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THE PAPERBOY

About The Production
For more than 15 years, Lee Daniels has been challenging conventional Hollywood wisdom by making uncompromising films that shine a light onto the inner worlds of the forgotten, the unheralded and the downtrodden. First as the producer of startling and acclaimed films including Monster's Ball and The Woodsman, then as director of the poignant, shocking Oscar-winner Precious, Daniels has transformed characters rarely portrayed in mainstream films, including an illiterate, street-smart teen, a lonely racist prison guard and a conflicted and angry child molester, into sympathetic anti-heroes.

In his feature-film writing debut, Daniels adapted Pete Dexter's hard-boiled crime thriller, The Paperboy, into a gritty, darkly funny and Byzantine journey set in an out-of-the-way Florida town in 1969. An incendiary mix of race, sex and deception, The Paperboy turns a tense murder investigation into a fearless exploration of love, corruption and family bonds.

Daniels, who is fascinated by life's down-and-outers, the people surviving on the fringes who will never manage to make it to the center of the arena, says he fell in love with Dexter's book when he first read it years ago. "Like Precious and Monster's Ball, the characters and the events stayed with me. It is a story that needs to be told. As a filmmaker, I like giving voices to characters that don't ordinarily have them. I'm interested in depicting the people we don't often see, even though they exist all around us."

As he has for his previous films, Daniels assembled an ensemble of accomplished actors who each make unexpected departures in their roles. "It is a tribute to the material that we were able to assemble such a fantastic group of actors," says producer Hilary Shor. "The cast became so much more than the sum of its parts. Every one of them saw the opportunity to do something great, even though it is a relatively small movie and they worked for less money than they usually command."

In The Paperboy, Jack James, former swimming champion and current newspaper delivery boy, joins his hotshot investigative journalist brother in an effort to clear a local redneck, Hillary Van Wetter, of the murder of the town sheriff. To play the naive Jack, who falls hopelessly in love with the death-row convict's seductive fiancee, Daniels selected Zac Efron, best known as the wide-eyed heartthrob from the teen phenomenon High School Musical. "If all you know him from is High School Musical, he seems like an unexpected choice," says Daniels. "But I saw Zac in a movie called Me and Orson Welles and I recognized something very different in him. He is so right for this part."

Shor believes the role could profoundly change the path of the young actor's career. "This is going to be a transitional moment for Zac professionally," she says. "We watched him become a man before our eyes. It is an extraordinary performance and it will surprise a lot of people to see him in this light."

Efron was drawn to the quality of the script and the unusual nature of the story. "My initial reaction was simply 'wow,'" he says. "The story was intense and the ending blew me away. It's a big journey for a young man. It goes to some very dark, twisted places and some very funny places, too."

Daniels' genius as a writer and director lies in his innate understanding of what makes the characters human and how they relate to each other, says Efron. "Each relationship and every part of this story is grounded and real in the crazy way things actually are. He understands the spaces in between. He wants to turn everything on its ear and he's not afraid to improvise."

The young actor experienced some of the same growing pains as his character during the shoot. "Jack learns huge life lessons from each of these very important people in his life," he says. "I felt the same way working on the movie. I came as a blank slate. I haven't been doing this as long some of the other actors have and I'm still learning what it is to make a movie or be an actor. This cast was always challenging me in different ways."

Jack's older brother, ambitious, truth-seeking Ward, is played by Matthew McConaughey, last seen in The Lincoln Lawyer. Daniels had very specific direction about what he wanted to happen between Ward and Jack, imbuing the relationship with a weighty backstory. "It would have been easy to view it as two brothers coming back together and taking the world by storm," says Efron. "That's not what Lee saw and he was adamant. They've been estranged for a long time. Ward helped raise Jack after their mother died, but then he abandoned him, and Jack doesn't know how to treat him when he suddenly returns."

As it turns out, Ward has secrets of his own that will change much of what his younger brother believes about him. McConaughey says, "I was a fan of Precious and looking to work with Lee Daniels. Even so, I wasn't absolutely sure what I was getting into. The role is pretty daring. It has some shock value and that's what turned me on about it."

Fans should anticipate seeing a side of the actor he has never explored before. "People think they know what they are going to get from Matthew McConaughey," says Daniels. "But in this case, they don't. This is a completely unexpected role for him."

Daniels pushed McConaughey, like all the other actors, to embrace that. "Lee is constantly looking for something different, whether it's in his casting choices or in the choices he encourages the actors to make about their characters," McConaughey says. "He'll often acknowledge that what you've done may be the realistic or the pragmatic choice, but then ask you to flip it. He wants to go for the unexpected."

And while it is Jack's coming-of-age story that anchors the film, there is room for many compelling characters in this movie, says the actor. "No two of them are on the same frequency. When they are all in a room, you've got so many different points of view. It is Jack's story in the end, but his relationship with his brother, his love story with Charlotte and everything he goes through make him the man he becomes."

Ward brings Hillary Van Wetter's prison pen pal Charlotte Bless back to Moat County to help in his investigation, never dreaming his younger brother will become infatuated with the lost and luscious temptress. In a complete departure from the kinds of ethereal, cerebral roles that earned her an Academy Award and two additional Oscar nominations, Nicole Kidman creates an earthy, wild woman-child in Charlotte.

