Lee Daniels wants you to know 'Star' is not 'Empire'

Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny and Brittany O'Grady appear in "Star."

Story highlights

  • The show gets a special premiere Wednesday
  • Creator said he can't get away from music

(CNN)Lee Daniels knows fans and critics can't resist the urge to compare his new show "Star" to his hit series "Empire."

Yes, both are Fox shows created by Daniels that revolve around the music industry and feature diverse casts. But the famed director of such films as "Precious" and "The Butler" told CNN that while there are similarities, the two series originate from different places.
"['Star'] is nothing like 'Empire,'" he said. "For me, 'Empire' is about my family. ['Star'] is about me, coming into Hollywood and doing things that I'm embarrassed about, embarrassed talking about and showing what one will do for fame."
    The series is set for sneak preview on Wednesday.
    Its plot centers on a young, aspiring singer named Star (played by newcomer Jude Demorest), who forms a girl group with her sister, Simone (Brittany O'Grady) and their friend Alexandra (Ryan Destiny), the daughter of a successful recording artist.
    The cast boasts Queen Latifah, Benjamin Bratt and Lenny Kravitz.
    Daniels said all of his work tends to be operatic.
    "I don't know why I can't get these musicals out of my head," Daniels said. "I'm drawn to it. Music lives in me. It's intrinsic to the DNA of my storytelling."
    That's fine by Queen Latifah, who shows off her singing chops in "Star" as Carlotta Brown, a beauty salon owner who acts as a surrogate mother for the girl group.
    "Star" marks both a return to TV and to Fox for Queen Latifah. (The network was home to her hit 1990s series "Living Single.")
    As an entertainment industry veteran, the singer/rapper and actress said she finds herself trying to impart some of her experience to her younger costars -- just like her character does on the show.
    Queen Latifah said "Star" perfectly illustrates the quest for recording industry success, even as the business has evolved over the years she's been a part of it.
    "People who have ambition, they need to be seen, they need to get on, they're willing to do whatever they need to do to make sure people know who they are and they can get in front of the right people," she said. "Record labels are still important, but social media is very important and building your social media definitely is."
    As for Bratt, the actor said he was drawn to both the complexity of his character, struggling manager Jahil Rivera, and the opportunity to work with Daniels, whom he calls "an unabashed provocateur."
    The character, Bratt said, is an extension of Daniels' early self (decades ago Daniel tried his hand at being a Hollywood manager). Bratt said being able to draw on the creator for research and inspiration proved to be "a treasure chest."
    "It's allowed me to play a character who is not clearly drawn as good or bad, but someone who is emotionally complicated," Bratt said. "What we will hopefully come to discover is that while he is someone who has a morally bendable compass, he does have an artist's spirit at the end of the day."
    Bratt said it's been interesting to observe life imitating art as the young actors on his new series demonstrate the same drive and passion to breakout in Hollywood as their characters.
    Along with the pitfalls of fame, the show also tackles issues surrounding race and gender.
    Star, the main character, is white living in a black community. Her sister, Simone, is biracial. Newcomer Amiyah Scott is a transwoman who portrays the trans character, Cotton.
    Brittany O'Grady plays Simone and told CNN that in addition to also being biracial, she could relate to the dark times her character endures trying to become famous.
    "I lived by myself in Los Angeles when I was 17 for a year trying to pursue my career and it was really hard for me," O'Grady said. "All the troubles and trials and tribulations that I went through really helped me to play this character."
    Ryan Destiny plays Alexandra and said she thinks the audience will find something of themselves in the characters -- along with timely storylines.
    "Lee is a person who likes to touch on topics that make people feel uncomfortable, but it needs to be said and people need to learn from it," Destiny said.
    A special premiere of "Star" will air Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST on Fox.