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The World According to Lee Daniels

The World According to Lee Daniels (photo)

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Director, producer and general force of nature Lee Daniels is a hot property these days. So hot that two studios, Lionsgate and the Weinstein Company, are suing each other over the rights to distribute his second directorial effort, “Precious,” the winner of both the jury and audience awards at Sundance earlier this year. Lawsuits willing, “Precious” opens in the fall, and in the meantime Daniels has “Tennessee” in theaters, a small-scale Americana-steeped road movie he produced under his own banner of Lee Daniels Entertainment. “Tennessee,” directed by David Cronenberg nephew Aaron Woodley, has the distinction of containing the first Mariah Carey acting role to officially see theaters since “Glitter,” something that was looked upon as potentially laughable when the film premiered at Tribeca last year, but that seems a lot less so now, in light of the singer’s praised turn as a social worker in “Precious.”

It’s that fearlessness with material, casting and subject matter that’s made Daniels’ filmmaking career so fascinating, from its 2001 start with the Oscar-winning “Monster’s Ball” through his… let’s just call it “indescribable” debut as a director with 2005’s Helen Mirren-Cuba Gooding Jr. assassin drama “Shadowboxer.” “Often times people ask me, ‘How do you get into the film business? What do you do?’ And I don’t have that answer,” Daniels told me over the phone. “The only thing I have is determination, and determination is what ultimately got me my first movie made.” And certainly a willingness to color outside the lines, which may be why our interview didn’t into any typical Q&A template. Instead, it seemed better to just let Daniels describe for himself the idiosyncratic path he’s been blazing, with what’s so far been remarkable success, through the indie film world.

Nurses

I came to Hollywood to write, and found out I don’t have the attention span. I moved on to a nursing agency as a receptionist just to get a job, and ended up managing it, which led to me opening my own — say your mom is sick and needs someone to help her, then you call something like what I had, a home health agency.

I was taking care of the mother of this producer who [hadn’t realized] that I was black and 22 and had, like, 500 nurses. We became friends. I think he was blown away that I was so young. His mother was in my hands! I hadn’t gone to med school. He said, “I think you’d be a really good producer. You know talent. You should start out [as a] PA.” He was working on “Under the Cherry Moon,” Prince’s film. So I sold the nursing agency; just sold it. Like I’m crazy. Made a couple million and was running around as a PA in a Porsche and an Armani suit.

Casting

I left to open a casting agency, casting these Harlequin romances and working at Warner Bros. I was bored, because they stereotyped me into just casting for African-American things. It was pre-Spike Lee and post-the black exploitation era, so there wasn’t much of anything for me. I said, “Okay, I’ll start managing actors.” I took everything I knew about the arts and mixed it with the concept of representing nurses. I navigated actors’ careers, mostly African-American, eclectic, off-the-wall people I was obsessed with, not your run of the mill actors. I focused, really, in theater, though TV was where the money was. In walks an actor that I saw in a play at Julliard. His name was Wes Bentley. I put him in “American Beauty,” his first job, which was the norm for me because I was finding actors in weird places.

06102009_monstersball.jpg“Monster’s Ball” (2001)

Wes was one of the first white actors that I was representing. Incredible material started coming to me. I decided it was time for me to produce. Wes was going to be a vehicle for me producing — he’d just completed “American Beauty,” the hottest thing out at that moment — except he didn’t do what I asked him to. He committed to “Monster’s Ball” and at the last minute pulled out. Lionsgate was like, “Okay, you have 48 hours to find another star,” or the movie was gonna be canned. Literally, the 48th hour, Heath Ledger agreed to do it. That was my first film. I was the sole producer, and I was learning.

I didn’t have the sensibilities of your ordinary filmmaker, let alone your ordinary African-American filmmaker. My heroes were John Waters, Pedro Almodóvar, and actors that were part of that world. Different. Tons of famous directors wanted to do [“Monster’s Ball”], and I knew that to get recognition as a producer I had to find a discovery. I didn’t want to ride on anybody’s coattails and I didn’t want to get anybody like famous so I could be their producer. So I chose Marc [Forster] — I was blown away by the little film that he gave me, and I knew he’d bring a fresh eye to racism because he was European, he wasn’t from that world.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…