West Philadelphia's Lee Daniels (Empire, The Butler) has walked a lot of red carpets and taken plenty of stages, but nothing, he says, prepared him to deliver his emotional speech on gun violence at the Democratic National Convention last month.
"I didn't really want to speak, and I was nervous. I was on vacation when I got the call" and his first thought, was " 'Oh, no,'" said Daniels during a Fox network press party at West Hollywood's Soho House on Monday night.
"I was like, 'Have they vetted me? Do they really know who they're asking?' And then I was like, 'Oh my God. I don't really think I want to speak.' I was on the treadmill, and it really hit me like a load of bricks -- of course they know me. They know exactly who I am, they know everything about me, and they want me to speak to that voter who comes from where I come from. I broke down sobbing, because I thought about all of the mass incarcerations, all of my neighbors, all of the friends I had growing up, my entire family, the irony of gun violence, that my dad was killed -- shot -- and that when he was killed -- he was a police officer -- and when he was killed, his death destroyed my family. They all went to jail."
Daniels' father, 34-year-old Philadelphia police Cpl. William L. Daniels, was killed on Dec. 16, 1975, while trying to stop a holdup at a restaurant.
"Hillary [Clinton] understands our right to bear guns but wants to keep guns from getting into the wrong hands," Daniels had told delegates at the convention.
"I think that jails are another form of slavery. I had only a little bit of time to speak about it, so I didn't really go into detail. I was terribly nervous. Nothing could [compare]. No Oscars, no Golden Globes can prepare you" for speaking at a convention, said Daniels, who had two Academy Award nominations for his film Precious.
He said he was told, "'whatever you do, don't look out at the audience because if you look out at the audience, you'll be thrown by the crazy people.' And what do I do? I look at the audience," Daniels said, laughing. "And I took my eye off the TelePrompTer!"
In the end, though, "It was an event that was magical."
Daniels said he first met the Democratic presidential nominee "through her husband," former president Bill Clinton, who'd recruited him to do public-service announcements.
"I met him when I lived in Harlem," after Clinton's terms in office ended. "He was on a stoop, next door to a church, is how I met him. And I said, 'What? You're sitting on my stoop?' And it's the [former] president of the United States...He had all the Secret Service and everything and he was speaking at a church. And he said, 'Do you want to do some public-service announcements to get kids to come out to vote?' And since then I've been an avid sort of supporter."