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Oprah talks about her love of Chicago — plus first live-action film role in 15 years
“My neightbor’s here!” exclaimed Oprah Winfrey Sunday at New York’s legendary Waldorf- Astoria Hotel, as she spotted a lifelong Chicagoan (yours truly) walking in to interview the entertainment world multi-hyphenate about her long-awaited return as an actress in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
For all those who have assumed that Winfrey has left Chicago for good: Note she didn’t say former neighbor.
While Winfrey’s responsibilities running her OWN TV network obviously require her to spend the lion’s share of her time in California, it was clear she still considers Chicago her part-time home. “How’s everything in the neighborhood?,” said Winfrey with a big smile, adding she actually “will be back in Chicago on Tuesday.”
†In the new movie (opening Aug. 16), based on the fictionalized story of Cecil Gaines, who served eight U.S. presidents, as chief butler at the White House, Winfrey plays his wife, Gloria. The film was inspired by the real-life Eugene Allen, a long-serving ex-White House butler.
Asked about the challenge of making audiences forget it was Oprah — but instead the character of Gloria up there on the big screen — Winfrey agreed that was important.
“That has been my fear, actually, over the years, because my best friend Gayle [King] has always said, ‘You should act more. You should play something else. You should play a lawyer or someone funny.’ But I have always said, it’s hard to lose that ‘Oprah Thing,’ because when you walk into a room and you’re a lawyer in a role and you look like yourself and you’re just wearing a nice suit, it’s a difficult thing to lose.
“But with Gloria it was different.”
†Also — for Winfrey — a big part of the attraction of tackling the role of Gloria Gaines was the chance to work with Forest Whitaker, who plays the title role in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” That desire dated back to the day she saw his Oscar-winning performance as Idi Amin in “The King of Scotland.”
“We’ve talking about working together ever since then. At one point we even talked about doing ‘Fences’ on Broadway, but I had that little day job,” quipped Winfrey about her 25-year talk show phenomenon. “And I knew I would absolutely kill myself, if I tried to do Broadway and the ‘Oprah’ show at the same time. At one time we even talked about moving the ‘Oprah’ show to New York, so I also could do Broadway, but that didn’t happen. But then this [“The Butler’] came and the opportunity to work with him.”
†Getting back to what she misses most about Chicago, when she’s not here, Winfrey sighed. “I so love Chicago. I do miss the restaurants, I miss going to RL, I miss just being in the city in the summertime. It’s such a special place.”