Legendary Producer Lee Daniels Is Living Proof That Determination Can Take You Far

Nothing breeds greatness better than determination.

It might be a cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true, and no one embodies this aphorism better than Lee Daniels, legendary producer and director, and the subject of our latest Uncharted profile, which you can watch above.

“There’s not a school for what it is that I have had,” Daniels told us. “I didn’t go to film school. I’m a filmmaker. How did I get there?”

Tenacity. It’s what took the icon from a tough, single-parent childhood—his father, a cop, was killed in the line of duty when he was a kid—to massive success in the entertainment world. Daniels’s personal narrative is that of resolve repeatedly overcoming hardship.

Lee Daniels knew early on that he had a knack for writing and storytelling, so he headed to Los Angeles with nothing more than a bus ticket and seven dollars in his pocket. That, of course, was nowhere near enough money to survive, so he ended up homeless, sneaking into a church for shelter. The pastor in charge of that church discovered the destitute would-be genius and told him that he could stay there so long as he cleaned.

This act of kindness not only gave Daniels a roof over his head, but an opportunity for him to learn his craft as well. The church had a theater, and Daniels used it to stage one-act plays with members of the congregation and young unknown actors he met on the streets serving as his cast. Putting together those plays was the first time he had ever directed.

“I knew that that was meant for me,” he reflected. “That whatever was my destiny was on the stage.”

Those reps in at the church theater further cemented Daniels’s belief that stories like his were worth telling. It’s what led him to direct the Oscar-nominated film Precious, and to create smash TV hits like Empire and Star.

“I’m sure there are more talented directors than I, I know there are,” Daniels conceded.

But talent doesn’t always result in success. You need the determination to catalyze it.

“I think that’s what separated me from the people that I grew up there,” he added. “You know, to dream. That’s a big thing. I keep dreaming.”