09/12/2012 12:58 EDT

'Paperboy' Star Macy Gray Says Black Roles Improving: 'You Don't See So Much Of The Slave Movie'

Actress Macy Gray poses during a photo call for The Paperboy at the 65th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Macy Gray doesn’t mind that most of the buzz surrounding her latest film, Lee Daniel’s The Paperboy, which makes its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival later this week, is focussed on an already infamous scene in which Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman urinates on Disney heartthrob-turned-serious-actor Zac Efron.

“It’s very funny, for one thing,” the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and actress tells The Huffington Post Canada. “It’s just Lee. He’s very good at getting people’s attention and he’s just very dynamic at showing different things that you’ve never seen before. So I think that people will always be surprised and shocked by things that happen in his movies.”

Gray is a friend of Daniels and such a fan of the Precious director’s work (she also starred in his 2005 assassin flick Shadowboxer) that she agreed to appear in The Paperboy before she knew a single thing about the film. “He called me up and told me that he had a role that he thought I’d be good in. And I said yes right away.”

As she found out more about the story behind the film, an unapologetically raunchy, based-on-a-true-story crime film that follows a reporter (Matthew McConaughey) who returns to his hometown to investigate a convicted killer (John Cusack) and try to prove his innocence, Gray became even more excited about the project.

“The minute I read the script, I thought it was really, really interesting,” the “I Try” singer recalls. “Then he told me about the cast he had up until that point. And I was just anxious to do a film with him, so everything about it was a turn-on for me. It was good.”

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Daniels was equally thrilled to be working with the uniquely talented Gray and he began to expand her role, transforming Anita into a far more pivotal character than your average black maid. In the end, he decided to make Anita the narrator of the whole film. “In the original script I only had, like, two scenes. I only had a couple of lines,” she explains. “Once we confirmed that I was doing it, he tailored it for me, I think. It changed a lot after it was all done.”

Between the changes that Daniels made to the Anita character and the fact that he cast David Oyelowo in the role of Yardley Acheman, who is white in real life, the director has turned what was originally a very white Southern movie into something a little more modern and inclusive. Gray is a firm believer in her friend’s vision.

“I think he draws a lot from his own personal life and his own lifestyle and, of course, as a black director his movies are going to be influenced by black culture because that’s what he knows best and that’s where he comes from. I think being black in Hollywood, you’re prone to involve other black actors and things like that. I think that’s just a natural thing for him in all of his movies. He kind of mixes up who should be what and what they should look like. He plays a lot with characters and what people expect them to look like and I think that’s awesome.”

Daniels’ efforts are particularly important because Gray’s still not satisfied with the availability of roles for her and her fellow back actors. While she’s becoming more impressed with the quality of the parts, she’s still unsatisfied with the quantity of them.

“I think there’s a little bit of an improvement on how black people are portrayed,” she muses. “You don’t see so much of the slave movie anymore and a lot of the cliches have kind of gone away. But I think that’s just progress in our culture as a whole and our society in the way we’re perceived and the way people relate to us. And people are a lot more open than they used to be, so that reflects in art, always.

"It’s not like there’s definitely not an abundance of roles for black actors. I want that to get a lot better. But I think the way we’re portrayed has gotten a lot better.”

Screening Dates:

Friday, September 14

Visa Screening Room(Elgin)


Saturday, September 15

Ryerson Theatre


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