Director Confirms President Obama Did Not Turn Down Offer to Appear in ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk
Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker (but not President Obama) star in 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'
Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker (but not President Obama) star in 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'

One thing is certain: President Barack Obama does NOT make his big-screen acting debut in the upcoming White House drama "Lee Daniels' The Butler."

But there are two different stories circulating about why President Obama doesn't take his place in the movie alongside a number of leading actors playing former U.S. presidents.

On Sunday, conservative political blogger Matt Drudge made a surprising post on Twitter about the film, claiming that the president had been asked to appear in the movie but said no.

After news of Drudge's allegation broke, Lee Daniels, the film's director, spoke to Yahoo! Movies on Monday and said that Drudge got the story wrong.

"No, I was too afraid to ask him," Daniels replied when asked if President Obama had been invited to be in the movie. "We wanted him to do it," Daniels said, and it was in the script for him to make an appearance. "But he was running for office," Daniels said, "so I think he had better things—more important things [to do]. "

The film follows the life of Cecil Gaines, an African-American domestic worker at the White House (played by Forest Whitaker) who worked for ten different U.S. presidents from the mid-1950s onward, with Robin Williams playing Dwight Eisenhower, James Marsden playing John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber playing Lyndon Johnson, and John Cusack playing Richard Nixon, among others. The suggestion is that President Obama was invited to play himself in a brief scene near the end.

President Obama is represented in "The Butler," appearing in news footage from his inauguration, but he was not involve in the production directly. And so far, the president hasn't seen the movie, but Oprah Winfrey, who co-stars in the film, told Adams her close friend Gayle King is working on arranging a screening for the White House's current occupant. (You'd think Oprah would have enough pull to make that happen by herself!)

If Gayle's plans fall through, the President will have an opportunity to see himself on screen with the rest of the filmgoing public when "Lee Daniels' The Butler" opens in theaters on August 16.

Watch Forest Whitaker in an exclusive clip from "Lee Daniels' The Butler":