By the time Mariah Carey appears in a pivotal scene in the movie Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" By Sapphire, it's easy to forget she's a glamorous chart-topper with flawless makeup and designer tastes. As tears well up in her unadorned eyes onscreen, she is transformed into welfare case worker Ms. Weiss. Lenny Kravitz's role in the film is not as much of a stretch. He plays Nurse John, a charming rock star of the ward, so to speak, who makes the girls' hearts flutter.
"From my first film, Monster's Ball, with Puffy and Mos Def to Macy Gray in Shadowboxer, Eve in The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon, a musician has been in every film I've done," says director/producer Lee Daniels in a one-on-one interview with Rolling Stone during the Toronto International Film Festival. "I love musicians. I'm going to do a musical next year [with Kravitz]. I'm not allowed to talk about it."
Lee was joined at the gala screening by Carey, author Sapphire, executive producers Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Lisa Cortes and composer Mary J. Blige. Neither Carey nor Kravitz are the lead characters, but their parts propel the harrowing story of a sexually and mentally abused Harlem teenager who's betrayed by the very people who are supposed to love her but stays deteremined to break out of her lot in life. It's a film so intense Daniels says he couldn't afford to cast stars whose celebrity is bigger than their talent. So how did he know Carey could successfully take on that role?
"Because we'd just finished working together in a film. It's called Tennessee, by a Canadian director Aaron Woodley, a little tiny movie and she starred in it for me. We became really good friends and I knew that she had the chops," says Lee. "She does an incredible impersonation of Aretha Franklin. Not her singing voice but her speaking voice! She channels people's voices."
As for Kravitz, Lee calls him one of his best friends. "He's going to be working with me on the next thing that I'm doing," he says cryptically about the musical. "So I thought it was a way for him to see how it was that I worked. Like Mo'Nique [who stars as Precious' mother, Mary] worked with me in Shadowboxer, so she has a shorthand that we established so that we'd be ready to do this, we knew each other. And I think that this movie with Lenny will prepare me and him to work together better on the next movie."
Kravitz also wrote a song for the soundtrack called "Do It" and Mary J. Blige composed the theme "I Can See In Color." At a press conference at TIFF earlier this week, Blige said, "When I saw the film, all I could think about was growing up in my neighborhood and knowing that girl Precious or that guy Precious and actually living in those situations myself."
She added, "My life seemed like, from the time I was 5 to maybe my late-20s, everything was black and white because I had never dealt with the issues that Precious had to do. And the reason I named this song 'I Can See In Color' was because when I finally woke up or got to a point where I said, 'I can not live like this anymore,' it just seemed like everything turned into color.
Kravitz did not attend TIFF, but Tyler also used "System," a song the rocker produced for reunited group Labelle. "It's about the political system and the welfare system," says Lee, who placed it in a crucial scene where Precious receives another life-changing blow. Curiously, Carey does not have a song in the movie. "I did not want to use Mariah's music. It's what I fought. It's like the biggest, hardest thing ever for me," he says emphatically, "because I wanted to make sure that she was noted for her acting. It was so important to me that she was noted for her acting."