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Episode 48 - Lee Daniels

(The United States vs. Billie Holiday)

Oscar nominated director Lee Daniels shares his love of entertainment and directing from an early age and the unusual, inspiring, path he took to Hollywood filmmaking, leading him to his newest film release, The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

With guest co-host Dana Gourrier.


Hear Director Lee Daniels and actress Dana Gourrier discuss the incredible experience of making The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

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Director, Writer, Producer Lee Daniels joins host Jenny Curtis and Special Guest Co-Host Dana Gourrier to talk about his life long drive towards entertainment and his latest movie, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday.

Episode Timestamps:

00:56 – Taking a moment to get to know this episode’s co-host, Dana Gourrier, a little better.

2:37 — Dana boils herself down in a nutshell as strong artist and shares the magical moment when you feel connected to the material you’re acting.

3:37 — One of Dana’s favorite things about acting is to one day be able to take everything she’s learned and transition into directing. This leads into the discussion Jenny and Dana are about to have with Lee Daniels, who directed Dana in the United States Vs. Billie Holiday.

4:09 — Jenny Curtis introduces Lee Daniels and welcomes him to the show.

4:34 — Lee Daniels discusses where he found his creative spark. For him, it began with when he watched Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at six years old. He describes the feeling of almost leaving his body as he imagined himself as Cinderella, and began directing his cousins and siblings.

6:06 — Lee describes discovering the theater section of his library at eight years old. He pulled out “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” took it home and began directing his family in the parts.

7:29 — Dana asks if Lee felt a connection to his fellow high schoolers in theater. Like Dana, Lee felt some of that connection in high school, but he discovered a deeper comradery in the first few years of college theatre.


9:30  — Lee talks about always having been in entertainment and knowing from a young age that’s what he wanted to do.


9:58 — Lee had no money, lied to his mom about still being in college, and hopped on a bus to Los Angeles. He was homeless, living in the back of a church, and began directing small theatre projects. Some people get afraid of being a nomad, he wasn’t.


12:30 — Lee speaks about how he fell into owning his own at home nursing care agency.

13:56 — Lee shares how getting very rich young lead him down a path of using drugs. He went through a period of watching and holding many friends as they died and he attributes those experiences to where the depth of his creative work comes from.


 16:06 — Lee talks about his abrupt transition of selling his nursing agency to become a production assistant for one of his nursing client’s son.


17:50 — Lee says that his work has been driven by honesty. He believes that his honest an true connection with the crew and actors shows in the work he creates.


18:08 — Dana and Lee talk about her role in the United States Vs. Billie Holiday and what it’s like being on one of Lee Daniel’s sets. Dana calls Lee an actor’s director.


22:00 — Lee addresses situations on set that now in hindsight he understands were feelings of prejudice against him and racism. At the time he wanted to believe the best of everyone, but recent events made him see those actions against him differently. He feels he had a lot of blinders on with people being prejudice against him for his race, because he was so focused on the discrimination and abuse he’d endured for being gay.


25:00 — Lee talks about working with up and coming actors. He loves working with first time actors because they really trust you as the director. A lot of actors are jaded by directors and editors who haven’t been able to capture the magic of their work when they are bringing their all.


29:24  — Lees speaks about a scene in the United States Vs. Billie Holiday the took a little more work to capture the magic.


32:05 — Lee opens up about the United States Vs Billie Holiday being the first film he directed completely sober. He believed it was important to respect Billie Holiday and their shared substance issues by abstaining and starting his own journey of recovery.


36:38 — Lee admits to second guessing his directorial choices more when sober.


38:23 — Lee explains the development process of the United States Vs. Billie Holiday.


42:28 — Lee speaks about confronting issues of racism in this country being a part of the spirit of the film. He had an awakening in the editing room as racism came to the forefront of the news cycle in America.


44:39 — The conversation pivots to discussing Lee Daniel’s films the Paperboy and Monsters Ball.


49:08 — Lee talks about how the United States Vs. Billie Holiday was shot on film with the intention of it being shown on the big screen. He’s grateful that Hulu is running the film, but he will miss being in a theatre and around people experiencing the film for the first time.


51:09 — Lee shares what it means to him to have a life in storytelling. He doesn’t know of another way to exist.


Hosted and Produced by: Jenny Curtis

Executive Producer: Stuart Halperin

Theme Music by: Celleste & Eric Dick

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