Cue the mu­sic, cue the drama! Lee Daniels in­tro­duces 'Star'

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The ti­tle of Lee Daniels' lat­est ven­ture, "Star," might very well iden­tify this cel­e­brated pro­ducer-di­rec­tor-writer. His films in­clude "Mon­ster's Ball," "Pre­cious" and "The But­ler," while two sea­sons ago he roared into se­ries TV with Fox's smash mu­sic drama "Em­pire."

But "Star," a sort of "Em­pire" en­core, refers in­stead to the lure of star­dom on an am­bi­tious singing trio, and, more specif­i­cally, to the fiery young woman call­ing the shots. Her name hap­pens to be Star.

Star is played by Jude Demorest, who joins real-life fel­low new­com­ers Brit­tany O'Grady (as Star's sis­ter Si­mone) and Ryan Des­tiny (as Alexan­dra) in por­tray­ing this de­fi­ant three­some out to beat the odds in the show-biz sweep­stakes and make a fresh start in their lives. "Star," which pre­mieres Wed­nes­day at 9 p.m. EST on Fox, also fea­tures Queen Lat­i­fah as the girls' sur­ro­gate mother and Ben­jamin Bratt as a down-on-his-luck tal­ent agent. It was co-cre­ated by Daniels, who di­rected the first two episodes and has been heav­ily in­volved in all the sub­se­quent writ­ing and edit­ing. "We want to get it off the ground in the right way," he says, cop­ping to a bit of weari­ness from his heavy in­volve­ment. "It's a del­i­cate time. You re­ally have to get peo­ple hooked into the char­ac­ters."

Dif­fer­ences with 'Em­pire'

While "Em­pire" de­picts the glitzy but cut­throat world of mu­sic at its pin­na­cle, "Star" is planted at the gritty en­try level. But how did the se­ries come about?

Daniels ex­plains that, af­ter feast­ing on movie suc­cess, he re­solved a while back to give TV a try. "I did a pi­lot. I thought, 'OK, I can check THAT off my bucket list.' I as­sumed it wouldn't get picked up. Then it got picked up." It was "Em­pire." "Then Fox said, 'You want to do an­other one?' I said, 'OK.'"

He stewed over what that new se­ries should be, and gath­ered what he calls "a hodge­podge of things that in­spired me: 'Dream­girls,' 'Val­ley of the Dolls,' 'Sex and the City'; a girls' show with mu­sic and a lit­tle bit of edge."

Plus orig­i­nal vo­cal-and-dance num­bers. "It's hard enough telling a story," he de­clares with a roll of his eyes. "I must be a masochist to want to add mu­sic! It has to be seam­less you can't just bust out into a mu­si­cal num­ber. But I en­joyed it so much with 'Em­pire' we did it again. "And I wanted to talk about race, about where we are racially in Amer­ica. So the lead girl (Star) is white, her sis­ter's half­black, and, just to turn things up­side down, the third girl, who is black, is the rich girl." That was the show as en­vi­sioned. "Then HE be­came pres­i­dent," says Daniels, per­haps get­ting a lit­tle ahead of him­self. But his point is clear: With half of its 13 episodes com­pleted, Daniels wor­ries that the ground has shifted un­der his se­ries as it has with so much else. "This show is a lit­tle bit about what's go­ing on to­day, but now it's more of an es­cape. Be­cause I think peo­ple just can't bear what's go­ing on now. The show is for those of us who can't bear it."

But for Daniels - a gay black man who, grow­ing up, felt like an out­sider in his "West Philly" neigh­bor­hood - es­cape isn't re­ally what he aims to give his au­di­ence. Ac­tu­ally, he wants to share a bit of what he's learned liv­ing what he calls, sar­don­ically, his "zany life."

"When I was 7, I watched some­body killed," he says. "And also when I was 10.

"I'm 57 (on Christ­mas Eve) and I'm alive, without HIV, and that's a mir­a­cle: I watched so many friends die in my arms, many of whom I had slept with. So when you've got a foun­da­tion of bul­lets whizzing by you or some­body dy­ing in front of you, and par­ents who didn't em­brace you, you have a wealth of stuff at your com­mand. I only just now started go­ing to ther­apy. But be­fore that, all my ther­apy was my work. I just spilled it out.

"My work is all about from whence I cometh," says the man who found his way to Los An­ge­les and landed his first job as a re­cep­tion­ist at a nurs­ing agency. "I'm liv­ing a dream to­day. I'm blessed. And I'm here to give you what you're crav­ing, which is a story that you can iden­tify with; voices that you don't hear and faces you don't see. At least, not on­screen ev­ery day." — AP

— AP

This im­age re­leased by Fox shows Ryan Des­tiny, from left, Jude Demorest and Brit­tany O'Grady from "Star," the lat­est se­ries by Lee Daniels, premiering Wed­nes­day at 9p.m. EST on Fox.

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