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December 2006
DREAMGIRLS: An Interview with Beyonce Knowles

DREAMGIRLS: An Interview with Beyonce Knowles
By Wilson Morales

December 11, 2006

With the making of “Dreamgirls” finally coming to fruition and the casting of Beyonce Knowles as Deena, the world will finally see if she has the chops to make it in Hollywood. Outside of MTV’s Carmen: A Hip-Opera, most of her film roles have basically been eye candy to say the least. Playing Deena opposite some heavyweights such as Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy, and being sided with newcomers Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose should give Ms. Knowles the strength to work her acting chops off. Not only is she’s a lead in the film, but she also wrote and sang an original song for the movie called “Listen”. The song is also on her latest CD, Bday, which came out recently. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Ms. Knowles talks about working to land the role, being compared to the Supremes, working with such a wonderful cast, and writing a song for the film.

To what extent do you relate to this character?

Beyoncé Knowles: I definitely can relate to the drive and focus Deena had, especially at a young age and of course I'm in a group, will always be in a group because we're sisters, and became a solo artist but really the parallels stop there. I was so excited about the character because I thought she had the biggest growth. She started out really plain and silly and naïve and Effie protected her and they were all friends and she was from Detroit Projects and grew up with her mother, who she wanted to make proud of her because she was a school teacher and a mother, so she wanted to take care of her mother and take them out of that situation and give them a better life therefore she was willing to be the puppet and she didn't have a father so Curtis was like her father. She didn't have any control and was the lead singer of the group because Curtis felt she was the most marketable back in that time it was very tough to cross over, being African-American, it wasn't because of her voice. Me on the other hand, I grew up with both of my parents, upper-middle class, I went to private school, I don't have a Curtis in my life I write my own songs, I write my own video treatments, I'm in control of my career, I've always been and was the lead singer because of my voice, because of my talent and didn't have the need to become a star because I had a very happy childhood and a very comfortable living so I didn't treat, when Destiny's Child lost on Star Search, I didn't reenact that, when the Dreams lost their talent show, because I went back to a nice house and back to school and Deena went back to the Projects so her need of making it out of there was different from mine and it wouldn't have been smart, playing myself so I really didn't draw on my own experiences, I created new experiences and tried to make sure I wasn't anywhere in the character.

How difficult was the holding back, to sound 'average?'

Knowles: It wasn't difficult because it was a part of the character. It wasn't difficult when they put the eyebrows and the wigs on me because I knew I had to look like a kid and that's part of the character. Out of everything, the singing and being the least glamorous in the beginning was the easiest part. The hardest part for me was making sure that every second I was onscreen, I didn't have a lot of lines, making sure that those moments were important and significant and I could prove to myself and everyone else that I can act because the movies I've done before, I'm proud of them, but I've never had a character that's had as much range and Deena was flawed, Deena was able to show growth and transform so it was exciting for me to finally have a character I could show some of that with.

Were you familiar with the Dreamgirls musical before you were offered the part?

Knowles: Absolutely. A lot of my friends, my choreographer, some of my dancers, they are fanatics. They know every single chord, every routine, everything, obsessed. There are a lot of people, it's like a cult following. That's how I heard about it, I went and bought the soundtrack and imagined what it would have been like to be in the theater because I was born in '81, the year it came out on Broadway but I learned about the bevel (????) because of that, I learned what a Diva was because of Dreamgirls. When I found out they were making a movie, I said, 'I have to be a part of it.' Effie's part is incredible, it would have been so fun to play that but I knew that, Bill didn't even believe me as Deena in the beginning, let alone that. I didn't care that Deena was not the star in the script I just wanted to be a part of the film and a part of something that's so relevant and so exciting and I think history. I think 20 years from now people will still be watching the film.

Loretta Devine and Huston Battle were in the movie, did you meet any of the other Dreamgirls?

Knowles: I met them on the day they came to the set and it was incredibly exciting and I would love to meet the other Dreamgirls because I respect them and know they had a lot to do with developing the play.

Were you surprised how much they made you up to look like Diana Ross?

Knowles: Some of the scenes, when I watched the movie, I did not see me at all, which was what I wanted. Even in my performances, I did not see myself. We don't really look anything alike but it was amazing because we used a lot of the photographs from Diana and the Supremes and also Martha and the Rondelles and Cher and a lot of different people from the 60s and 70s. It was the transformation. I lost the weight, I lost 20 pounds which was really hard because I love to eat and it worked because I really did become someone else on screen.

Do you think Dreamgirls is the story of The Supremes?

Knowles: I don't, I absolutely don't. I think some of it is but I don't think Diana was as weak as Deena

I've heard you say you learned how to act on this film, how so?

