- My roots, my DNA, what I know is what it's like to live as an African-American and as a gay man. And I think trying to marry myself, ad stories that speak to me, to the studio world has been hard. They want Precious (2009), they want another something like that, but they're afraid.
- I can't embrace anything unless I can identify with the world. I think what made Precious (2009) so true is that, down to the wallpaper, I worked from a snapshot of the room that I grew up in, the hallway I grew up in. I knew exactly where the paint was going to chip from the wall. Whether or not I'll be able to capture that detail and that truth again, I don't know.
- [on making Precious (2009)] There wasn't the name game where you have to have this person or that person, and this person equals this amount of money, and that person means it will sell foreign. It was, "You have X amount of dollars," ... I think we started at $8 million--and "go with God".
- I was always intrigued with European cinema, and hated most American cinema. I didn't like the one, two, three-boom! style, with a neat and tidy ending. That was never my scene.
- [on how much the commercial prospects of a project play into what he decides to make] Of course it does. When you have two kids about to go to college, you have to say it is a business. Unfortunately, I think my artist supersedes that [laughs]. It's a problem when your artist supersedes your brain! I end up going with what my gut and spirit tell me.
- [on what he associates with a Lee Daniels film] That you always find truth. Some people call my style shocking, but I don't know what the hell that means. You can't throw a dart at any of the actors, because they'll always bring their A-game with me. You know, that's what bothers me a little bit. When people don't like the film, I can take a bullet. I don't mind you talking about me, but I'm protective of my actors, because they bared their soul for me. I can't take it when they attack an actor for his or her work, because I think that stops them from being unafraid for their next director or their next piece of work.
- When I make movies, I don't ever go out there to please anyone other than myself. I never try to make a film for the masses. I just try to tell my story. Here's the thing: I think the media underestimates the intelligence of the moviegoer. We need to be fulfilled. People want to sit down and think, and I try to make people think.
- [on how he responds to criticism of his films] I think that they don't get it. It's like a Democrat or a Republican or a poor person or a rich person, in that you understand this world or you don't understand this world. If you don't, then that's okay! Look, my own mother doesn't like my movies [laughs]. I'm okay with it, because you're entitled to your own opinion.
- [on actors and how he works with them] I love these actors [on The Paperboy (2012)], and we're very close. Matthew McConaughey just came to visit me on the set of The Butler (2013), and it was cathartic. I sort of wept in his arms, because I'm so proud of him and his work. You know, I'm in Butler world creating magic, or a painting, or whatever the fuck it is! When Matthew came to visit, I told him he surprised me and that he did it. Heath Ledger came to visit me on the set of Precious (2009), and I did sort of the same thing. I love actors, and I'm very protective of them. I trust them. It's a mutual trust. It's not just them trusting me. We don't rehearse. I never say, "Okay, let's go through this scene. Here's the character's motivation and blah, blah, blah!" We talk. They get to know me. They get to know about my weaknesses, my past, and my battles with drugs over the years. We talk about sex, rock 'n' roll, food and literature.
We know who the characters are, because they're already written. It's about getting to know you and to really become friends, so we can make magic. That only comes from knowing each other. By the time I'm ready to yell "action," we know each other so well. We just go for it.
- [on the editing process] You know what happens? ...The miracles happen through the accidents. I'll give you an example: I made a mistake at Cannes and shouldn't have said this, but this guy was irritating me. He was making such a big deal about Zac Efron in his underwear [in The Paperboy (2012)] and I was, like, fuck'. I had every character based on somebody I know. When the guy asked why I have Zac in his underwear, I said, "Because I'm a gay and I like it." I just thought the question was so stupid. Then I realized I shouldn't have said that, since that isn't the truth. The truth is, as a kid, my mother used to always say, "Why are you always in your underwear? Why are you always walking around in your underwear?" She slapped my head and told me to put some clothes on. Of course, I didn't look like Zac Efron, but that part of movie was on the screen, except without the Efron body.
When he goes out and dances in the rain, that was an accident. It rained that day, and it was Nicole's last day. When you're making an independent film, your time is money, and you ain't got money. God told me to put some music on during the scene, so I put my iPod on, picked some songs of the period, and told them to dance after the scene. That's just how it happened. It was the most beautiful, pure moment in the film. The accidents are the miracles.
- [on showing dignity of black servants] I come from a family of domestics. I think most African-Americans of my age do. They were trusted by their bosses. I have met so many white people that spent more time with their nannies than they have with their own parents.
- Oprah was a producer on Precious (2009) and we were looking for things to do. I sent her something that was my version of a black Misery (1990) where she plays this serial killer. And Oprah said, "Are you bonkers?" That didn't work, so we developed this role [in The Butler (2013)].
- When I finished Monster's Ball (2001), people were offering me $2 million to produce one project, $1 million for another; but the stories didn't place persons of color in roles in a positive way. I don't have to have messages in my films, but I have two kids, and it's important to me not to sell out. New York is very expensive, and I need the money, but I felt that if, on my way, I can continue to tell the truth, then ultimately my kids would be proud of me.