Queen Latifah Has A New TV Show, A New Movie And New Sass – Interview
Has A New TV Show, A New Movie And New Sass
I’M just a cool, down-to-earth person,” Queen Latifah says. Dressed in jeans and sneakers, she personifies her words as she sits comfortably on an upholstered sofa in a studio loft in New York’s Chelsea district. “I have a good heart,” she continues. “I have a cool side. I have a wild side. I have a spiritual side, and that’s the basis for everything. I consider myself to be pretty intelligent, competent. Despite whatever successes I obtain, I still consider myself a pretty normal person. I don’t have a big head about anything. I’m just your average 29-year-old woman.”
While the entertainer gets nods for most of her self-description, few would agree there is anything average about Latifah. Not her name. Not her diverse talents. Not her ambitions. Born Dana Elaine Owens in Newark, N.J., almost three decades ago, she adopted the royal moniker when she released her first rap album in 1989. Since then the focused and driven artist constantly has sought and mastered new challenges as though time is running out. While making albums, she also starred in the popular sitcom Living Single for five years. And she has appeared in a number of films, but made her breakthrough in the gritty, urban drama Set It Off. Earlier this year she added “author” to her impressive resume with the release of what she calls a “light autobiography,” Ladies First: Revelations of A Strong Woman.
Yet, these milestones are not enough for this dynamo businesswoman who also runs artist management and entertainment companies. As she demonstrated with her many high school activities while growing up in New Jersey, she is not one to rest on her laurels or her butt. This fall, Latifah premiered The Queen Latifah Show, a daily, one-hour talk fest produced by her company and Telepictures Productions. It is syndicated in more than 110 markets.
She is well aware that talk shows come and go, and that hers is one of several debuting this season. Yet Latifah is confident that her show will succeed where others fail because her target audience–youthful 18-to-34-year-old viewers–is one she feels is overlooked by other shows. And she’s not apprehensive about going up against Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O’Donnell and other proven talk-show hosts. “I can’t say it’s going to be easy, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” she says. “I’m not afraid to compete with them all.
“What I envision is for my show to be some flavor for television,” she says. “I’m trying to capture an audience that I feel hasn’t been spoken to necessarily, not in the way they might like … It’s going to be real, as real as I can keep it. And it’s going to be positive, because I’m not tacky and sleazy; so my show won’t be tacky and sleazy. It won’t be a Jerry Springer [Show] … It won’t be dreary. It’s not going to be crying 24-7. We’re not planning tears on cue. None of that stuff. I want to incorporate all the worlds that I step into–music, television, film, business, life on the streets, just being a human being. I don’t live above the ladder. I walk the same streets and drive the same streets that everybody else walks and drives on, so I’m affected by the same things.”
This I’m-every-woman theme is repeated during several interviews with Latifah, as well as throughout her book, her music and her life in general. She maintains that she can relate to today’s youthful generation because she is one of them. She says her life has not been easy, that she grew up streetwise in urban New Jersey, that she knows firsthand about drugs and sex, love and heartache, sorrow and pain, among other pitfalls that one encounters en route to finding a meaningful place in life.
“How could I speak of it if I never experienced any of it?” she asks of the book. “I’ve had my fair share of a lot of stuff. Some things I’ve chosen to share and some things I haven’t, but I think it’s important to be real and to relate to people now. I’m not coming from a holier-than-thou, self-righteous point of view. It’s just a reality. Life wasn’t easy for me either. Those curveballs are always coming. Eventually you learn how to hit some of them.”
When asked about those curveballs, she says: “Just things that happened, like the death of my brothel, or experimenting with drugs, when to have sex and when not to–all that kind of stuff. Body images and being shy about this part of your body and not loving that part, and how that all works. It can kind of keep you down in terms of how you look at yourself and how you feel as a person, and how other people will perceive you.”
