The truth is, when Lee Daniels asked me to play the part of Gloria in his new movie, I was nervous. Plenty of women would say that starring as Forest Whitaker's wife and Terrence Howard's lover is nice work if you can get it. But trying to pull a fledgling network together is a pretty tall order, so short of having myself cloned, I wasn't sure how I could take on another big project.
Then I read the script.
The Butler is the story of a man who becomes head butler in the Eisenhower White House and stays on all the way through the Reagan administration. Based on a true story, it is at once epic and intimate, harrowing and astute. We watch as both a nation and a family come undone and then, little by little, begin to heal—growing stronger in the broken places. Like the butler himself (acted with astonishing grace by Forest Whitaker), we have a front-row seat as history is being made.
I find myself thinking a lot about history these days. I mean, if you don't know where you came from, how do you know where to go? I came from people who were part of the butler's generation, and I am who I am because of those people. My mother was a maid, my grandmother was a maid, her mother was a maid—that's all they could be. Gloria, the butler's wife, represents every woman who deferred her own dreams and paid the price for it. We rarely speak of the women of that era, who stoically, sometimes with great humor, endured their pain, stood by their men, raised their children, all while managing to slip a little extra money into the collection plate to support a crucial cause. They were beautiful and ferocious, and they made the world a better place to be. I celebrate and honor that spirit.
Take Oprah's behind-the-scenes tour of the shoot