If you haven’t watched the sneak preview of Lee Daniels’ new drama, Star, then I ask you this: What are you waiting for? The companion series to Daniels’ other series—Empire—premiered to strong ratings earlier this month when FOX aired a special preview. And you know what other show debuted in a similar manner from Daniels, airing on FOX, and only continued its rise towards TV dominance? Yep, Empire.
Before Star returns for its official run next month, I paid a visit to the Atlanta set to uncover some fascinating stories behind the scenes. (Including this interview with Queen Latifah about her own journey to stardom.). As Daniels told me during our time together, “I don’t think we’re prepared for the price that fame pays.” His cast—both veterans and newbies—might definitely have something to say about that. Here, 10 secrets we learned from set.
Creator Lee Daniels never calls the actors on his shows by their real name. “Never!” he says. “When I create the character, that’s who they are. I [still] call Helen Mirren from Shadowboxer [by the name of her character] ‘Rose.’ The only person I don’t call is Oprah [by the name] ‘Gloria’ [from The Butler].”
There’s a reason why Daniels wanted to cast a “badass white chick” on the show. “Star is sort of a healing,” he says. “For me, it was a healing process. She represents someone that can help heal the country in some sick way. I can’t explain it. She’s cool for black people, and she’s cool for white people, and like, how dare a white girl say, ‘You’re a racist, bitch?’ We’re flipping the script!”
How did Daniels know Jude Demorest was the girl to play Star? It all came from a feeling, he says. “[Jude] scared me,” Daniels now admits. “She terrified me so much that I told her to her face, ‘I don’t like you.’ Poor thing! What comes out of my mouth during these auditions! It scared [me] that she jumped off the page. To write someone and for her to come in and be that person?! And to know that person as good as I know that person?! She thought I didn’t like her. She didn’t think she had the job. [Laughs] It was scary [for me] because it had never happened to me before.”
Benjamin Bratt actually based his character, Jahil, on Lee Daniels. “The second thing Lee shared with me was this character—for as fucked up as he is and as dysfunctional as he might appear on the page—he’s an extension of [Lee]. He said, ‘Jahil Rivera is partly drawn from who I am as a young man when I was a manager in Hollywood.’ Lee is nothing if not fascinating—what compels him, what drives him, what motivates him. He’s a bit of a mad scientist, really. It can be frustrating working with him because he’s all over the place, but it’s never less than thrilling.”
When Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny, and Brittany O’Grady met Bratt, the first thing they wanted to talk about was Miss Congeniality (Bratt played the colleague and love interest to Sandra Bullock’s Gracie Hart in the film). “I remember the first time I met them,” Bratt recalls. “They walked into the hair and makeup trailer just to say hi to everyone, and went, ‘Oh, cool! You’re the guy from Miss Congeniality!’ Which, of course, is funny, but an indication of the years of difference between us!”
Ryan Destiny—who plays “Alexandra”—goes by her middle name, Destiny, as her last name. In real life, her last name is Irons. “I just felt like Ryan Destiny sounded better,” she says. As for her background, Destiny was born in Detroit, Michigan and lived their her whole life until moving to Atlanta for Star. Her mom is from Detroit, and her dad is from St. Louis.
Brittany O’Grady (“Simone”) admits that people are thrown off by her Irish-sounding last name, which is in fact, her real last name.__ “My dad is white, and his last name is O’Grady. My mom is African American, like Creole from New Orleans-type.” Because of her mixed race, O’Grady—who was born in Arlington, Virginia—said she had a tough time getting started in the industry. “I was 16, and I was looking for agents. I had an agent in New York tell me that since I looked Hispanic, but I was half black/half white and didn’t speak Spanish that I wouldn’t book anything and that my teeth were too small and I wasn’t skinny enough to model. She said she didn’t want to be a [bitch] and ruin my dreams. I think my mom was more upset than I was because she told my mom all of this, and I remember she sent me on two auditions after that—that woman who said what she said—and the first series I booked was me playing a girl who was Hispanic. So, she was just a little ignorant,” O’Grady laughs. “[I’m glad] I didn’t let her get to me because now she doesn’t get any credibility for where I am today. Too bad for her!”
During casting for Star, Ryan Destiny (“Alexandra”) and Jude Demorest (“Star”) didn’t quite get off on the right foot. “The first time I met Britt and Jude was the last callback before I actually got the part,” Destiny recalls. “It’s funny because me and Jude clashed in the audition—us in real life—because it was a lot of tension since I think we were both nervous. Things happen, but the funny thing is, Lee [Daniels] loved it. I feel like it was a way of us even getting our parts because we’re supposed to be like that in the show, too. Luckily, things definitely smoothed over since then, thank God. It just was tension.” As for why the two ladies clashed in the first place, Destiny says it was over “a song that we had to sing—they wanted us to sing a song and she suggested a song—and kind of told both of us to do it, and I was like, ‘Uh, no.’ So, it was just that type of thing. They got it all on camera, so it was like, ‘Oh great!’ [But] it’s been over a year now and everything has completely changed, but our characters still have that tension.”
Jude Demorest (“Star”) says she’s very different from her alter-ego, but they have similar upbringings. “We’re from the same place, really. I’m from Detroit; she’s from Pittsburgh. I grew up with foster brothers and sisters in my house. My mom fostered them. I know what it’s like to have to fight to be who you are all the time,” Demorest tells Glamour. “Doing that for Star is not hard for me to understand her. We’re very different, but I understand her completely. One foul move, and I would have been her. I think what separates us is I give most of my life up to God, and she’s her own God.”
Amiyah Scott (who plays Cotton, the transgender daughter of Queen Latifah’s Carlotta) wears a personalized “Cotton” necklace IRL because it reminded her of Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw. “It’s a little homage,” she laughs of the gold nameplate.
Star has its official series premiere on Wednesday, January 4 on FOX.