"Charlotte is a wonderful, if tragic, figure," says Kidman. "It was very gutsy of Lee to take this chance and allow me to play something I hadn't played before. Most directors wouldn't have. I love when actors are allowed to do work that doesn't correlate to their personas. It forces you to find a truth within in yourself that informs someone who seems your polar opposite."

She calls Daniels a "rebel filmmaker," unafraid to take a leap of faith to achieve the heightened reality he aspires to. "I've worked with lots of talented directors and done many independent films," Kidman says. "Lee is unusual. He feels everything, and his way of working is very abandoned and raw."

Daniels says he was awestruck at the opportunity to direct Kidman. "It was like working with Bette Davis for me," says Daniels. "It was an out-of-body experience. She's magical. She just morphed into this woman. It was very much like working with Mo'Nique in Precious. At some point, we became like one person."

Ward's partner, the nattily dressed and ambitious Yardley, is played by David Oyelowo, seen recently in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Help. Daniels rewrote the character specifically for Oyelowo, transforming the role of a white reporter into a cultured and sophisticated black man whose English accent helps him navigate the still largely segregated American South of the 1960s. "As a black man himself, Lee was very interested in how a black reporter in Florida in 1969 would have been treated and how he would react in that situation," says Oyelowo. "It added another layer, and all those layers made it very interesting territory for storytelling."

Oyelowo praises Daniels' ability and desire to push the actors and crew to the limits of their creative ability. "As an actor, I often felt he saw it as a personal challenge to push me to within an inch of my talent."

John Cusack's physical and emotional immersion into the role of Hillary Van Wetter may shock some of the ardent fans he has acquired through decades of offbeat comedies such as Say Anything and High Fidelity. While the loathsome and abusive alligator hunter may or may not be innocent of the crime for which he's on death row, he is clearly guilty of even darker transgressions.

It was the vibrant writing in both the book and the script that attracted Cusack. "Pete Dexter's Florida is a darker version of Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard," he says. "Then Lee took that in his own unique direction. It all starts with the source material and this story is so powerful. The characters are captivating and authentic. They are not particularly heroic, they're just human."

Cusack says he relished the opportunity to play such a memorable screen villain. "He's some sort of otherworldly creature who initiates Jack into the darkest parts of life. This is definitely the juiciest role I've had as a guy possessed by darker forces."

For his part, Daniels is delighted with the actor's transformation. "You haven't seen John Cusack like this before," he says. "He is nasty and wrong and sexual and violent and scary-and also vulnerable."

Grammy-winning recording artist Macy Gray takes on her first major acting role as Anita, the family maid who also serves as the film's laconic Greek chorus. "I'm a huge fan of Lee," she says. "I trust his ideas and his taste. This movie is a thriller, a mystery and a demented love story. It's offbeat and fascinating. Anyone, no matter how experienced, can learn from Lee. His fearlessness is infectious and when you are around him, you feel like you can do anything."

Daniels expanded the role to provide a window over another forgotten group of people. "Through Anita, we see what a generation of black women, including my own aunts, went through when they took care of little white kids," he says. "Macy tapped into that experience with a sense of honesty and humor that we don't ordinarily see."

Gray found Anita's dilemma touching and absolutely authentic. "Here she is, an integral part of the family, but she is just the maid. She's black and it's the '60s in the South. I think we captured what that feels like. And that was Lee's creation completely."

With Gray, Daniels has once again found a way to surprise the audience with the unexpected talent of a familiar face, much as he did with the dressed-down Mariah Carey as a dowdy social worker in Precious. "The humor Macy was able to bring to this character is something people will enjoy," says Shor. "She's an extraordinary talent, far beyond what people expect. She gives a very sensitive performance."

Rounding out the cast is veteran actor Scott Glenn as Jack and Ward's old-school newsman father. "All I needed to know was that it was going to be directed by Lee Daniels," he says. "I wanted to get in the sandbox with the man who directed Precious, because that was a remarkable, beautiful and brave film. I got to do some things I've never done before, to not just play strengths but weaknesses as well."

To stand in for the murky, overheated essence of 1960s Florida, the filmmakers shot in and around New Orleans. According to cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, who also shot Monster's Ball, "Lee sees things differently, yet his vision is also very organic. Even in the most mundane action, he finds something exciting."

For Daniels, the visuals and the emotion are inseparable. Each is essential to his quest to take the audience on a wild ride into the human abyss. "I like making movies that go into unexplored new terrain. The Paperboy explores these human situations in a way I've never seen before on screen."

With its sensitive portraits of exceptional outsiders and unflinching examination of the social mores of a unique time and place, The Paperboy is a film only Lee Daniels could have made, says producer Hilary Shor. "Lee developed a fabulous script that captures a moment in time and allows us a singular view of family life, of race, of homosexuality in 1969. He is a great storyteller. After seeing this film, people will know for sure that he is a great filmmaker whose work isn't limited to a certain type of film. He can do it all."

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