In a pensive mood, Latifah adds that if she ever writes another book, “it will be my hand directly, not just someone helping me to write it.” She feels that a lot of points were misinterpreted by readers.
In Ladies First she discusses rumors that she is gay, rumors that have swirled incessantly since 1996 when she did such an excellent job portraying a hot-tempered lesbian in the movie Set If Off. In the book she writes: “Lesbian. That word seems to follow me lately … There’s still all kinds of speculation about my sexuality, and quite frankly, I’m getting a little tired of it. My ploy to get the media off my track [by releasing the track “Get Off Mine”] didn’t work. It seems that in this country, sexuality is never a non-issue. Rathel, it is always the issue … But it’s insulting when someone asks, `Are you gay?’ A woman cannot be strong, outspoken, competent at running her own business, handle herself physically, play a very convincing role in a movie, know what she wants–and go for it–without being gay? Come on.”
During this interview, when Latifah was asked about her love life, she simply said, “That’s private.” Last fall, during another EBONY interview, she was more giving. “I’m dating. I’m cool. I’m having fun right now,” she said.
And she said that love is one of the things that makes her happy–in addition to buying her mom a house and her business partner a car, enjoying home-cooked meals (especially her mom’s), and seeing a recording group she has nurtured gain success. “Being in love with someone who is in love with me makes me happy,” she added, smiling warmly.
When asked to describe her ideal man she said: “He’d just have to love my dirty drawers, and he’d have to love himself. As long as he loves himself and he loves me unconditionally, then we’ll be fine. He has to have God in his life … And he’d have to be fine. Just kidding.” She laughs freely. “He’s got to have a sense of humor. I cannot be with a stick-in-the-mud. He’s got to be funny, got to have a wild side. Because I’m cool and I’m sensitive, but I’ve got a wild side. You’ve got to be able to go there with me.”
The outspoken entertainer writes in the book that she regrets the one time she took money from a man after sex. “He was forty. I was sixteen. But I wasn’t stupid. I knew he wanted something in return for his gifts. So when he gave me a fifty-dollar bill, I took it. I didn’t need the money, but I just did it. As I lay on this guy’s bed, looking up at the ceiling after we had had sex, I felt low.” She also writes that she regrets she smoked marijuana (especially after her brother’s death in a motorcycle accident in 1992) and tried other drugs, including cocaine and mescaline.
In Ladies First Latifah also discusses how it took years for her to accept her body image. “People look at me now and think, `Wow, there’s a full-sized woman who has it together.’ Puh-lease! It took me years to get to the point where I love my body. And I do truly love my body. But I had to go through stages. I hated my breasts. I hated my butt. I even hated the way I walked … I am not the prototypical 36-24-36. Never have been, never will be. And although society tells me I’m too big, what I try to keep in my head are the words from Maya Angelou [in her poem Phenomenal Woman].”
For the most part, Latifah’s book offers great advice to young people, and it advances another resounding theme of her life–trying to do good and give back to the community. That, she says, is the main reason she decided to get into the talk-show fray: She wants to produce shows on meaningful topics that will help her viewers.
Several years ago talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell suggested that she consider a talk show. After Latifah contemplated other production and distribution deals, she decided to go with Telepictures, the company that also produces The Rosie O’Donnell Show. She says the two are good friends and she considers Rosie, who is an advisor for Latifah’s show, to be a mentor, not a competitor.
Latifah says Oprah Winfrey is the “quintessential talk-show host of the ’90s” and that while Oprah’s format “kind of sets the tone” for her own show, The Queen Latifah Show will differ significantly. “I just think she’s really excellent at what she does,” Latifah says of Oprah. “We can compete against each other, but I don’t think I’m her competition–just yet. But when we get going, why not? It’s always a respectful thing for me because she’s done it and she’s done it well for a long time. So I would never take any props away from her. I think she’s great at what she does. I’ve got to admire her … But I have no problem competing with anyone. There’s not a person on this planet I fear except for my mama when she gives me the eye, or my daddy when he gives me that look,” she says, playfully demonstrating a stern parental gaze. “Right now we [Oprah and I] have totally different audiences. Hers is mostly White women over 40. I’m everybody else.”
