Paula Jai Parker’s Flow Is No Hustle

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Paula Jai Parker was born in Cleveland on August 19, 1969. The pretty, butter pecan performer has been working in Hollywood practically since the day she graduated from Howard University, embarking on a career which has already spanned more than 20 films and 10 television series. She made her feature film debut in Friday, playing Ice Cube’s girlfriend in that outrageous comedy.

Among other blockbusters on her resume’ are  Phone Booth, She Hate Me, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, My Baby’s Daddy and High Crimes. On the small screen, Paula enjoyed a recurring role on The Wayan Bros. and has also appeared on Roc, Cosby, the Shield, NYPD Blue, The Parent ‘Hood, Touched by an Angel and The Shield. Here, she talks about her latest role as a prostitute in the controversial new picture Hustle & Flow.

BSN: How did you hear about this movie?

PP: Basically, everyone in the cast and myself have been friends since, like… Anthony [Anderson], Taraji [Henson] and I went to college together. So, I’ve known them since I was 18. Elise [Neal] and I grew up, coming up in the game together. I’ve known her since, like, ’93, since we graduated college. Then, I’ve known Terrence [Howard] for, like, 5, 6 years, John [producer John Singleton] for 11. So, I went to John, like, “Hey, dude, why haven’t I been, you know, I don’t know about this project. Are you going to tell me about this project? Is there anything in this project for me?� and he was like, “You are this project! Just chill out and don’t trip.� That’s how he treats me.

BSN: Were you at all uncomfortable about taking this role as Lexus, a stripper and prostitute?

PP: When he sent me the script, I read it and I was kind of like, I’d really, you know, it was like, okay, wait a minute, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, from Shaker Heights. I know I play these roles, because I’m an actress.  But in reality, I didn’t get it.

BSN: Get what?

PP: Like the whole parking lot pimping and the whole Memphis music scene. I really didn’t understand it, coming from my suburban background. So, my mental couldn’t get a grasp around Hustle & Flow. That’s when I was introduced to [Director] Craig Brewer, this chubby white boy.

BSN: How did he help you?

PP: I tell this story because he it’s so hilarious to me. Craig was, at the time, maybe, like, 200 pounds, and this little, chubby white boy. And I’m, like, “Okay, where is the director?� And this little Pillsbury doughboy’s sitting here. And I’m like, “Oh my God! You’re like so friggin’ dope.� You know what I’m saying?

BSN: Yep.

PP: I’m like, “You wrote this? You’re the guy that called? Wait a minute.� And so, he starts talking to me about his vision and his dream, and how it developed. And I’m just feeling all this passion. I’m really a spiritual person. I work off of what I feel versus what I see, because I know I don’t understand vision. He could’ve explained what it was about all day long, and I’d a been daydreaming about getting a pair of shoes somewhere. So, I knew to trust. And that’s how I’ve taken every single role that I’ve ever had in my life. It’s just trusting God, to know that whatever He has planned for me, I can’t get away from it, so I may as well ride the roller coaster of life. So, basically, I got involved with this project through trusting and Craig’s passion. That’s how I got Lexus.

BSN: Did you have second thoughts after landing the role?

PP: Once I got the part, I got scared. I got cold feet because everybody in town was, like, “Yo, you’re doing this character in Hustle & Flow. Are you up on it?� Everybody was like, “Oh my God! Are you’re doing this?� At this point, I’m still allowed to pull out, because all my people are saying to me, “It’s cool to get the offer, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it. You’ve been a hoochie in this movie, and a hoochie in that movie. A Hoochie! Hocchie! Hoochie!�

BSN: Are you concerned about being typecast or the image you’re presenting here?

PP: You know, it’s a reality. It’s not like I’m playing some woman that I just pulled out of the crevice of my toe or something. These people exist. And I don’t have a problem paying homage to reality, because I don’t feel stagnated. Like I said, I am from the suburbs of Cleveland. So, if I play a ghetto hoochie, it’s okay, because I’m not that. So, it’s not like, next year, I’m not going to do anything but a ghetto hoochie. I’m saying that because the world is so broad. I don’t have to feel afraid to play a part. You know what I mean?

BSN: Yep. Did you talk to another actress about the role?

PP: I know this sounds like I’m name-dropping, but I kind of was a little scared until Taraji got me in a corner at a party that Gabrielle Union had. Taraji grabs me and makes a beeline to a corner and sits me down. We go way back. I took her to her first Hollywood party. So, for her to come to me, sit me down, and look me in the eye, I had to trust her when she said, “Look, Sis, I know you’ve been a hoochie before, but if you’re ever going to be a hoochie again, this is the hoochie to be.� And then Anthony called saying the same thing. He’s my boy. Anthony don’t care about, hey, you know, whatever. “I got mine!� But for him to extend himself to make sure that I understood exactly what was going on meant a lot to me. So, Taraji held my hand through the process, saying “Don’t be afraid, it’s okay, Sis.� So, for me to come in and uplift her was just a blessing, because I’ve been trying to work with her since we got in the game. I know that was a long drawn-out answer, so I hope I answered some other questions up in that.�

BSN: Have you ever been in a really bad relationship like your character?

PP: “Yeah, that was in college. And it literally made me want to commit
suicide. But honestly, aren’t we all pimps. Somebody’s got to be a pimp and a ho in every relationship. So, I think I got pimped. I didn’t know that guys could break your heart. I thought that the girls did all the breaking up.

BSN: Did you at least grow from the experience?

PP: My favorite professor said to me, “You’ll never know who you are as an actress, until you get your heart broken.� Honestly, I think that’s what has made me as strong as I am. It really made me a woman in so many ways, because I finally realized, number one, that sisterhood ain’t about no nigger, and that being a woman ain’t about no man, either. And when I say “nigger,� I mean men. It’s just a colloquialism. I’ve taken control of a word that someone tried to use to control me. It’s just a friggin’ word, unless you like saying “bitch.� Bitch is a word. Yes that’s my story. That’s my secret ingredient, pain.


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