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October 2004
Taxi: An Interview with Queen Latifah

Taxi: An Interview with Queen Latifah

By Wilson Morales

What's a girl to do when she's having so much fun? Keep basking in the glory, I would say. From her Oscar nomination for Chicago to the blockbuster hit, "Bringing down the house", Queen Latifah has been on a hot streak as of late. People just want to see her do her thing, and that is to either make you laugh, or cry, in a good laughing way. In her last three films (Scary Movie 3, Barbershop 2, and The Cookout), she just did a cameo appearance but it was still good enough to for her to be a draw. With "The Cookout" she produced that film and the opening week's numbers were impressive. Now she's back to entertain you once again in a film starring her and Jimmy Fallon, formerly of Saturday Night Live. In "Taxi", Latifah plays Belle, a cabdriver whose vehicle gets taken from her when she helps out a bumbling cop trying to solve a heist cast. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Queen Latifah talks about what led her to do this film, her fascination with cars, and working with NYPD Blue's Henry Simmons, who plays her boyfriend in the film.

After the "Chicago" nomination, you must have gotten lots of offers. So, what attracted you to do this role?

Queen Latifah: Just a juicy little idea of driving, running around, having fun and doing something that is action-comedy. It's really my first action-comedy, so I get to do the Eddie Murphy thing here and get physical and actually do something than just laugh with the lines, so I like when I get the opportunity to do physical things.

Can you describe your driving in real life?

QL: I'm a great driver. California highway patrol might disagree but I disagree with them, strongly.

Are you a fast driver?

QL: Yeah, I can drive fast. It's true. It's not my fault. My dad was a cop, so he drove like a cop all the time. He never stopped. He took us on a highway in New Jersey called Route 78, before it opened. It was a crisp fresh highway with an XKE Jaguar that did 160 miles an hour. I'm all of 5 years old, my brother was like 7, and my mother never knew until we got older and she couldn't kill anybody. He went up to 130 miles on that car, and we were like, "Go Daddy, go." We were always these little speed demons. I guess it's in the blood.

What are you driving now?

QL: I have a few cars. The fastest car is the Astin-Martin. I also have bikes too.

How much of the driving did you get to do in this film?

QL: I got to do a good amount of driving. Of course, some of the major stunts, they had to do. Some of it I think was not my fault, it was just too dangerous to do. They weren't going to let me do them. It's very taxing work to do your stunts. If they would have let crash into the hospital at the end, I really would have loved to do that one. Crashing through things is more fun than just driving. Driving fast is cool. They knew I could drive so they let me pull up and do some things. Some of the stuff was also computer generated and some stuff was just dam impossible. If the computer, then I dam sure can't. We had great directors. We had the guy that did "Mission Impossible" and "X-Men", and they knew what they were doing so I just followed their lead.

You did a lot car acting as well.

QL: Yeah, it's weird, but what are you going to do. You have it make it look believable. I just tried to imagine myself actually doing that stuff and how fun it would and in between takes, me and Jimmy are cracking jokes, so the energy is always there. Never had a problem with the energy cause that was always a good thing. We're just two silly people and we killed time very well.

That's the trick in this film because on camera your characters are supposed to hate each other, so the chemistry has to work off camera first to make it look good when actually shooting.

QL: I feel sorry for anyone who's on that actor's "Don't speak to me, I'm in character." thing. It's boring and you would miss on the best parts of Jimmy cause the best parts are what you can't hear on TV and in movies. We just went there. Some of it was just fun. The scene where he's trying to get out of that parking space; like we literally spent an hour more than we needed to be on that scene, but it got to be so funny after a while. He was just smashing me up in that car. It started off with little bumps, but then he started gasing it. He was throwing my ass around in that car, but it was funny to me. It wasn't like, "Ouch, you're hurting me!" It was like, "Ouch, funny". If that makes sense, but we just had a really good time.

How was his singing?

QL: He is a sort of falsetto soprano. It was a cool song. We shot that scene so late which was hysterical. We were so tired that Jimmy taught me the wonders of "Grande Soy Latte". I hope I said it correctly. I don't speak coffee but I'm learning. Boy, those Starbucks runs came in handy that night because we were just out of it. We missed each other when we had to go home and sleep. We then each other the next day and it's like your best friend in kindergarten.

How was working with Henry Simmons?

QL: It was great. Working with Henry was a dream. He's cool guy. I though he was the perfect person to play my boyfriend in this movie. Of course I had the approval of those sorts of things, but he was the best man for the job. Depending on what the role is, I'm no short girl, so you got to be able to hold a girl like me. You can't come slouching and soft with me. You got to be able to grab and Henry was the one to do it and he was sweet and fun and he smelled good and he has nice soft lips and it was good. He was fun and he played that frustration so dam well. He was going crazy and his character is going bananas throughout the film. He just can't seem to get my attention. It was a good role reversal I thought.

Did you get to talk to Director Tim Story about ad-libbing some of your scenes so that you can be yourself or feel comfortable in the role?

QL: No. and I hope not. After watching the performance, I see the performance. I don't really watch dailies, but when I saw the screening when it was all cut together, I saw a performance and I enjoyed it. I didn't really feel like I was watching Queen Latifah. I was there. I was in the movie, so I'm hoping people who are watching it feel the same way. When you play a character that has some of my own qualities, it's kind of hard to 86 them. It's hard for me to want to do that because people want to see some of that stuff from me and personality to come through this character a little bit. Not so much that you feel that you are watching Queen Latifah, but I felt that you were watching my character Belle in the movie and I hope that's what people take from it.

Are you a NASCAR fan and if so, can you talk about the scene at the end?

QL: With my man, Jeff (Gordon)? That was the epitome. I was so happy we got him and he's so cool too, little guy though. A snappy dude, but he was good. He came with his racing team and I thought I had a cool car because they bought a racing car and it's all taxi-ed out with stickers from banks. I took it out on the set and burned out some spins, so the guys could see if I can do it. They had me do a practice run. I thought I was cool and good, but Jeff comes in with sick car, and starts his engine and blows mine out. That's a real NASCAR right there. His team was really and they enjoyed being a part of this and bringing their cars out and having their guy be in the film. He was cool. I love NASCAR.

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