December 2002
Chicago : Respecting the Craft : An Interview with Queen Latifah

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Chicago : Respecting the Craft : An Interview with Queen Latifah

There are a lot of struggling actors out there looking for creative work, or any work in the Hollywood industry. Itís not easy, but sometimes it helps if one has talented skills in other areas. One possible way to get in the business is being able to sing or dance. In the old days of Hollywood, when musicals were the hottest thing, one couldnít get a job if he or she couldnít dance, sing, and act. Queen Latifah is a rapper first, then actor. It was her talents on the mike that got her established, and within time she got some acting gigs (Jungle Fever, Set It Off, Living Out Loud) and her TV show (Living Single). With her multi-talented skills, Queen Latifah has proved to those who care that she takes her craft seriously. In her latest film Chicago, based on the Broadway musical, Queen Latifah plays Mama Morton, the prison warden. This is a role for she just received a Golden Globe nomination. In an interview with, Queen Latifah talks the role and how blessed she feels to be in this business.

WM: Can you talk about the gown in which you first appeared on screen?

QL: I think the best award for cleavage in a musical will go to me. I thank my Grandma for that.

WM: That was an amazing number. Could you see that scene unfold as you read the script and were you at all nervous about doing it?

QL: No, not really. I have to give props to Colleen Atwood and her all team. They really put us together well. They built that Freaking corset and pulled it in. It hurt. They even made our shoes. Everything was costumed made. Everything was as comfortable as it could possibly be considering what we were wearing. I got to have fun with it and not worry about it.

WM: Did you give the actresses tips on lip-synching since youíre like a pro at that?

QL: Well, I just inspired them a bit, you know. I told them to watch me and see how I do it. Actually, there was a guy from Miramax whose sole job was to make sure we got the lip synch right. So, if anything, he drove my ass crazy. I was like, ďDamned, I missed that word?Ē It wasnít too bad because we all sang it so it wasnít like we were trying to mimic someoneís music. It was us doing ourselves.

WM: So, you were singing while the music was going with your taped versions?

QL: For the most part. You had to because if you didnít, it wouldnít look right. Iím not going to lie. I tried to get over once, but it didnít work out. So I belted out every single time, but it got more fun as we did it. Even with atmosphere, and I have to give the extras props, because they had a good time. They were sitting there and enjoying this good thing like we are. We had a lot of fun doing this movie. It was work, but we had fun.

WM: Was the lip synching more disciplined like your music videos?

QL: Yeah, because you always think that you did it one way sometimes, but it actually tends to be a little different. Itís not like rhyming where you rap and write on a beat. This is a little bit free and you get to take some liberties with it. So yeah, it was a little different, but it wasnít that hard.

WM: Did you surprise yourself when you saw the film and realized how good you were in that scene?

QL: Well, no. I always believed in me. I never take a job I donít feel like I can do. Some people take jobs for the money or some take it for the opportunity, but I donít on things I donít think I give a 100% to. I felt I could give a 100% to this movie. I was delightfully surprised at everybodyís reaction. I was actually paying homage to everyone else. Catherine Zeta-Jones was dancing her ass off and I didnít know she could do that. John C. Reilly got me with his song number. I was like, ďWow, Ií m part of something specialĒ. And some of the dancers that are in this movie are from the Broadway production. The things that men and women can do with their bodies amazes me so I was sort of in awe throughout the whole process and really proud of how Director Rob Marshall was handling this whole thing. It could be a big undertaking in his first picture. This guy was rock steady and you trusted yourself in his hands because he was cool about everything and so was his whole team. Heís the director and at the same time he could have you work with one of his assistants and you know that they will do just a good of a job as Rob. He has good people working with him and that was cool.

WM: Were you a fan of the genre?

