Lee Daniels on How Star Began as Valley of the Dolls

by | December 13, 2016 | Comments

STAR: Lee Daniels (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images) / Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny ad Brittany O'Grady (Tommy Garcia/FOX)

Lee Daniels showed the pilot of his new Fox drama Star to an audience in Hollywood one week after the presidential election. During his introduction, he told the crowd that the aftermath of the election inspired him to tweak the direction of the series, which tells the story of a trio of singers who form a girl group in Atlanta.

“All of a sudden one thing can happen that can shift the tone of where a show is going,” Daniels said. “Right now we need to heal. I think that right now we need to escape. We need to escape from the pain that we are all in. You see a shift as you see the series progress into a place of, not denial, but hope.”

Jude Demorest plays Star, a girl who rescues her sister Simone (Brittany O’Grady) from an abusive foster home. They travel to Atlanta to find Star’s Instagram friend Alexandra (Ryan Destiny), the daughter of a producer (Lenny Kravitz) who wants to pave her own way. Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt also star.

Daniels spoke to Rotten Tomatoes about the unlikely inspiration for Star and when viewers might notice that shift he described.


STAR: Ryan Destiny, Jude Demorest and Brittany O'Grady (Tina Rowden/FOX)

Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: Did Empire have to come first for you to be able to do Star?

Lee Daniels: Yes, I guess so. I wouldn’t have known how to do a television show, I don’t think.

RT: Had you been thinking about Star before Empire?

Daniels: Yes, I thought of Valley of the Dolls, which was what I was supposed to do before Empire. I was going to do it for Fox, and they decided not to do it because of the lack of success of Pan Am and The Playboy Club.

RT: How did Valley of the Dolls become Star?

Daniels: Because it lived in me a little bit about women and their struggles for fame in Hollywood. For me, it was about women and fame and people taking advantage of them, and also what these three girls would do to get to the top.

RT: How many women auditioned for the role of Star?

Daniels: Not many. What’s great about it is I have a great team around me. As a filmmaker, I’ve gotten into a process where as I’m writing, I’ve learned now as I’m creating characters to pass them on to my sister who casts my work in L.A. and my ex-partner who casts it in New York. Between the two of them, they’re really helping me as I’m writing. So when I walked into the Star casting office, they were in sync. It took forever for me to find Hakeem and Jamal [on Empire]. It didn’t take me as long for me to find these three girls.

RT: In addition to chemistry testing the three girls, did you have to test them for musical harmony too?

Daniels: Yeah, it’s fun. I can only imagine how Berry Gordy created The Supremes or how Labelle was formed or how TLC was formed. I wish I could have recorded the behind-the-scenes process.


STAR: Queen Latifah (Wilford Harewood/FOX)

RT: Was it part of the deal to get Queen Latifah to sing? Will we hear more music from her?

Daniels: She’ll pull a tune out every now and then from under her hat.

RT: Did you also want a chance to explore the foster system again, and further, after your film Precious?

Daniels: Yeah, that was part of it. It’s interesting, cinema only reaches a finite amount of people. Yes, it ultimately ends up on TV but it doesn’t have the immediate thing that TV has. A lot of people didn’t see Precious, so a lot of people will be able to understand where I’m going with the atrocities that are happening right now in the foster care system, so that is exciting.

RT: There’s a great effect in the pilot where the close-up of her face peels away to unveil a fantasy dance number. Is the idea that in the real world, the girls are just starting out and their choreography is basic, but in the fantasies we can see what they can really do?

Daniels: Well, the girls can dance regardless, and I think that they will evolve into perfect dancers. The idea is that they are able to really live their dreams in the fantasy. So they dance just as well out of fantasy, except they’re just not fabulous yet.

RT: Will we see at least one fabulous fantasy every week?

Daniels: No, I think there is one episode where we don’t see a fantasy. A couple of episodes we don’t see a fantasy. It’s so funny that you should mention that because it’s a symbol and a tentpole for the show. I tried to do one without a fantasy, and I was like, Uh oh, I need a fantasy. So I had withdrawal from the episode or two that we didn’t have one. I kicked myself, but it’s experimentation. You’re really trying to find the heart of the show as you’re creating the first 12 episodes.


STAR: Guest star Lenny Kravitz (Tyler Golden/FOX)

RT: In what episode will we start to notice the shift you were talking about after the Trump election?

Daniels: That was episode four-ish.

RT: So relatively early in the series, and is it a drastic shift?

Daniels: Not drastic, no. You’ll get a taste of another tone.

RT: Will it always be somewhat serious with serious issues you’re dealing with?

Daniels: You can still have fun with it. Look, Sharon Tate committed suicide in Valley of the Dolls, and it was still a party.

RT: Do Empire and the Lyons exist in the world of Star even if they’re in Chicago?

Daniels: Now, you know I can’t go around telling that kind of information. That’s classified. I want my job, OK.

RT: Is the music of Star more pop than hip-hop?