Like with every challenge she has undertaken, Latifah says her talk show will push for excellence and try to get better with each show.
Also coming up this fall for Latifah is a major role in The Bone Collector, a movie that stars Denzel Washington. In the thriller, she portrays the caregiver for Washington’s character, a quadriplegic former policeman who was injured in the line of duty. For the dramatic role, she consulted with nurses who care for actor Christopher Reeve, who was injured in a horse-riding accident a few years ago.
“He’s the best,” she says of Washington. “He just did his thing in a real professional way, and it made me proud to be a Black woman in Hollywood, knowing that it doesn’t matter how high you go or how much money you make, you can still be a real person, a grounded person, and you don’t have to be caught up in all this Hollywood stuff. A person as handsome as he, and as famous and affluent as he, could get caught up in it. He doesn’t get caught up in all that stuff, and I like that.”
She adds that while hanging out with Denzel, she learned that he is devoted to his family, that “he’s very much a Black man from around-the-way,” that he loves hip-hop music, and that he can rap. She also says what she really loved about Denzel is that he took time to give her tips on acting. “Because he was so willing to share what he knew, I could only love him more, as a person,” she adds.
And Latifah says she is inclined to agree with what millions of women have declared: Denzel is the sexiest man alive! “So don’t think I’m not a woman,” Latifah adds. “I did catch myself watching him sometimes because he’s so naturally handsome. He’s a beautiful man, without trying. And that walk you see in the movies–that’s his walk. But it’s so cool. My pop walks like that. Not exactly like Denzel, but cool. Denzel has done and seen so much and he’s so young. And he’s real hip, he’s sharp. He doesn’t miss a beat.”
Nor does Latifah. In addition to a very busy autumn, she also is putting the finishing touches on a new album. “Beats and rhymes, that’s the way I would describe it,” she says of the yet unnamed project that she plans to release before the end of the year. “No real complicated subject matter. Just bringing that Latifah you loved on the first album into the year 2000,” she says. “Just rhyming, a girl getting her rhyme on off some hot beats.”
She says the new album will be released on her Flavor Unit Records label and distributed independently. By contrast, several of the 12 to 15 artists on her other two record labels, Jersey Kids and Ghetto Works, will be distributed by Warner Brothers. The Grammy Award-winning rapper says she did not want to go that route with her own recording because she wants to maintain ownership of the masters.
She and her business partner, Sha-Kim Compere, launched Flavor Unit Entertainment 10 years ago, and they have managed a number of well-known artists, including LL Cool J and Outkast, who are currently on their roster. Compere, a longtime friend, is also co-producer of the talk show.
When asked what kind of boss she is, Latifah says she rules with a gentle hand, “but you don’t want to see the other side of me.” She says she works hard, and she expects her staffs at the talk show and at Flavor Unit to work hard. “A lot of work goes into what we do,” she explains. “I’ve done my 14-hour days, three months in a row, with no days off. I’ve done days when I’ve had to work 17 hours. I’ve done 24-hour video shoots. None of this stuff that you see was like handed to me on a platter. There are a lot of people who work real-hard to make things happen. I’m respectful of what my employees do and what their particular specialties are. And I expect them to perform, basically because I have to work and my name is on the line with a lot of stuff. If the show fails, Queen Latifah fails … I’m not a mean boss.”
And she’s not a quitter. In her short, diverse and full life, she’s had her share of success and triumph, but also pain and disappointment. However, they did not stop her or even slow her down. “I’m the type who will pick up the pieces, put them back together and go give it another shot,” she says. “Because I don’t like nothing breaking me or conquering me. So I’m inclined to keep fighting with it until I win.”
COPYRIGHT 1999 Johnson Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group