BY Lisa Kennedy
October 08 2009 9:00 AM ET
After seeing Precious at Sundance, Cameron Bailey, codirector of the Toronto International Film Festival, said that seemingly overnight Daniels had become “the most interesting black filmmaker in the U.S.” Daniels is flattered, but the qualifier disturbs him. “Do I have to preface myself?” he says. “I would like to be just a director. But I’m labeled, as a black man, as a gay black man. I don’t know what people think when one thinks of a gay black man -- that I’m going to come in with pink fairy slippers?
“Yeah, I think labels are disturbing,” he sighs. “But you know what, I’m [nearly] 50, man. So…next.”
“Next” means letting others get tangled up in that conversation. “Next” means bringing up his 13-year-old twins, Liam and Clara. (“I’m dealing with puberty -- hard-core.”) “Next” is figuring out what project should follow Precious. (Daniels really does want to make a musical, and not just any musical, but the remake of Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity.) “Next” is striking a balance between what’s in “the bubble” (his term for life with his boyfriend and children) and his work, outside the bubble.
A few years younger than Daniels, Andy is an actuary, an insurance professional who calculates risk. “He’s the guy who can tell you when you’re going to die,” Daniels says. The topic brings up an indiscreet question, one hanging in the air: about the heart attack Daniels suffered while editing Shadowboxer. “The heart is a fragile thing,” he says about his heath and his work ethic. “I looked at Fosse’s All That Jazz recently and it was very frightening, because I see a lot of me in him.” He pauses. “I’m not sure I want you to quote that -- I don’t mean the self-destructiveness. What I mean is, I live for my art to the point that my health comes second. I understand him so much. I get so wrapped up in my work. When I get into the thick of things, I’m not good for my kids. I’m not good for my boyfriend. I don’t care what I eat or if I eat. I can work 17 hours a day -- I have. I have to learn on the next project to pace myself.”
The night after he returned from Italy, Daniels had plans to attend a party, but he decided to bow out. He’s been gone three weeks. Liam’s in soccer camp. Clara’s in a one-act play off-Broadway. There are school clothes to purchase, catching up to do.
“You know what I’m going to do? I’m just going to sit back with my kids, enjoy them, have fun with them, take a moment. We’re going to lie in bed and watch a movie and eat popcorn,” he says, making the decision on the spot. “Maybe we’ll watch Lady Sings the Blues.” What he really wants to watch, though, is Valley of the Dolls, the pill-popping, cue-the-hysterics drama starring the late Sharon Tate, a clue to his appreciation of less serious fare. “But the kids probably don’t want to see that.”
We can think of a number of reasons kids might not submit to the campy excesses of the cult classic. Though not this one: “They’ve seen it so much,” Daniels says. He punctuates this revelation with a terrific cackle of a laugh. “That’s the way we do it up in Harlem.”