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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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