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Lee Daniels On The Butler’s Presidents
A director's blow-by-blow on Cusack, Rickman and co

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John Cusack As Richard Nixon

Lee Daniels went to his Paperboy collaborator John Cusack with the role of Richard Nixon. Leaving aside the neatness of Tricky Dicky being played by one of The Grifters, Cusack’s sweaty, prowly presence injects a certain edge to his scenes opposite Forest Whitaker. “John is a caged, rabid animal,” enthuses Daniels.

John Cusack As Richard Nixon

“I love working with John Cusack. He’s terrifying, he’s electrifying, and he inspires me to be a better director. He’s a fiery, intense presence on set. We never, ever rub up against each other but he fuels me. I can’t explain the relationship – it’s like Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy or Mo'Nique in Precious, we just feed off each other. As an example, there was a scene between Cecil and Nixon in The White House. Cecil is holding a martini for him – “I have your martini, Mr President” – and Nixon is listening to the tapes. I yell 'action!', Forest delivers the line and Nixon is just there (mimes Cusack, head down, pressing the tape recorder, stopping, rewinding, pressing play again) and it’s been minutes – I’m counting four, five minutes – to the point where Cecil is about to drop the martini, and John suddenly goes (jerks his head up), “HUH?” It was extraordinary. He didn’t tell either of us he was going to do it. It’s what I live to do. We’re sitting there wasting film but we’re diving into character and making Forest better."

"Was Nixon the most racist of these presidents? I think they all were. Racism is what we have been taught to believe. If you’re taught to believe that African-Americans are inferior, it’s engrained in you; it’s very hard to unbelieve what you’ve been taught. All of them were."

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I thought robin Williams was playing Truman. More

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