Interview: Paula Patton

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Despite graduating magna cum laude and being picked as one of the subjects of a PBS-TV series focusing on four promising young filmmakers, Paula soon decided to step in front of the camera to try her hand at acting.

(Paula, shown right with Andre Benjamin)

2006 is probably going to be the breakout year for Paula Patton. The emerging ingénue hails from Los Angeles where she attended Hamilton High for the Performing Arts. After graduation, she initially enrolled at Berkeley, though the would-be director returned to her roots to transfer to the prestigious USC Film School where she would pursue her passion for moviemaking.

Despite graduating magna cum laude and being picked as one of the subjects of a PBS-TV series focusing on four promising young filmmakers, Paula soon decided to step in front of the camera to try her hand at acting. Making the most of modest appearances in Hitch and London last year, she went on to land a couple of coveted lead roles, one, opposite two-time, Oscar-winner Denzel Washington in Déjà Vu, which opens in November, the other, in her latest release, Idlewild, opposite hip-hop artist Andre’ 3000. Idlewild, a period piece set at a speakeasy in the South during prohibition, is a musical with an ensemble cast which includes Terrence Howard, Ving Rhames, Ben Vereen, Macy Gray, Faizon Love, comedian Bruce Bruce, Patti LaBelle, Cicely Tyson, Paula Jai Parker and Big Boi (Andre’s ex-partner in OutKast).
As for her private life, Paula is married to Interscope Records recording
artist Robin Thicke, son of entertainer-of-all-trades Alan Thicke (actor, singer, songwriter, deejay, emcee, game show host, etcetera). She’s appeared in her hubby’s music videos and was featured butt naked on the cover of his debut CD, A Beautiful World, where the bronze beauty’s body providing proof positive that, yes, it’s a beautiful world, indeed! Here, she talks about Idlewild, including her steamy sex scene with Andre.

BSN: Tell me a little about your character?
PP: My character, Angel Davenport, is a singer who arrives in Idlewild as a semi-celebrity from St. Louis. And to make a long story short, without giving anything away, she becomes involved with Percival Jenkins, who’s played by Andre’ 3000. He’s the piano player in this place called Church, which is a fabulous club for Idlewild, Georgia, but not too fabulous for me, coming from St. Louis, Missouri.

BSN: What’s the picture’s plotline?
PP: It’s, basically, kind of our love story, and the love that happens between us with music. It actually has many different storylines, but I think the overall theme of the film is really about people trying to achieve their dreams. It’s a simple story about love in terms of friendship.

BSN: What was the most challenging aspect of this role?
PP: The real challenge was to become a performer. I’m not a singer, I’m not a dancer, but I had to perform on stage. So, that was the biggest challenge, truly. It was a challenge to get up there, but once I got on that stage, and they started playing the music, it was like living out your childhood fantasy. It was amazing stepping into these shoes where you get to pretend to be a rock star. Even though I was really just a lounge singer, it felt like that, and that was the most amazing feeling.

BSN: Did anyone serve as your inspiration to help you bring Angel to life?
PP: You know what? My inspiration was Lena Horne in a 1930s movie called Cabin in the Sky. She’s a little bit more mischievous than I am in this movie, but her energy, the way she was a diva in that film was something I wanted to emulate. She had this charm, and this great smile, and yet she radiated this wicked sense that something else was going on there. And my character does have a secret she’s carrying, so I used that as my inspiration. I also listened to as much Thirties’ music as possible, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, Duke Ellington… and I tried to keep in that mind state of the 1930s. And I watched a lot of old movies to see how the women carried themselves.

BSN: Since this picture’s your breakout role, what do you want to share with people who are suddenly curious about you?
PP: I sort of came to acting later in life, though I always love acting since I was a little girl. I put on plays in my parents’ back yard and attended a performing arts high school where I was always in all the plays. I went to Berkeley for a semester before deciding that I really wanted to be in film school. At that point I was getting very shy and introverted, so I was sure I wanted to be behind the camera. Then I went to USC and after I graduated I did some work as an assistant. I probably should have known that I was lying to myself at that time about my true desire to be an actress.

BSN: How could you tell?
PP: I just didn’t have that passion to be a filmmaker that you’re supposed to have. Something was missing. I remember sitting at my desk thinking I was lying to myself. I asked myself what I loved to do since I was a little girl. And that was to act. So, I started taking lessons and classes, and luck brought me here.

BSN: What was it like acting opposite Andre’ 3000, who plays your love interest in the movie?
PP: It was a bit intimidating at first, because he’s a huge star. But then when I met him, he was so kind and humble and generous, he really made it feel like both of us were on this journey together. He became my confidant on the set. We’d talk about anything, our noses, our excitement; he behaved as though no one knew his name. No one made me feel like, “Who are you kid? Prove yourself.� Then, of course, I’d go home and see him on MTV and be like, “Who is this person? He’s so fabulous?� So, to be honest with you, it was a really comfortable experience.

BSN: Even the love scene?
PP: Well, you know, you always joke. I mean, there started to be that countdown to the sex scene. It’s like, “Okay, five days to sex scene, no more carbs. You know what I mean?

BSN: Yep.
PP: There’s nervousness about that, but Andre really became my friend on the movie, and he is just a gentleman through and through. I’m not going to lie to you; of course it’s nerve-wracking when you’re nearly naked. I just had on a few strategically placed nude items. But Bryan [director Bryan Barber] set up a good situation in that the lights were low. And he had about five cameras set up, so that we didn’t have to do tons of takes. We just sort of did it, and they caught pieces. And the end result is these sort of beautiful images that are pieced together to create something that’s not vulgar. Hopefully, my mom will not die at the screening of it. I’m telling her to close her eyes.

BSN: Did you get to keep the wardrobe of period outfits you wore in the movie?
PP: I did not. Actually, some of the clothes were Cher’s old costumes that Bob Mackie had designed for her. They were quite tight. I guess I needed one less rib.

BSN: What’s up next for you?
PP: I have a movie called Déjà Vu coming out November 22nd. It’s with Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott. I play Denzel’s love interest, sort of. It’s a very interesting film, but I can’t give away much of the plot.

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