H.R.H. Queen Latifah
Born Dana Elaine Evans on March 18, 1970 in Newark, New Jersey, Queen Latifah was blessed with her regal sobriquet at the age of 8 by a Muslim cousin.
Although Latifah means "sensitive" and "delicate" in Arabic, the rap
lyrics which made her famous were quite the opposite. The 5'10" statuesque sister got her big break at 18, after flipping burgers for a fast food chain. Despite a couple of well received Lps, Latifah was dumped by her unappreciative record label. And her bad luck was compounded by a carjacking in which a friend was shot and then the death of her brother on a motorcycle she had given him as a gift. After signing with Motown, Latifah again ascended to the top of the charts and this time parlayed her success into her own TV series, Living Single.
She also appeared on the big screen in such movies as Jungle Fever, House
Party 2, Sphere and The Bone Collector. But it was after landing an Academy
Award nomination for her performance in Chicago that the Queen has been
widely recognized as an accomplished mainstream actress. She's remained very busy ever since, recently adding Bringing Down the House, Scary Movie 3 and Barbershop 2 to her resume'. She has two more films coming out later this year, Taxi and Beauty Shop, with another, Last Holiday, slated to arrive in theaters sometime during 2005. Here, she talks about her current release, The Cookout, a pet project where she not only stars but takes a writing and producing credit.
KW: Tell me about your role in The Cookout.
QL: "My main role is as a producer. We wanted to do something urban, that
was comedic and family-oriented, as opposed to telling the street story we
could tell any day of the week."
KW: What inspired you to write it?
QL: "Actually, my partner Sha-Kim told me a similar story about how he had
gone to a young athlete's cookout and his whole family, all kinds of people,
came. Some of them got a little buck wild and acted up. Come on, it's
family, you can't really do anything about it. That's what The Cookout is
about, having a good time and see you at the next one."
KW: Is family important to you?
QL: "For me, there is no me without family. I've actually been having a
great summer because we finished shooting Beauty Shop a couple months ago.
So, I came straight home. I've really just been hanging out with my family,
my mom, my Dad, my cousins, my brother, my sister, my sister's baby shower.
And all kinds of good stuff. I need my family. They keep me grounded and
normal by letting me just be me without all that Hollywood stuff."
KW: Have you getting offered better-quality scripts for Black actresses
having received an Oscar nomination?
QL: "I see a lot of good scripts, not scripts for a Black actress,
necessarily. Understand something, a lot of what we do, we create. It's not
just somebody saying, 'Hey, here's a script. What do you think.' It's us
going out there and finding a script or partnering up with a writer. Many of
the roles that I got had to be changed from a male to a female. So, they
weren't all originally written for me."
KW: Did you enjoy making Beauty Shop?
QL: "It was a tough shoot. I had a grueling schedule because I was in 90% of
the movie. Plus, I was doing my jazz album at the same time. So, I worked
almost every day. But everyone was fun to work with."
KW: With The Cookout, you were not only acting, but writing and producing.
How did that go?
QL: "It had its challenges, because you don't have the luxury of just being
an actor. You have to step in to the business side of it and kind of
supervise the script during the script. You have to step in and help out the
director, especially since I was more seasoned. It was more of a big sister
thing, sharing whatever wisdom you have."
KW: Whatâ€™s your new album like?
QL: "All of the songs are covers, but they're not all jazz. Maybe half.
There's Lush Life... Moody's Mood... California Dreaming... Simply Beautiful
by Al Green... Some Dinah Washington songs. I'm very proud of it. I have it
in my purse right now. It comes out September 28th."
KW: Which song is your favorite?
QL: "It's hard to say because they're very different. But my favorite would
probably be Simply Beautiful. Al actually sings on the song, too. Reverend
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