’s character.]
Lee: But the thing is, we pulled it out. I wanted it all. It’s Lee Daniels.
Oprah: He wanted me in my panties and bra.
Lee: And I was not going to let her talk me out of it. But then, you know —
Oprah: I did talk you out of it.
Lee: You did. We went to a place where it was just sort of a kissing moment.
Oprah: You know why? I said to Lee —
Lee: But you were right! Hey, you were right. That’s right. Yeah.
Oprah: First of all, she’s a mother and she loves her husband, so she’s not gonna be sitting up in the middle of the day watching her soaps in her bra and panties, smoking. And once she does, the audience can never forgive her.
Lee: And I was like, “They can.” But then in early test screenings Oprah and Terrence [Howard, who plays her neighbor] were kissing and making out and people were not happy.
Oprah: [Looking at Forest.] It’s not about you at all. I wasn’t cheating.
On directing Oprah, who likes to be in control:
Gayle: Was it hard to direct her?
Lee: No. In the beginning it was.
Oprah: It was not!
Lee: It was. For me. It has nothing to do with you. It’s me.
Gayle: Because didn’t she ask a lot of questions?
Lee: Too many damn questions! Oprah is just full of questions. I couldn’t answer enough questions. They’re in the bed — it’s the scene where she and Forest were together and they’re making love. So she looks around and she says, “What time is it?” I said, “It doesn’t matter what time it is.” “What time is it, Lee?” I said, “It doesn’t matter. You’re getting laid. Shut up!” She pulled the covers up over her head.
Oprah: Is it morning?
Lee: What difference does it make?!
Oprah: Is it morning? Do I have the rollers in? Am I trying to get breakfast done?
Oprah: The thing about Lee is that less is always more. No matter what scene you’re doing, he would say [yelling], “Cut it in half! Give me half of that!” And you’d do it and go, “What half? What’s half?” And then he’d go, “Give me an eighth of that!” And then he’d say, “Throw it away! Nothing! Nothing! I want nothing!” And we’re sitting there going, “What is nothing?”
Forest: It’s true.
Gayle: What do you mean by, “Give me nothing?”
Lee: It means just don’t do anything. Feel each other. Don’t even use the words. Just use each other.
Oprah: So the scene where he’s coming home after the riots, and King has been killed. Obviously I wanted to run up all [blubbering], “Darling! How are you?” Lee goes, “Fake, fake, fake!” Which, as an actor, is the worst thing. And so we kept cutting it in half until that scene — neither of us says anything. 'Cause his point was, when you love somebody and you care for them, and they’re finally there, and you’ve been together so long, you don’t need to say anything. They’re just home, and you know it.
You can check out the rest of the discussion over at Vulture. The Butler is set to open in theaters nationwide on August 16th.