Daniels: I think it’ll be a little bit of everything. Definitely more pop. Hip-hop is Lucious Lyons’ world. I didn’t want to touch Empire at all. I wanted to leave [Star] in its own world.

Star premieres Wednesday, December 14 at 9 p.m. on Fox

Tag Cloud

crime Discovery Channel Horror Biopics El Rey Comedy Sony Pictures psychological thriller Crunchyroll First Reviews period drama sag awards Women's History Month war Valentine's Day Adult Swim breaking bad Netflix Election canceled 2020 Freeform Avengers directors 2017 Shudder Thanksgiving WGN AMC cops SXSW Awards 2019 composers The Purge Starz Set visit MSNBC APB theme song Trophy Talk Pirates vampires Nat Geo richard e. Grant book true crime History elevated horror cooking natural history Food Network science fiction Lucasfilm 71st Emmy Awards spinoff Mary poppins canceled TV shows Esquire dramedy Superheroes latino Teen diversity Warner Bros. TCM television cancelled Pride Month Summer teaser Kids & Family Quiz X-Men reboot ghosts Christmas spain ABC Family Universal Apple comic Lifetime Christmas movies singing competition San Diego Comic-Con zombie stand-up comedy Ellie Kemper spanish language Superheroe dragons MTV PBS politics indie cats 2015 Epix NYCC golden globes biography The Walking Dead Polls and Games game of thrones boxoffice Tubi miniseries Year in Review facebook FXX cartoon Tumblr TV Academy Awards Watching Series Marvel Television FOX Podcast TBS Bravo Amazon Prime Video Cartoon Network 20th Century Fox romantic comedy Winners BET Paramount Network TCA Winter 2020 GIFs hist zombies Certified Fresh CBS TLC Ghostbusters Hallmark Christmas movies anthology Fox News Vudu Dark Horse Comics Columbia Pictures See It Skip It Film Tomatazos Apple TV+ blaxploitation Rock cinemax technology The CW GLAAD BBC America Endgame Apple TV Plus rotten movies we love Grammys Lionsgate toy story mockumentary Animation doctor who Nickelodeon A24 Musical anime TNT Lifetime witnail christmas movies Opinion Extras Marathons Trailer OWN Showtime CW Seed cults green book DirecTV Sundance TV sequel based on movie DC streaming service award winner travel DGA social media comiccon Video Games documentary robots crime thriller Schedule movies finale spy thriller PaleyFest Fall TV Mystery dceu series YouTube Red Britbox Chernobyl BBC space Pop Anna Paquin crime drama DC Comics Western LGBTQ name the review FX Spring TV WarnerMedia Masterpiece USA YouTube TIFF Mudbound Toys animated historical drama tv talk Disney+ Disney Plus Comic Book Nominations Syfy Super Bowl Rom-Com Writers Guild of America HBO Ovation 45 Winter TV 2018 Music Hallmark Sundance festivals 24 frames 007 ABC RT21 Holidays Rocky Television Academy what to watch Star Wars Heroines quibi DC Universe supernatural Pixar E! batman nature Classic Film Creative Arts Emmys slashers President spider-man Brie Larson aliens Holiday ESPN American Society of Cinematographers Photos Hulu A&E Logo CNN Spike Comedy Central IFC police drama Cosplay Best and Worst thriller Sneak Peek Turner Netflix Christmas movies Peacock Calendar discovery talk show serial killer Elton John Trivia Martial Arts Comics on TV werewolf SDCC Chilling Adventures of Sabrina RT History MCU screen actors guild cars screenings Crackle Premiere Dates Red Carpet sitcom Mary Tyler Moore Sundance Now TCA Stephen King comics First Look Arrowverse CBS All Access hispanic Turner Classic Movies Box Office TCA 2017 Disney Plus The Witch cancelled TV shows TV renewals Action VICE YouTube Premium Marvel Star Trek Baby Yoda Infographic Acorn TV romance Character Guide disaster independent dc National Geographic sports CMT Emmy Nominations cancelled television OneApp transformers YA SundanceTV Rocketman Reality Competition streaming Awards Tour VH1 HBO Max kids halloween 21st Century Fox 2016 blockbuster revenge mutant Shondaland adventure Interview cancelled TV series Pet Sematary GoT versus Black Mirror medical drama New York Comic Con The Arrangement Captain marvel Film Festival Tarantino adaptation LGBT USA Network Reality Spectrum Originals renewed TV shows Mindy Kaling Disney Channel political drama video Marvel Studios Country NBC game show zero dark thirty Amazon Prime Emmys strong female leads TruTV justice league Family harry potter Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt casting unscripted Mary Poppins Returns Walt Disney Pictures Binge Guide south america docudrama ratings Musicals joker Countdown TV Land Cannes Oscars psycho crossover Fantasy IFC Films Song of Ice and Fire children's TV ITV foreign jamie lee curtis E3 binge free movies Amazon Sci-Fi Disney streaming service Paramount Drama Disney