Whoopi meets Wyclef – actress Whoopi Goldberg – Interview
When Whoopi Goldberg says she’s one of a kind, she’s just stating a fact. In her three-decade career, she has proven herself to be above stereotypes and beyond typecasting – a woman of many, many colors. On the eve of her hosting the last Oscars of the century, rapper Wyclef Jean of the Fugees finds out what else is on Whoopi’s warrior mind
As a child growing up In Manhattan, Whoopi Goldberg was exposed to the city’s Jumble of cultures and characters. That climate of limitless possibility and personalities seeded a diverse, distinguished career. She made her debut on New York City stages at age eight and has since starred In everything from one-woman Broadway shows and The Color Purple (1985) to her current stint on TV’s Hollywood squares. On March 21, she hosts the Academy Awards for the third time.
Here, the Oscar-winning actor talks to Wyclef Jean of the multiplatinum hip-hop group the Fugees. With its mix of Caribbean music and rap, Jean’s first solo album, Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring Refugee Allstars (Columbia), released in 1997, has been making Goldberg crazy. Jean also contributed a song to the soundtrack of How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998). When he saw the movie, the Haitian-American rapper was offended by a joke made about Haitians and AIDS, and he spoke out against it during the 1998 MTV Music Awards. The line was subsequently removed from the home-video release of the movie. Goldberg, who starred in Stella, appreciated Jean’s protest and was happy to get political.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG: It’s nice to hear your voice.
WYCLEF JEAN: Yo, your voice is sexier than mine.
WG: Oh, but yours got the punch to it, baby!
WJ: I got that morning voice.
WG: Where are you?
WJ: I’m in Jersey, in my studio.
WG: That’s hysterical. I’m in Tuxedo Park.
WJ: Where’s that at?
WG: That’s off the [New Jersey] Turnpike by Route 17.
WJ: You ain’t far from me then.
WG: No! That’s why I’m laughing.
WJ: You coulda just came here. You coulda just came to the Booga Basement.
WG: The Booga Basement, baby.
WJ: We’re being taped. Does that mean I can’t say no curse words?
WG: And should I be Linda or Monica? [laughs] You know, I want to thank you for making them take that line out of How Stella Got Her Groove Back. It was pointed out several times before the film was released. So I’m glad you busted it right on TV.
WJ: I didn’t know what was going to happen afterwards, if I was going to get blackballed. I just felt like the statement needed to be made.
WG: Well, you see what happened. They took it out.
WJ: Yeah. So I’m happy for that. Let me ask you something: It seems that you work whenever you want. . .
WJ:. . . you do whatever you want. . .
WJ:. . . however you want to do it – and if anyone don’t like it, fuck them. There’s no current fur you, no wave, no time. That is the must incredible thing. Because I see how hectic and political it is for me. And for you, it’s a quadrillion times that. You’ve got locks covering your shoulders, like Solomon or Samson. And you’re forefront in Hollywood. Just give me one percent [of how you do it] so I can apply it to what I’m doing.
WG: What I know, and it doesn’t always serve me well in the big picture, but what I know is: I can do anything. And I don’t believe that I have to stay on one side of the fence or the other. I don’t believe that there is any good career move or bad career move. I believe there are only the things that make me happy. I’ve had my hair like this from day one, mostly because it’s much more comfortable and it looks good on my head. I don’t want to be runnin’ to some motherfucker to straighten the shit out! When I started, I knew I didn’t fit any visual that anyone was going to lie down and take their clothes off about. Work doesn’t come to me; I go out and look for it. I call motherfuckers up and say, “Can I have a job? Can I work with you?” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Black folks get really pissed off about my choices, white folks get really pissed off, and sometimes everybody’s mad. But you can only do what you can do, and explain yourself if you choose to. And people have come to understand that me doing Star Trek: The Next Generation [1988-92] didn’t hurt me. I still got an Oscar for Ghost . [laughs] It’s being willing to walk away that gives you strength and power – if you’re willing to accept the consequences of doing what you want to do.
WJ: I think a lot of kids today who are trying to get into the industry, whether it’s film or music, don’t come into it militant enough. They don’t have the self-esteem to say, “Yes, I want to do this. No, I don’t want to do this.” Someone who comes from the ‘hood and wants to be the Illest actor – they’re like an ant walking Into Hollywood.
WG: The key is this – this is why the Fugees are where you are and folks are trying to pretend they’re you: You have to come as an original. If you come in and you’re imitating everyone else, you get swept away in the game. But if you’re coming as one unto yourself, they can’t replace you; they can only try to get somebody who’s like you. For some reason, all artists have self-esteem issues. We’re always saying, “Well, I lucked out; I don’t know why this happened to me.” Things happen to you out of luck, and if you get to stick around it’s because you’re talented. Longevity is everything: how long you last, how long you keep evolving and going. And if you are not going to have longevity, if you are going to be a one-hit wonder or a two-movie diva queen, then your shit’s gon’ fall apart – because they’ll just move you out the way!
