August 2001
Don’t Tell Sistah-Girl that She Can’t Carry A Movie : An Interview with Vivica A. Fox

Interviewed by Midas

Don’t Tell Sistah-Girl that She Can’t Carry A Movie : An Interview with Vivica A. Fox

Vivica A. Fox is on the frontlines and the enemy is Hollywood. The evil forces from La-La Land would have you believe that an African American woman cannot carry a film. The problem is that someone forgot to tell Ms. Vivica. In one of the most demanding roles for the actress, she takes on the role of Shante. It might be one of her best efforts, if not the best job she has done in her acting career. She is the focus in a script written for her acting talents and because of this she takes on a large part of the responsibility for the final product. This is her baby and if the powers-that-be take her down it is not going to be without a fight. Is Hollywood ready to rumble? They better recognize that sistah-girl is strong in this flick and may be the catalyst for a whole new genre of film that has sistahs carrying movies. In this interview, a tired and battle weary Fox reveals her pride in this film and her responsibility to give African Americans positive images.

M: This film was developed with you in mind. Is this the first for you?

VF: Yes.

M: How does it feel?

VF: I didn’t even know and I turned down the movie three times. That is what’s even more funny because originally the first couple of drafts that they sent me there were certain things that I wasn’t satisfied with. Having a male writer, at first he was giving you sex, sex, sex and all that. Then another project that I wanted to do fell through. So I had lunch with the producer, Clint Culpepper and he then set up a screening for me of the movie The Brothers. He said, I promise you it will be quality and I’ll take care of you. I said OK let’s give it a go as long as I have creative input concerning script changes that are uncomfortable to me and you let me assist in some of the casting. I was really involved and that was a win-win situation for me so how could I not take the role?

M: So in assisting in casting, who were some of your main choices?

VF: Wendy, Tamala, and actually Anthony Anderson helped cast Mo’Nique. They already had Anthony in mind, so that had already come together. On Bobby Brown they asked me how I felt about him. Actually, he came in and auditioned for the role of Keith and I was shocked that he came and auditioned for that role. We knew he was not going to be Keith because we already had Morris for that. They asked me if they thought he could be one of the other characters, and I said go for it. When they told me that they were considering him for the character that is busted and gets cleaned up, I thought that would be good for him.

M: One of the most interesting aspects of your character is how she talks right to the camera. Was that difficult for you to do?

VF: Yes, and I fought them all the way believe it or not. Now it has turned out to be something that was really good. I honestly had not seen it done successfully since “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Clint took me to his office and said, “Vivica, it can be done.” In the first cut, it was double what you saw. We took out half of them. He showed me “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and he said that I was going to be moving and that made it easier. He told me when I talked to the camera to pretend that I was talking to my girlfriends. Bring them into the experience of what Shante is going through. So that made it a lot easier.

M: Is that different from when the camera does a close up?

VF: Oh sure, even if you are doing a close up you have already done your master so you’ve built in your reaction of what happened there. There is a person on the other side of the camera. In this case, you have to trust your instincts. You have to trust your dialogue and that they are shooting it well. You have to trust that it is not going to come off corny or irritating. So we gave it a try and the first screening they showed me, I was pleasantly surprised.

M: It has been done before with Shirley Valentine. It makes the audience your confidant.

VF: Yes, I love her. I saw it in Europe when I was shooting with Cuba Gooding Jr. I like that word. Confidant, I am going to use that all day today.

M: The first rule of acting is to ignore the camera. Does this approach make this more difficult?

VF: Sure, but once I made the decision to talk to it as a friend it made it a lot easier. When I saw Shirley Valentine’s movie it was so good. I honestly forgot about it. What I thought was funny was how the other characters would ask her who she was talking to. We actually wanted to do that with the waiter, but we shot the film in 5 weeks. We shot it in 29 days and I worked 28. We were doing 5-7 scenes a day. It was tough.

M: Is Vivica like Shante?

VF: 75% of her, 75-80% of her. Shante is a lot like Vivica in that she is very professional. When I am with my girlfriends I am like sister-girl.

M: Are you the strong centered one?

VF: In my group, yes, because I have a husband. I am not out there anymore (laughter).

M: Prior to your marriage, were you the strong centered one?

VF: Prior to that? Well, let me think about that. I wasn’t an advice giver. I had a friend named Kelli and I would call my dad.

M: What do you like about Shante?