QL: Yeah. I grew up watching this stuff. I donít even understand why they stop making musicals. If anything, Iím like, ďWhat happenedĒ They look at these numbers and money. Thatís one the things Iím most happy about with this movie. Harvey (Weinstein) loves this movie. Heís passionate about it. Heís not trying to go out and sell it to make $100 million on this thing. If it does that, then that would be great. But itís more about the love to make this movie happen and the passion behind it, and Iím enjoying that. Like they really care about the movie itself not so much about the money. Iím hoping that with success of ďMoulin RogueĒ and I thanked Nicole Kidman just recently for doing their thing because she and Baz Luhrman made it a lot easier for us to do this. And if this film can be successful, then more people can make more musicals. It would be like, ďMonkey see, monkey doĒ. Thatís the Hollywood follow the leader sort of thing. Thereís a lot of talent out here. They will get a chance to work, not just on stage, but in films. Thatís what I like to see. You look at these dancers and theyíre dancing, singing, and acting; and you want to see them work. So, thatís where Iím at with it.

WM: Whatís your overall experience in show business?

QL: You know me. Iím kind of one of those people who loves the opportunity to work and do creative things and do a film thatís different from the last one which is different from the one before that. Iím one of those people who feel like they can do anything if I put my mind to. So youíll never catch me doing one kind of movie, thatís just my thing. Or stay in one kind of music, or just do film not TV or just do TV and not do film. I just love the opportunity to just do different things and try to be creative. Iím not into ďRĒ stuff. Iím not good at peddling myself if that makes sense. Some people are great at selling themselves. Iím too humble for that. Iím still trying to learn. I enjoy it. I feel like itís a blessing like itís a one in a million shot and you have to respect it because there are actors out there who are dying for jobs. I was blessed to get into it through music. To me, it was like, ďRespect what you are doing and try to get better. Respect the craft and do your bestĒ. Iím riding this thing and having a ball. Iím not into the stalker things and invasion of your privacy but it is what it is so Iím just having fun working. Thatís where Iím at.

WM: Did you look at any past performances from the people who played your role on Broadway?

QL: Absolutely not. I went to see the Broadway show but absolutely not. If anything, I didnít want to see anybodyís performance. I didnít want to pattern myself after anyone. I wanted to bring what Queen Latifah brings to the role. If I looked at someone elseís performance, I might have looked at their style and to me that defeats the whole purpose. You might as well go get them. You got me because you wanted me to bring something different to this thing. I took directions from Rob Marshall. Other than that, I didnít study anybodyís work.

WM: With Oscar buzz being talked about for you and the film, what are your feelings towards that and how does it feel to be in the game?

QL: Itís great, but to me, I donít think it should have taken this long for Denzel to get a Best Actor Award. As a black woman, Iím realistic about it and thatís just how it is. I think it would great and I like being part of it. I think itís exciting. I got to perform at the Oscars a few years back in this big musical number and it was great. To be a part of it is very exciting and I think this movie does deserve some. There are people in this film who do deserve to get a nod. But for me personally, Iím looking at it realistically. Iím going to fight for it because Iím going to fight for this movie. I think itís great film and it should be in the race. But me personally, I deal with the reality of the fact that it is hard for an African-American woman to get an Oscar let alone get nominated. I look at it with a grain of salt at the same time.

WM: You have such a great voice. Will you ever do an album just you singing and not rapping?

QL: Iím going to one day. I may do a jazz standard album. Just for fun. Not before I turn 35. I need something to look forward to. I have to have these little goals. Give me a few years and Iíll be ready. I have to make sure I do it right.

WM: Whatís your next film? I hear you did something with Steve Martin.

QL: Yeah, we just a film. As executive producers, we did for Disney called ďBringing Down the HouseĒ. Itís freaking hysterical and funny as well. Iím not just saying this because Iím in it but youíll see the trailers and if you not bursting with laughter when you see it, then I will be highly surprised. But the movie is really funny and itís with good old classic Steve Martin like ďThe Jerk.Ē Eugene Levy has a crush on me in this film and Iím teaching him some slang. Wait until you hear the stuff that comes out of his mouth. He does it so well. Heís so good.

WM: As an artist, is it important to represent where you came from by staying so close to your roots? How do you do that in midst of all this?

QL: Absolutely. I shoveled the driveway at my mother Ďs house when it snowed recently. Thatís how you stay grounded. She makes me walk the dog and take out the trash, so how can I get a big head.