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November 2004
Alfie: An Interview with Nia Long

Alfie: An Interview with Nia Long

By Wilson Morales

In the past few years, there have been a number of young black actresses such as Sanaa Lathan and Gabriel Union who have risen in the Hollywood industry and landed leading roles, but throughout the 90s the one person who had captured the leading roles and starred along with Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Cuba Gooding, Jr. to name a few, was Nia Long. Having a baby in 2000 gave her a chance to be home for a change. She's currently on TV as a regular on "Third Watch" and is back on the big screen with a few movies. In her current film, she plays Lonette, the girlfriend of Omar Epps's character, in the remake of "Alfie", which stars Jude Law in the title role. Blackfilm.com caught up with Nia as she was in town to promote the film and she talked about the attraction to the role as well as luxury of doing a TV show as opposed to waiting for a film role.

What attracted you to this role?

Nia Long: Basically my agent called me and was like, "You have to read this script, it's amazing. Jude Law is going to be a part of the remake of "Alfie" and I want you to read the script and tell me what you think". I read the script and so a couple of days later I met with the director and the writer and I went back three times and then the third time I met with Jude and we met at Charles Shyer's house and then a couple of days later they made the offer.

We are starting to see more of you these days on the big screen. First, you had a small role in "Baadassss!" and now this film; but for some time, you were off the big screen for at least 3 years. Why was the longevity?

NL: Well, I have a little boy that's almost four and I really was focusing on giving him time and spending some time with him and I was just a little bit tired. So I needed a little bit of a break.

So, this is the second time you worked with Omar. Although you didn't have any big scenes together, how was working with him again?

NL: Good. Omar is fantastic. He's amazing.

Did you see the original film?

NL: I did. I saw the original film. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

There's a scene in the film where you and Jude Law are playing this game that sounds intriguing. What's the game called?

NL: It's called "I'd never".

Did you adlib you part in that scene?

NL: A lot of it was written.

You are wearing an afro throughout the film. Was that to make it look retro 60's?

NL: It was that but I think that everything repeats itself and if you go to the downtown village and you hang out at the bar you see women bringing back the afro a lot. You see a lot of the fashion from the 60's and the 70's coming back so it's good. You know, to fix it up a little bit.

What do you make of any guy that has a sort of Alfie personality?

NL: I think every guy has sort of an Alfie quality to them before they're really ready to settle down and get married and make a commitment.

With your next film, "Are We There Yet?" coming out in January '05, are we're going to see you back in more films or are you're just taking it easy at this time because you're also the T.V. show, Third Watch.

NL: No, I've been really busy with these two films coming up. I'm in discussion right now with another film and working on the show, so, I'm back in full swing.

I don't watch show, Third Watch, but I saw the premiere episode of this season and that was some show. That's some episode with all of the violence and drama.

NL: It's pretty intense huh.

So how's the show coming along, and is it fun to do a T.V. show?

NL: It's great to do television. I mean, it's every day you're constantly working. It's amazing. It's the consistency of television and everyday I'm learning something new and different directors have different approaches to our show and I look forward to reading the new scripts to see what I'm doing the next week and it's really fantastic.

Everybody seems to be doing T.V. shows these days. You're on this show and Taye Diggs's doing "Kevin Hill" and I see that Omar is going to be on a TV show as well. Is it because it's more lucrative?

NL: I think with television, actors want to work and I think if you sit around and wait for film roles you set yourself up for disappointment and for me, I like the consistency of it and I also know the fact that I'm not the star of the show. It still allows me to do other things and they're pretty understanding about the situation; like give me the time to come and go off and do other things.

It's great that you're not the star of the show and you know you've been a leading lady for a long time. Is that pressure when you're in a film and you're the leading lady?

NL: No, because I think I always have been. I don't think it's something that I try to do; it's just the road that I've chosen.

What do you think of state of black films today? There have been a lot of films this year and a lot directed by African-Americans, so in a way you can say quantity is up but what about the quality?

NL: I think the quality has gone down personally.

What is it that you would like to see that would get you interested in doing films?

NL: I go to the movies all the time but I just think that filmmakers, and studios need to invest more financing behind urban films and there are some many stories that can be told that are on a higher intellectual level and I don't think we can explore that at all.

When you think of the film "Ray", which is currently out, that's a film that was initially produced independently until a studio picked it up and my first thoughts were, how do you get a story on Ray Charles, a director like Taylor Hackford, and people have told me that no studio wanted to take it first.

NL: Yeah, they were having all kinds of issues, but I heard it turned out great.

Yeah, it's a great film. You have the story of a legend; you have the talent, in which each person can bring at least five million from the audience. How is that studios didn't want to touch it? Are you in a position because you've done enough films right now, and people know who you are that you can help somebody green light films whether it be independent or not?

NL: I don't think so; I don't think any of us are. Those are big shoes to wear because that would be another day at the studio when decisions are made and they have to feel that they are going to make huge numbers back on their investment and I think that a lot of actors are underestimated. I think that we're underestimated and a lot of times you see entertainers, and when I say entertainers I mean singers, dancers, musicians playing actors or taking on acting roles because they know that video side - okay, well if they sold five million records that means that they can also count on them selling that many - filling that many seats in the theater. So it's like they are not willing to take the chance on us. And they will put out the same product over and over again because they know they are going to get the return on their money. So it puts actors like myself in a compromising position because I want to work but I'm not going to sell myself short and get garbage. It's not going to do it.

As I look at your credits, I see that you have worked with a lot of the leading black actors. Is there anyone else out there that you would like to work with?

NL: There are tons of people I'd like to work with. I love Don Cheadle. I would love to work with him.

How do you find time between doing the T.V. show, being a full time mother and doing films? What do you do in your down time?

NL: I find my time to go to the spa, to go to the gym, to go and have dinner with my girlfriends, you fit it in, you learn how to. The most important thing is to create that sense of balance in your life. Because you can't just be one thing, you have to have the ability to do a little bit of everything. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing.

So if someone wants to follow in your footsteps, what would you say to encourage an inspiring actress? What advice would you give anyone who wants in on this business and wants to stay in it?

NL: Be persistent but be clear about what type of career you want.

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