Knowles: Yes, absolutely I did. I got the best acting coach, Ivana Chuban and I told her I'm willing to do whatever I have to do. This whole movie was a sacrifice for me. I put six months aside, I've never spent six months recording an album, on doing a tour, on doing a movie, on doing anything, because I'm usually doing too many things so that was a big sacrifice. Financially I only made a fourth of what I made on my last movie. I would have done it for free. I didn't care about that; it was more the experience and me learning to act and finally having a part I kind of had to stretch and really be a student of acting. Every day, even on the weekends, I worked with her. I wanted to make sure, because I couldn't depend on my voice, because Deena's voice was weak, I had something that would captivate everyone, I wanted pain behind my eyes so I would act out the scenes and really be thinking deeper things, a lot of inner dialogue, breaking down every single page, I told her that even the scenes where I don't say anything, those are the scenes I'm really worried about because that's when I really have to do the acting because I don't have anything to express how I'm feeling so I worked with her everyday, cried everyday, even when I didn't have scenes that were sad just so I could have that pain behind me because Deena was in a lot of pain, it was a lot.

What were the exercises?

Knowles: We used pictures, we used music, we used diaries, it was a lot of work.

Jennifer said she looked to you for advice, what support did you give her?

Knowles: When I first met Jennifer I was as scared as she was. Acting is new to me and I knew that she would think that I was comfortable because she'd never met me, she'd only see what people put out in the media. 'Are you scared because I'm terrified. I'm so nervous. I just want you to know that I am, we're scared together and we're going to get through this' I'm naturally a nurturing, motherly type of person and she just reminds me of my girls. She was so new to it and so excited, so honest and so pure it just makes me want to hug her. She had it the toughest because she's never done a movie, she's never done an album and now she's in the biggest movie and has the pressure of the movie to do the song that everyone knows. Kids that are 10 years old know the song and don't even know where from know that song. When I told people I was doing Dreamgirls, no one asked me about Deena, they said, 'Who's singing "I'm Telling You" and is she going to do it right?' And I said, 'She's killing it!' So she had that pressure and she did it and it's amazing. When we were on Oprah and all the people were standing up, I'm seeing this star, her becoming this star before my eyes, it's just so beautiful and I just hope she maintains herself because she's really amazing, she deserves it.

Where does that come from? As you said, she's never done an album or a movie?

Knowles: I don't know. Naturally, God's gift. I just know from being around her, she's just naturally gifted.

How did you survive Jamie Foxx because we all know how he is?

Knowles: I was so happy, because I was nervous. I'd met him before but not as an actor and I knew I had to do scenes with him and I know he has an Oscar and he's incredible so I was nervous. He would say the funniest things to break the ice and will compliment every thing he thought was great - me, Jennifer, Anika and gave us suggestions and made us all feel really comfortable.

Who made the decision to change "When I First Saw You" because it was a duet in the show?

Knowles: Bill Condon.

How did you end up convincing Bill that you were right for the part?

Knowles: I did the screen test. I dressed up, put on the eyebrows and did it. I think they were all really surprised. I also did the scene with Curtis, it was a lot more dramatic, I was bawling and crying but we ended up changing the scene to make it less but I did the screen test.

How much does fear propel you forward?

Knowles: Yeah, I guess it does. I don't have my great performances when I'm not afraid. My best work is when I'm afraid. I have to lose myself completely. When I perform, I have to use that other thing that gets me through it and protects me. I never felt that with acting until this movie. I guess because I wanted it so bad and I really focused on it and took the time to study it, I did have an out of body experience.

Some of those costumes seemed both vintage and modern…

Knowles: I know. With Destiny's Child, we've worn some of those things without knowing it. I really think a lot of the mod dresses and some of the makeup, some of the hairstyles, maybe not the men, but that fashion is already coming back.

Have you had to deal with any Curtis' in your life?

Knowles: Years ago I had that when I became an adult because our first number 1 single was out when I was 15. Around 19, even though I was writing those songs, thank God, we put our first record out and the first single was a number one, the album did okay. We went right back into the studio and wrote our own record and the label didn't really get involved because they didn't think we were going to sell and then it sold some crazy amount so they couldn't really tell us what to do because we did it on our own and thank God that happened because I've never had to fight the record label, they always respected that. But at 18 my father and I, who is my manager, he and I had a different idea of overexposure and I had my "Listen" moment at that point. I think every person has that, one point in their lives when they know who they are and what they want.

How did "Listen" come about?

Knowles: Bill Condon wanted another big number for the second half and he wanted to write an original song and it took a couple of months because there were so many people writing and me sending it back and them sending it back, finally we worked it out and everyone really loved it and I think it's one of the most important ones for my character.

You've had a lot of success very quickly in your career, are you someone that needs a specific sort of validation?

Knowles: I have to be honest, I'm naturally a people-pleaser, which is the worst thing to be in my job because there are too many people in the world. It does affect me. I've gone to critics and asked what they think because I respect them. I want to be good. I want to be respected. Really the quantity of things I do are not that important because I have that already. With this movie I didn't have the biggest role but I knew this movie would be important so I didn't care.

What are you doing next?

Knowles: I don't know yet.

So there's no movie with Eva Longoria?

Knowles: That was a complete rumor. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do next. I want to play the underdog, I want to play not the glamorous role but I also love musicals. I wish Barbra Streisand would have done more, I wish Diana Ross would have done more so I don't want to not sing in movies because it's rare that people are able to mix music and drama together, but I also want to do something grittier I don't know, we'll see when I get the right script but I learned from this movie if I don't feel passion and I don't have that gut feeling about something, I'm not doing it. I don't care what it is, how much money is in it, if it's easy, I'm not doing it.


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