Daniels went down the 'known' route, and it seems to have paid off.
The Butler – officially known as Lee Daniel’s The Butler – has been well-received by the critics of late. Particularly lauded has been the all-star cast, but the decision to cast such a famous bunch wasn’t an easy one for Daniels.
Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey in The Butler.
“I had a choice of going with unknown or known actors. I decided to roll the dice and go with knowns. Partially because I liked the idea of the audience getting to unknow the actors, people think they know, but we could change those perceptions of who they are,” Daniels told Fastcocreate.com.
So what was the result of this? Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Nixon, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. In addition: Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Vanessa Redgrave all appear in the film, as well as the lead pair, Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.
“The director in me enjoys getting to make you unknow them and force you into making you believe they are these new people. With Oprah it was an even bigger risk of getting her to strip down to be someone else.” Daniels added, but when he finally got his supporting lady, the gravitas of her stardom really hit home.
Whitaker is The Butler
“I went ‘Oh my god! I got her and now what?’ She came in as OPRAAAAH,” he said. “And I was intimidated. Then I got over my own fear of directing her. I stripped her down. She was vulnerable, she was fragile, she was nervous. She came without an entourage. She wanted to be one of the guys.”