Lee Daniels On Directing His First Film Sober, ‘I know addiction. I know it well.’

by Jamila Lizet White

February 12, 2021

Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Lee Daniels is stepping from behind the camera and revealing that The United States vs. Billie Holiday will be the first film that he’s produced or directed while not under the influence of drugs nor alcohol.

In a candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the 61-year-old director and producer spoke to his road to sobriety which began in 2009 after directing the Oscar-nominated film, Precious.

“You can’t anesthetize. A glass of vodka is a nice cover, a blanket, a fur coat on you to take away all the insecurities that you have, to take away all of the nervousness, the fear,” the empire co-creator told THR. “Sober, you’re naked and you’re doing your work,” he continued.

Photo by Earl Gibson III/WireImage

The highly anticipated film starring Andra Day focuses on the life of Billie Holiday; the jazz legend who outraged the U.S. government after the release of her anti-lynching song, Strange Fruit. As she suffered drug and alcohol abuse, the FBI used her heroin addiction as a means for prosecution due to the song’s growing popularity.

Since alcohol became Daniels’ crutch, he feared whether or not he would be able to direct without “at least a little liquor in me.” Nonetheless, this movie is a clear testament to his disbelief.

The Philadelphia native went on to speak to how he is able to reach his actors by understanding what it’s like to be in pain stating, “I know addiction. I know it well.”

“You’re uncomfortable in your skin … Showing your vulnerability to your crew and to your actors make them feel at ease that they can just give you their soul, because I’m just baring my soul to you,” he added. “If you judge me, you judge me.”

The United States vs. Billie Holiday premieres Feb. 26 on Hulu and has already been nominated for two Golden Globes. This film marks Daniels’ fifth as a director and 10th as a producer.

Congratulations to Lee Daniels for reaching this milestone!

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