VF: A lot. That she was professional. Everybody thought that she had it all together, that she thought she had love figured out and yet she was vulnerable. It showed that love can make you do some crazy things and she got her face cracked and then you end up rooting for her and Keith to get back together. You hope in the end that they can overcome the BS and just love each other. You kind of root for her. She wasn’t so perfect. Originally, she perfect and I was like you have to crack her face. If you don’t how are you going to root for her?

M: Talk about how you assembled the female cast members, especially Mo’Nique’s “ghetto fabulous” character.

VF: I came up with that term in the movie, even though it’s a popular expression. I did not want the girls to be perfect, I did not want them all to be these skinny little things. Because I hate the view in Hollywood that every woman has to be a size 1 or size 2. I also wanted to show that a big girl could be sexy and she likes to get her groove on. I don’t think we see enough of that. So that was important for her to be sexy, to be proud of her size, for her to be comfortable and for her to have a sex life. We were truly blessed to have Mo’Nique and Anthony because they were perfect comic relief. Me and the other guy. Me and the other guy? I mean me and Morris. I have been talking too much about him haven’t I? We were the straight guys and they were good people to play off.

M: What role did you have in casting Anthony?

VF: They already had him in mind because they saw him in Kingdom Come. They did not want to cast two good-looking guys in the role. I was trying to get an Out All Night reunion. I was like get Dwayne.

M: Anthony does get a lot of the laughs and he does direct attention towards his character. I was wondering if on the female side if there was consideration in giving those characters more comedic punch?

VF: He definitely does get a lot of the laughs. Obviously, in dealing with the female characters you’re dividing jokes up among 4 characters. But I do love that you have a “baby Shante” that was Wendy and she was there to learn. Then we had our young baby, which was Tamala. And then there was Ms. Ghetto Fabulous and then we had Ms. Bitch. Together, they helped Shante’s story move along.

M: Was the portrayal of these women a concern for you?

VF: Oh yeah! It was a concern and it was a concern for the producer. He wanted to show the girls as friends and he wanted to show Shante’s life outside of the office. What she is like when she heads home. We wanted to show another face. That’s what attracted me to the script, once we worked all the kinks out.

M: When your girls get together in the movie, it is reminiscent of “Sex in the City.” Especially the scene where you are sitting around the table, can you talk about that?

VF: They cut some of the stuff that we said. (Laughter) They were like you guys got too nasty.

M: You said earlier that the film had some raunchy parts, but the film we saw was rather sweet natured. What was raunchy about the film originally?

VF: They cleaned it up. Like there was a scene where Shante is getting eaten out on the desk in the office. I was like that wasn’t that’s not going to happen. He’s doing what in the office and then he has a meeting afterwards? I don’t think so.

M: Why do male filmmakers seem to go that way? It seems to me that they alienate part of the market.

VF: The imagery is terrible. That was another goal of mine in this movie, to show black love as beautiful. I was so sick and tired of all the negative imagery. I was tired of that shoot ‘em up and calling women bitches and hoes. That wasn’t going to happen in my film. I get told by a lot of mothers that I am a role model and I wear that hat proudly. That’s why I pass on a lot of roles.

M: Clearly, you had to fight for changes. What’s the rationale for films that portray African Americans so poorly?

VF: First, the writers wrote it and it is part of their vision. If no one has the power to say you shouldn’t be doing that and you should be concerned with your female audience they won’t change it. Sex sells and until someone challenges that formula you will continue to see films that do not portray African American women in a positive light. Even for our African American men. We have seen so many hood movies and my question is what’s next? Move on. Hollywood is attracted to these films because they think they make money. I fought for a lot in this movie and I am glad I had the power to do so. That’s why it is important for this movie to work so we can alter this trend.

M: This film seems to have the power to transcend racial, sexual, and generational boundaries. What made you aware that it could do that?

VF: I have worked on films that crossed boundaries. “Soul Food” did that. There were positive images and people could take their daughters and whatever. There was a universal tone. The audience was above the idea of not relating to the film because of the color of their skin. We were influenced by “Sex in the City” and the relationship of the girls. We’re grateful to Ms. Sarah Jessica Parker for making America more comfortable with discussing a woman’s sexuality.

M: What’ next?

VF: Juwanna Man a basketball comedy that’s kinda like “Tootsie” meets the WNBA. It’s about a Dennis Rodman character who gets thrown out of the NBA and loses all of his riches and he has to go to the WNBA. Its Miguel Nunez and I play a basketball player.

M: Do you have any game?

VF: Oh, I have a little bit of game. I was a little rusty and I was really rusty especially when they brought in the real WNBA players. I am glad that their league is doing well and it is another example of positive images.