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May 2006
OVER THE HEDGE - An Exclusive Interview with Wanda Sykes

OVER THE HEDGE - An Exclusive Interview with Wanda Sykes
By: Noro Ejaita

As one of the few black actresses in the business who’s also a comedian, Wanda Sykes continues to entertain her audience with her wit and sense of style. Not only does she act in films but has made guest appearances on TV series such as “Will and Grace” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and continues to do some stand-up shows when time permits. Last seen on the big screen with Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda in “Monster In-Law”, Sykes has a slew of upcoming films including “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” with Uma Thurman, “Clerks II” with Rosario Dawson, “Evan Almighty” with Morgan Freeman, and another animated film, “Barnyard” with Danny Glover. Sykes loves the animation world so much that she recently did some voice work on “Brother Bear II” and “The Adventures of Brer Rabbit”, which were released on DVD. Sykes will next be seen in the Dreamworks animation film, “Over The Hedge”, which also stars Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, William Shatner, and many others. In the film, Sykes plays Stella the skunk who helps RJ (Willis) pull off one last food caper. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Sykes goes her role as Stella the skunk as well as her upcoming projects.

What was it about the role of Stella that attracted you the most?

WS: It was hard at first to find Stella and to give her a voice, because I never wanted it to seam like oh there’s Wanda Sykes. I wanted to really give her a distinct character. It took a while and I really had to think about it. One thing about Stella is that she has a lot of attitude but I had to figure out why – why she was angry. Once I got there I was able to have a reason for Stella’s anger and could ground her in some kind of humanistic way.

In this film, your character Stella the skunk is ultimately forced to alter her physical appearance in an attempt to seduce a spoiled housecat. What advice would you give to the countless numbers of women who feel they need to alter their appearance in an effort to find companionship?

WS: I think one can learn from Stella, she goes thru a make-over, but she does it not to get companionship - she does it for her family. When Stella gets all dolled-up it does essentially boost her self-esteem, but what I love about it is that Stella ends up still being who she really is. The cat is resistant to her at first, but she still asserts who she is, and that cat was attracted to that. I would just tell woman to be yourself, be happy with who you are, find your inner peace your happiness and once you’re happy then you open yourself up to allow someone else to come in. But if you are unhappy all the time then you shut yourself down.

How do you approach a character?

WS: I try to think about why is this character in the movie. If you take her out of the movie would it make a significant difference? What is she bringing to the movie?

Given your comedic background was there any opportunity to improv with the script?

WS: Yes, actually all of us did. We all got to improve. We were aware to expect changes throughout the process because the script kept changing. We would record and then they would call you back in again and they would change everything around, but early on yes we did get to play around a lot.

It’s been a busy year for you. What are some of the projects that you are currently working on?

WS: I’m currently working with Morgan Freedman and Steve Carrel in Evan Almighty, recently wrapped up my Super-girlfriend, Clerks II, Brother Bear II and Barnyard.

Wanda you are currently one of the steadiest working black actresses/comics in Hollywood. How does it feel to be carrying the torch for so many other black actresses/comics?

WS: Wow, I guess I really don’t think of it like that. Maybe it would be too much pressure if I did think of it like that. I wish I could say I had this master plan, and say ok, I’m gonna do this project, then I’m gonna move over here. I just go day to day and if something comes up my agent will ask me if I want to read it, and I say yeah sure, and if it appeals to me, then I’ll go ok yeah sure I’ll be a part of it. But I am so aware that I am very fortunate to be working with such talented people, and then I think wow, how did I end up here, I do think that sometimes. But I guess I just look at it as I want to keep doing projects that speak to me or that I find funny.

What do you think it is that distinguishes you from so many other comics/actors?

WS: Well I’m a comedienne first, I started in stand-up and I love doing stand-up and that’s where my roots are, I think because I have that I am able to be a little choosey with the work that I do because I know that I can always go out on the road and do stand-up and make a living - and be happy about it. And I guess people find me appealing because I am accessible. They like the down to earth realness of me. I’m not really “Hollywood” and I don’t get caught up in that. I think that’s what people enjoy.

You have worked closely with so many different personalities from Larry David to Chris Rock to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. How do you as an actress adjust to working on such diverse projects with such varying personalities?

WS: My secret - I don’t adjust. I feel like when you hire me whether it’s for TV. movie or even a benefit when you hire me you pretty much know what you’re gonna get. If you expected something else you’re going to be really disappointed. But tone wise for instance I’m not the same person on Julia’s show as I am on Larry’s show.

Is there a dream role that you haven’t played yet?

WS: I am sure there is but I haven’t figured it out yet. I like to be challenged. But I know it will be funny. I don’t see me not doing comedy. That’s where I am comfortable. And the great thing about comedy is you can have moments of drama. It allows you to go to those places, but I love making people laugh.


Early in your career did you have any role models?

WS: As a little girl I remember seeing Ma Mabel (?) and thinking she was great; and I loved the Carol Burnett show. We had all these great variety shows growing up. And of course Richard Pryor is the comedy God. There is nobody even close to Richard Pryor. And Whoppie Goldberg. I really love how Whoppie never put herself in a box with her career. She can go from The Color Purple to Sister Act. Whoopee didn’t limit herself to a black woman. She could be in Jumpin Jack Flash or and do roles made for a man, woman or any race and I love that about her.

Is there a particular challenge that you are facing right now in regards to any of the roles that you are working on?

WS: What I am working on now – Evan Almighty - this is a challenge. I don’t want to do the same thing I did in Monster in Law. When I accepted this gig and I met with the director we talked about that. I don’t want to keep doing these lateral moves. So that’s a challenge, not wanting to do the exact same thing over again.

OVER THE HEDGE opens on May 19th, 2006




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