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Lee Daniels Says He Has No Plans to Compete With Shonda Rhimes

Lee Daniels
Sheryl Nields

'With Empire, we've been able to touch Hollywood in a way it hasn't been touched before.'


Photography by Sheryl Nields for Adweek

We all know that Fox's primetime soap Empire contains a lot of autobiographical material from gay filmmaker Lee Daniels's life -- including references to child abuse and family squabbles -- and that he and co-creator Danny Strong have made it a mission to battle the homophobia in hip-hop while reaching a wider fanbase. Here, five things we learned.

On who Terrence Howard's Lucious Lyon is based on:
"[He's] many shades of me. I can't create anything that I haven't lived. He's a lot a bit of my dad, and the entrepreneurs that I've grown to know. He's a lot a bit of Berry Gordy, a lot a bit of Joe Kennedy. When you think of the Kennedys, they are the American dream. Joe was bootlegging and doing all sorts of shady shit, and he produced the president of the United States."

On why it easier for him and co-creator Danny Strong to sell the show:

"There was a bidding war. Isn't that crazy? We were red hot, Danny and I, coming off The Butler. We love working together. He wanted to do it as a film and I wanted to make money, so I saw it as a TV show."

Lee Daniels

On why he doesn't pay attention to the ratings:
"I don't pay much attention to numbers. I'm so busy working that I don't come out of my bubble to know the insanity and the 'Cookie-mania.' I'm nervous about what my next episode is going to be, or what my next season is going to be like. I don't read reviews unless my publicist tells me, 'You really should take a look at this.' I don't want it to affect the work."

On why he'll stick to films rather than switching full-time to TV:

"Empire was a very traumatic experience for me. It was very schizophrenic, and it wasn't what I expected it to be. I think I've learned to become a better filmmaker because you have to make decisions immediately... I had no intentions of going back [to television after Empire]. But I must be a masochist because once I looked at the success and all the people that were affected by it, I thought, OK, maybe the next time it will be easier... I don't profess to be Shonda Rhimes by any stretch of the imagination, or Dick Wolf. They're icons. I'm a filmmaker. They've really done something and I guess I have, too, but I don't see myself as astute, with a body of [TV] work like those two people."

On why he regrets raising his son without any awareness of his race:

"I've done everything I can to make sure my kids don't have to worry or be hungry or be in the same place that I was. And I regret that now because I don't think my son realizes that he's black. He's 19, and he doesn't realize that he's a black man in America... It's politically incorrect to talk about racism in Hollywood. But that's not the real world. That's not 90 percent of America. And people think that we've got Obama in and things have changed. In fact, I think that only inflamed things.

Read the entire interview at Adweek.

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