Not Mad At All

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This is an interactive movie. Yell, scream, get mad, cheer. We love it, that's what we want. There were places where Tyler said, 'After you do such and such, pause, because there's going to be laughter, and we need to leave space for that.' He knows. He just knows. And so, I would do that and just find a way to hold the beat to allow for laughter or so they could make comments before the next line. We made it for the people, and want them to go out there and give it up.

Although she wasn't nominated for an Oscar, Kimberly Elise had almost as good a year in movies as Jamie Foxx in 2005. First, the talented 31 year-old thespian from Minneapolis held her own opposite Academy Award-winners Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep in the riveting remake of "The Manchurian Candidate." Then, she delivered an unforgettable, Oscar-quality performance as a troubled, sexual abuse victim in "Woman, Thou Art Loosed."

Now, with Diary of a Mad Black Woman the versatile actress makes the most of an opportunity to expand her repertoire further. For in this bittersweet romantic comedy, she plays the title character, a bourgy, just-jilted housewife forced by her philandering, lawyer husband (Steve Harris) to move out of their lavish suburban mansion after 18 years of marriage. Here, she weighs in with some thoughts about her latest role as Helen, and of the opportunity to work with her childhood idol and friend, Cicely Tyson.

BSN: Where did you find your inspiration for Helen?

KE: "I really don't draw upon anything or anyone in my personal life when I do my characters. It's on the page, it's in the journey. And as long as I go into the situation open, and really feeling the character, it comes. It's something, fortunately, that I have that I can just surrender to and it all comes. And then it helps to have a great actor working opposite you. Steve Harris is, you have to say, is amazing. People think he's really a bad guy, now, and he's such a sweetheart. But he would continually feed me, even before shots. And just stay in his character, and keep just beating me with words. So, when the camera's rolling, it really cooked."

BSN: What was it like to work with Cicely Tyson?

KE: "A dream come true. Really, there aren't too many dreams I have in the acting world. As far as people I want to work with, I kind of just go with it. But it has always been a dream of mine to work with Ms. Tyson."

BSN: Was this the first time you met?

KE: "No, we were friends before we came to the film, a friendship she instigated, she reached out to me and embraced me when I was still very early in my career. I thought it was extraordinary that I got a call from Cicely Tyson."

BSN: So, how did you both come to be attached to this movie?

KE: "We always wanted to do something together, and when the mother part came up I said, 'Well, how about Cicely Tyson?'"

BSN: What was the reaction?

KE: "No one thought she'd do it, but I talked to her before she got the script. I said, 'You have to make your own decision. Do what you want to do. If it's not this one, it'll be something else.'"

BSN: She's been pretty particular about what she appears in. What was her response to doing a comedy?

KE: "She read it and thought about it. And she said, 'Life is going by too fast for me to keep waiting for the right script for Kimberly and me. So, I'm doing this now.' And I'm so glad she did."

BSN: And was it worth the wait? Did it measure up to your dream?

KE: "When we got on set, it felt safe, and comfortable, and familiar somehow. And we just went with it. And it was beautiful."

BSN: How was it being paired with ladykiller Shemar Moore?

KE: "I certainly didn't think that Shemar and I seem like the typical screen couple. It shows the brilliance of Tyler [writer/co-star Tyler Perry] that what makes chemistry work on screen between two people is the spiritual thing. And it doesn't matter what's going on the outside. You can have two super-models together and there's something that just doesn't work. They can look like they should go together, but it's just not mixing. It's a spiritual thing. And Tyler was able to sense something within me and something within Shemar that these two characters are a match. So, when we came together and got to know each other, there was definitely a connection which made it very easy to do what we had to do, and to make it real and believable, and honest."

BSN: Would you characterize this as a love story?

KE: "As far as depicting a love story, I think what's so beautiful about it is that it is romantic, but it's more. It's not so much about wooing me, and bringing me flowers, and saying all the right things. He has a good heart, and he's a very centered man, and he senses the beauty within her. And he's encouraging her to go back and find that, and live that, and be that. Really giving her permission to breathe and live, versus Steve's character who's really suffocating and trying to kill her. And I think that's what a good partner does in real life, they give you oxygen, and inspire you to breathe and be true to yourself, and embrace you on that level. So, it's not an external falling in love, but very much an internal falling in love. That's why I think it's so beautiful to watch."

BSN: Certain African-American films trigger talking to the screen. Is this a good film for that sort of audience participation?

KE: "Yeah, that's part of the experience. This is an interactive movie. Yell, scream, get mad, cheer. We love it, that's what we want. There were places where Tyler said, 'After you do such and such, pause, because there's going to be laughter, and we need to leave space for that.' He knows. He just knows. And so, I would do that and just find a way to hold the beat to allow for laughter or so they could make comments before the next line. We made it for the people, and want them to go out there and give it up. Tyler knows his audience and the beats, but they're still probably gonna miss some jokes."

BSN: Lately, it seems that a lot of Black films have pandered to the lowest common denominator. What do Black actors have to do to find more meaningful roles?

KE: “It’s a whole race effort. We have to have great writers writing great stories that raise the bar to get out of this one block of things that are being created. And then we need for at least one studio to be brave enough to make something different. And then we need the audience to do great work and the audiences to go and support it. All of us working together will help generate more projects and performances that just can’t be ignored.�

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