WJ: And then they get the next thing.
WG: There’s only one me. And you know, they’ve tried to get others. [laughs]
WJ: You’re able to do these things with your voice. Like in The Lion King , you flip voices. When did you figure out that you could do this?
WG: When I was little. My mom and her cousin used to do it. They would start with these Russian and Chinese and Puerto Rican accents, and I was like, “Wait. I want to play, too.” It’s really very simple. If you listen, you can do it.
WJ: A lot of your vibe seems to have started in childhood.
WG: Yes. Everything I believe, know, feel, or think comes from what formed me as a kid. And I was lucky because I grew up in Manhattan, so everything was accessible, from Leonard Bernstein to David Hockney; I could learn about the sky at night by going to the planetarium for a quarter. I meet folks and they don’t understand why I have a love of art and music, or why I can eat Polish food and Chinese food. Well, when you live in Manhattan, you’ve got forty-five restaurants on one block. So you’re learning and meeting different kinds of people. I didn’t learn about color prejudice until I got to California. Let me ask you a question: Are you going to do some acting?
WJ: Maybe in the future, but I think my love is more watching films. I Just did the score for my first film, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence’s Life. I’m one of the first kids who’s into hip-hop, who’s from the street, who’s from the ghetto, who’s a rebel, going Into Hollywood and scoring a movie. It tripped me out a little bit. One of my loves is to watch a scene and be able to put passion behind it.
WG: Well, that’s what The Carnival is like. When I met the Fugees, I had no idea how versatile you were. I knew that Lauryn [Hill, Jean’s bandmate in the Fugees and Goldberg’s costar in Sister Act 2] was versatile. But it’s so rare, in my opinion, to meet artists who have an understanding of musical diversity. For you to go to my girl Celia Cruz and ask her to sing “Guantanamera” – that was excellent.
WJ: Celia is the bomb.
WG: That’s the woman. If I were going to do a biography movie, that’s who I’d want to play. Because she doesn’t fit any description. She’s not traditionally a Latin beauty, she doesn’t sound like anybody else. She’s like Patti LaBelle – she has everything you need to be a great performer. But you go from her to a Bee Gees cover! [laughs] I think that that is probably the smartest educational tool in the world, to let young people know that music is a universal language. I have been missing a lot of that in the music that’s come out. The Carnival is one of the few universally themed albums I’ve heard. And I just can’t play it enough.
WJ: I think you’re right about it being like a film. When I zone into music, I usually zone into the mind of someone like my dad, an immigrant from Haiti. I think of my grandfather not wanting to go to work, so he puts this CD on to escape Into another world. But enough about me. This is supposed to be about you.
WG: I know. But in a funny way it’s about us. Because my big word is evolution. We’re evolving, and sometimes I can’t tell whether we’re evolving forward or backward.
WJ: There’s another question I have to ask, about the NAACP then versus the NAACP now. [Goldberg has won several NAACP Image Awards, Including one in 1991 for entertainer of the year, Jean was nominated for an award this year.] Could you lot my generation know what’s going on with that? I’m asking this question on behalf of like ten million kids.
WG: The NAACP needs those ten million kids. Because for some reason, our stance as people of color has become somewhat muddled. Once upon a time, we were very clear in this country about the direction we were going, and we were united, not just with our own, but with others who understood what the struggle is. I mean, when you talk about [effectively] not having the vote in the United States until the late ’60s, that’s a huge deal! We had a united front. And even with all the splintering because of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and Bobby Seale and the Black Panther movement, we all were heading in one direction that said, “You know what? We’re American. And nothing you can say is going to change that fact. So just get out of the way or walk with it.”
Now it’s kind of hard to tell what the struggle is, and so people feel like they’re drifting away. Young people are looking around, going, “Well, what’s the fight? What are we struggling toward?” These are the things that have to be infused into the NAACP. It’s no longer just about us. It’s about Hispanics and other immigrant populations being told, “You’re not welcome here.” I think the NAACP is trying to gather some momentum. But you have to have a direction. And the only people who can tell us the direction are the young people.
WJ: The kids are confused.
WG: The adults are fuckin’ confused.
WJ: So what’s next in the life of Whoopi Goldberg?
WG: Well, I’ve finished one movie [Deep End of the Ocean, released in March], and I’m shooting another [Girl, Interrupted]. I’m at the place where I only want to work three weeks on any given movie, no more. And I’m getting ready to do the Oscars, which is great. I think I should take Oscar out of the twentieth century; it’s only right. Because it’s like white guy, white guy, white guy, black girl, white guy, black girl, white guy, white guy, black girl, end of century.
WJ: Talking to you is more of a lesson than a conversation. It’s different from talking to someone who’s been doing this for, say, just three years. They want to tell you, “Oh, we’re hot, we’re hot,” and then three years later, they’re gone. You know what I’m saying?
WJ: Versus a statement and stuff. So this was hot.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group