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February 2005
Diary of a Mad Black Woman: An Interview with Kimberly Elise

Diary of a Mad Black Woman: An Interview with Kimberly Elise

By Tonisha Johnson

In the last few years, Kimberly Elise has been featured in some prominent films. With less than 10 films to her credit, Elise starred in two films with Denzel Washington, most recently The Manchurian Candidate, and has headlined an indie film, Woman Thou Art Loosed. Now she's set to headline another indie film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which is based on the hit play by Tyler Perry. Elise plays a woman scorned who's set to get her self-esteem back. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Kimberly spoke about what attracted her to the film and working with the legendary Cicely Tyson.

So what was it about this movie that grabbed you?

Kimberly Elise: Well, there were a lot of things that attracted me to this project. As an actor, it was a great opportunity to take a character all the way, through a complete transition and have a complete arc, versus supporting and servicing other people's storyline. So that was fun. Also to be required to go through a full array of emotions with her from the sadness to the anger to the glee to the falling in love and all of that in one movie - its six movies, its six emotional movie experiences in one. I was looking for something lighter. You know, give the spirit a little rest. What better than to play opposite a man dressed as a woman and lighten thing up?

Had you seen any of the plays before?

KE: No. I didn't know Tyler. I didn't know any of Tyler's work or anything. I've seen it now. I've seen it like 20 times. So when I first got the script, it was kind of scary. I was like, A guy dressed as a woman? That's not funny. I don't get it. It wasn't until I sat down with Madea, basically, and we all sat around and read the script. I couldn't make it through the script without absolutely dying. Tyler's so different than Madea. He's like, "I'm so happy you're here. It's so nice to meet you. I really respect your work." I was like, okay. And then when he gets into character. It was just startling. And he played three characters at one time, and I couldn't make it through the script. I was laughing so hard, and I was like, Okay, you got me. I'm in, I'm in. It's been pretty amazing.

Tyler does wonderful improvisation on stage. What was it like in front of the camera? Do you have no idea what he might throw at you?

KE: Well, yeah. We would do a lot of takes and during a take; he would find something and probably put it in the next take. I would find things too. He stuck to the text quite a bit. But as he got going, he'd ask for like one take where he could be free, he could just be free. He would just go and then this brilliance - there would just be this brilliance coming out of him. He would get this brilliance just out of him. You'd just sort of fit in. But the best thing is just to let him do his thing.

You stated you were after something lighter, but then you're

KE: Well, with her, you just want her to just do what she needs to do. So for me to put back so much and knowing who I am, it was great to - Tyler's brilliant. You know, we talked about her being a certain way in the beginning and being super strong and all this stuff. But then she wouldn't have anywhere to go. The movie would end. She could have beat Steve in the beginning. So that would have been the end of the movie. And also what was great for me as an actor also was playing different levels. When you're sustaining a character throughout a film, you can't always be here. You have to sort of find the different levels and variations. So that was fun. And playing with silence and eyes and all of that in one journey was really fun for me.

This film and Woman, Thou Art Loosed both have very spiritual undertones. Do you think it has carry-over from Passion of the Christ, or that Hollywood could make a message from these films?

KE: Hollywood definitely responds to money and Passion made a lot of money. But we made our film before Passion even came out, Woman Thou Art Loosed. So nobody knew what that was going to be or even knew it was happening. So ours was in the can before that even came out. We certainly weren't inspired by that, or Hollywood didn't help us because of that. I think there's definitely just in the energy of the planet, there's a need for something greater, something more needful, something deeper, and it seems to be coming this way. You know, something more than aliens and blowingup. I think everybody's longing for something more, even in entertainment. As long as these films are being written with the proper intention like Diary was and like Woman was, where it's not money motivated, they will work. They will succeed, because I think audiences can feel that. But once they start generating these because they see that they make money, and the message is false and the energy is false, audiences something on a spiritual level, you can just feel if it's real or not, and - whether they're trying to get your money or whether they're trying to feed you. So as long as it stays pure, it will keep working. But it's not going to stay pure for that long, I'm afraid.

Was there any part of you, once Helen became empowered and strong that wanted her to be single and happy again? Or was Orlando too good to pass up?

KE: I think that in a good relationship you are allowed to maintain your individuality and I think that with Orlando, she'll be able to have that and that he'll want her to have that. Even if they get married or whatever, he's going to want her to fly and show his love for her in that way, because it's just going to make her more beautiful and a better wife and a better mother and all of those things. There's nothing wrong with having a good man with you and also having your individual self. And I think that's what she'll have. That's my dream for her

How does Tyler create such convincing female characters?

KE: Because the woman that Madea is a compilation of so much in our community. And not just black communities. I'm sure there are versions of Madea in every community. So he was surrounded between family and friends and neighbors. He absorbs things. And that's what makes his work work so well, because you see stuff that you never really consciously paid attention to. But there you see it, and that cracks you up.

You're awfully forgiving in the end. Would you be able to forgive him in real life?

KE: For me, I would actually. The thing is, you forgive but you don't forget. You know, that whole experience was a lesson in life. First, she got out of it and didn't lose her entire life to it. She could forgive him, because you have to. For me, I understand that. I'm mature enough to know that if I live with this hate and anger, it's just going to swallow me up and they're going to be just fine. So and I don't want to devote my life to that. So you can forgive and you can - it doesn't mean you have to chat on the phone all the time and have Thanksgiving together and be pals. But you release it and go on. So I think that I could definitely do that and will do that.

Who are your role models?

KE: Well, Cicely Tyson of course. She continues to be my North Star and my gauge when I get a script. I ask if Cis [Cicely] would do this, and she'll tell me in my head and that helps me know. I didn't have any acting role models. There weren't any performers in my family and I really had to find my own way in that.

What's a dream role for you?

KE: None specifically. I really don't think that way. It's more about, with each one, I want it to be different in some way, a step up in some way, a challenge in some way, so hopefully this was something completely different than Woman Thou Art Loosed, so that was a great part for me. It was next dream part. I wanted something lighter, something completely different, something fun and romantic but also it had a dramatic tinge to it and all of that - and I got it! So next time, I'll want something different from this.

We lost Ossie Davis. What do you feel will be the impact for Hollywood of this?

KE: That's the really wonderful thing about our elders is that they were really about something. I think that that's something that's missing today. So many people aren't really about anything other than the external in a very selfish way. I think that our elders lived so selflessly, and weren't afraid to put themselves on the line, their career, the public opinion and all of this, for the larger good. I think there's way too much political correctness and fear of damage of "my star" and all of this. Hopefully, you know it had to be the right person. It has to be the chosen one, to come forward and carry on and do the types of things like Beah Richards, and Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee and Cicely Tyson - so many - have done, and still maintain artistic integrity and respect, but also make change in the world. Somebody like Danny Glover is doing that. He really is doing more. He's using his celebrity to do good for the world. He gets knocked for it a lot of times, but it doesn't stop him, it doesn't deter him, and he still does great work and he gets everyone in the theatre and gives us a good show. So, hopefully, the right people will surface and carry on in that manner.

Do you think our elders are more outspoken because they faced more obstacles?

KE: I think basically what you're asking is do we - does this generation take things for granted? Definitely. Where as it was very hard to come by and every little step was tremendous and there was far less crabs in the barrel. You know, when I listen to Beah Richards talk about sitting around the table with all these actresses and activists there's definitely that that happens more than with our elders. And it's going to hurt us all if it continues in that way. Because the reason we are where we are is because they came together and pushed each other up. "Let me cast you." "Let's write something together." "Let me give you the money to do that " And that's why we are where we are.

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