We Need to Talk About These Casting Rumors for Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’

Last night, my Twitter feed coughed out a story from THR, an exclusive report about casting rumors for Lee Daniels‘ (Precious) potential next project, The Butler. At the time, I was too stunned (and too busy laughing hysterically) by how completely wrongheaded a few of the potential stars seemed to be for their respective roles to pen something on the subject. I’ve yet to fully recover, but my typing hands are itchy.

The Butler is the true life story of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who worked under eight presidents, spanning the years of 1952 to 1986. Danny Strong wrote the script (with a re-write from Daniels), based on Wil Haygood‘s 2008 Washington Post story “A Butler Well Served by This Election.” You can read the full story HERE, which is a wonderful tale not just about Allen, but about life (and race) in the White House (and America). The story also paid particular focus to the election of Barack Obama – it was published on November 7, 2008, just days after he was elected – and days after Allen himself cast his vote for the first African-American president.

But while the story behind The Butler is phenomenal, and Daniels’ apparent first choice to play Allen (David Oyelowo) is pretty great, the rest of the rumored casting for the film is a big bag of “wait, what?”

First off, the biggest name touted to join the project is Oprah Winfrey, who is reportedly “mulling an offer” to co-star as Allen’s wife. It would be Winfrey’s first live-action film since 1998’s Beloved. Winfrey’s acting work has been thin over the years, though she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for The Color Purple, her debut acting role. Despite that accolade, however, I’ve long thought that Winfrey is better utilized as a producer and champion of films (hello, Precious) than as an actual actress. What I’m saying is, I don’t think she’s that talented of an actress and I think she’s the sort of casting choice that proves distracting more than anything. Let us also mention that Winfrey is no less than twenty-three years older than Oyelowo.

But though Winfrey’s casting feels a touch too stunty, three other names being tossed around for roles are nothing short of bizarre (and even a bit laughable). Try these on for size – Mila Kunis as Jackie Kennedy, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and Hugh Jackman as who-knows-who, but let’s just have some fun and say John F. Kennedy, because that casting would make as much sense as the rest of these rumors (and they are just rumors from “insiders” around Daniels). But, good goddammn, what? Mila Kunis is pretty adorable and funny, but Jackie O? And is Cusack even capable of playing a role that doesn’t stink of ham these days? (I say that as someone who loves Say Anything… and Better Off Dead with every fiber of her being). I’m really at a loss here.

However, these rumors might be a bit premature, as “financing is being still being cobbled together and no deals have been made,” though certainly should Winfrey sign on, the film would get a giant boost, so let’s sit tight for that inevitable news.

Kate is an entertainment and culture writer and editor living in New York City. She is also a contributing writer for,,, Vulture,,, The Dissolve, Screen Crush, New York Daily News, Mental Floss, and amNY. Her previous work can also be found at MSN Movies, Boxoffice Magazine, and She lives her life like a French movie, Steve.

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