Since its premiere at Cannes in May, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to “Precious” has had a difficult time escaping the shadow of one infamous scene. In some circles, “The Paperboy” has become known as the movie where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron, but that’s only a fraction of the lurid acts you’ll see when the film hits theaters October 5.
The story of “The Paperboy,” which also stars Matthew McConaughey, is a mystery that’s relatively straightforward but filled with characters that are anything but. A Miami-based journalist (McConaughey) returns to his hometown to take another look at an open-and-shut murder case with the help of his little brother (Efron) and the woman who writes letters to the man held responsible (Kidman).
MTV News spoke with Daniels about audience response to “The Paperboy” and why no one can stop talking about that scene.
MTV News: There were a few gasps in my screening. Were you expecting the shocked reactions “The Paperboy” has already received?
Daniels: Here’s the thing: People either love it and think it’s gangster, like the actors that have seen it, or people that don’t get the world are appalled. I’m here to do my thing. I’m not here to please anybody. If I were to please people, I don’t know what I’d be making. I’m here to do my thing.
MTV: Were you ever worried about pushing the actors too far?
Daniels: Not at all, and I think that’s what I enjoyed most. That’s what actors want to do with me. They know that when we go to work, we’re putting on a play. There are no rules. There are no boundaries. People are people, and we’re delving into places that your normal studio flick wouldn’t dare go and explore. To me, that’s the joy of filmmaking, especially of indie filmmaking, because you can make a statement and do your own thing. You got nobody to answer to, and the actors are free, and they trust me.
As you can see from the performances, there’s a bravery on everybody’s part across the board and a level of trust in each other that we were all going to jump off the cliff together. We all read the script. We knew what it was. We decided to jump into it, everybody.
MTV: These characters are what make the story so unique. What did you love about them?
Daniels: I just love, as did Nicole and Matthew and Zac and John Cusack, Macy [Gray], characters that we see ordinarily. It was like “Precious.” I give voice to people that we all know and we never see, and faces that are not seen and we hear about. It’s all about the writing. It’s all about the characters. There are holes to punch in the story if you want to. It’s really a character study. These people have a death wish. Nicole’s character, Matthew’s character, they want a death sentence. These are fragile birds, and they saw that.
MTV: Did you know the media would latch onto the “peeing scene”?
Daniels: Instinctively, yes, but I felt that I owed it to Nicole, the actress who gave me her soul. I had the choice of taking it out. I had no idea that they would latch onto it the way they are. After “Precious,” I could have done any film I wanted to do, pretty much. I was offered a lot of films. I chose this film because it was unexpected of me, and I will continue to do films that are unexpected of me.
MTV: What was your experience directing Zac Efron?
Daniels: Zac was marvelous. He was pure and hungry and eager to please and anxious to deliver the performance that he did. I’m really proud of what he did. I think it’s his best work. Tell those little old ladies that were screaming in the theater to go watch “The Lucky One.” They’ll enjoy that.