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Bringing Down The House - Queen Latifah Q&A



Compiled by: Katherine Kaminsky

Q. Being the producer as well as the star of the movie, how does that increase your involvement?
A.
I was brought on as executive producer from the very beginning because the film needed someone with integrity and sensibility to look over the script and decide how to play some of the racier moments in it.
We always wanted Steve Martin as the star, because there's a lot of physicality in the movie, and, as a kid, The Jerk was one of the first movies I'd ever seen, I was a fan of Saturday Night Live, I'd watched him in the mainstream movies, as well as the quirky movies, and we just thought he'd be the guy to pull off this conservative character who, at some point in the movie, could turn into this hip-hop cat and talk jive and help solve the crime.
But, primarily, all my work as an executive producer was done before the movie started.
Then I was able to sit back and rehearse and just be an actor.

Q. How then did you reach the decision to let the Joan Plowright song stay in?
A.
Well, the funny thing about it is I'm the kind of person who believes that just because you're politically correct does not mean you're not a racist, and so that was the underlying factor for me.
Two of the greatest shows on television were The Jeffersons and All In The Family, with Archie Bunker. To me, people who are ignorant, you can see how ignorant they are if they're allowed to show their ignorance, just to be themselves.
If you look at the people who are part of these Arian nations and hear some of the reasons why they're in it, like Klu Klux Klan, and the reasons that they're into that.
If you look, a lot of it is a superiority complex, or an inferiority complex, and lack of education that allows those who are educated to prey on their lack of education.
'It's the black people taking your jobs, it's the Indians, it's the Arabs' - blame it on everybody else and make you feel like, ok, I hate them all.
So, for me, just because you don't call somebody a nigger (excuse me), does not mean you don't think they're one, and so you have to show some of those things.
This is one of those movies that isn't meant to make a great, gigantic social commentary, but it was something meant to show, especially at Joan Plowright's age, the age of the character she was playing, someone who never worked a day in her life, who grew up with money, a trust fund baby, there's an arrogance and superiority complex, and a right to privilege that she just assumes.
You have to deal with people like that sometimes, and so for all intents and purposes, she wanted my character to stay in the room because she wanted me to enjoy this song.
She could not fathom that it was totally racist and that I'm actually going to like the fact that you took your scraps off the plate and fed it to your, oh so loving maid, Ivy. But there are a lot of people like that out there, and you find it when you're the one person whose black in a room full of mostly white people, at a college and your professor is teaching something and says something that is absolutely unacceptable to you, and they don't realise that it's offensive.
Just like a black person may say something around white people that they might not realise is offensive to that person.
We've all grown through these times and had these stereotypes and ignorant thoughts passed down on us.
Hip-hop is one of those forms of music that has broken down a lot of those barriers, rock 'n' roll was another one; you can always get to people through music, because the youth are the youth, and they're going to change the world.
Older people tend to be set in their ways. We definitely had to chop that scene down, it was a lot longer. There was a point at which the kids were asked to join in the song with her, we all felt that that was a little too much.
There were a bunch of things in the film that we cut, but we tried it and then looked at it with different people.
Disney were very vigilant at screening this film to a lot of different types of audiences, to see their reactions, but you can never please all the people all the time. What we wanted to do was make a funny movie that would have you wishing you had gone to the bathroom before you sat down and I think we accomplished that.

Q. What was it like to work with our Queen of British theatre, Joan Plowright?
A.
Oh man, she's a pro, and it was weird for me, these are the times when you're in Hollywood and you're like, 'damn, I'm an actor'!
You come on the set and you meet Joan Plowright, and you meet Steve Martin and Eugene Levy and Betty White, please!
She's a card, and so quick-witted and funny, and you meet the people that you've seen all your life, growing up, and you feel like, 'wow, this is cool, I'm doing this for a living'.
So you stop and chuckle and then you go back to being a professional. But Joan made me laugh so much and she was great at the character, so we were just happy to have her be a part of it.

Q. The relationship you have with Eugene is hilarious. Was it something you developed when you realised how effective it was?
A.
One thing I realised in rehearsals was when I started giving Eugene these, like, slang lines, these little idioms that every hip-hop kid would know, or from the local neighbourhoods, who watches a lot of MTV or listens to a lot of rap. When I started to give him these lines, I'd say, 'say this' and I'd say it exactly the way I wanted him to say it, and he would say it exactly the way I said it.
So once I realised that he could deliver it, I started to get a little happy and started giving him more stuff to say.
He plays it so deadpan, which makes it even funnier. To seriously talk to a woman and say I'd like to spread you over a cracker and eat you up is just funny and Charlene is across the table, like 'I can't believe this white dude is just getting at me like this'.
He's just totally comfortable with himself and doesn't care what comes out of his mouth, which relaxes her.
So they kinda just hit it off. Whereas Steve's character's so like nervous and anal, that just the thought of me being at the country club was just enough to freak him out.

Q. Was Steve as receptive to your suggestions about the hip-hop language he could use?
A.
Oh yeah, absolutely, Steve got a whole tape of things. Somebody recorded all that stuff he had to say, and he had to say a whole lot more, but a lot of it got cut, just for time. But there was a lot more stuff he said in that club that was just hilarious to me.
Steve's very versatile and professional at what he does, and works hard to get it right, so he had a tape of some old boy speaking, saying it the way it's supposed to be said, so he got to learn it.
It was something he had to work on a little harder than Eugene. I don't know why, but Eugene took to it like a fish to water. But I think he nailed it.

Q. Steve Martin has said the seduction scene between the two of you is his favourite, is it yours?
A.
It is one of my favourite scenes in the movie, absolutely, those balls that are sitting on the table in a little decorative thing, they were just there when we were rehearsing and we were ad-libbing, and I'm like, 'you need these', and I grabbed them and he was like, 'Yes', and 'I'll put them in my pants'... And he stuffed these things in his pants and I'm like, he is gonna hurt himself somehow, but I thought it was cool - it was what the scene needed. Originally, it was just the sculpture that was going to be used, but we didn't think that was enough. Charlene is like a big, sexy woman. She don't want no little scrawny guy grabbing her up, touching her all soft and stuff. Come on, grab them, make her feel like a woman, even if he is scrawny, you better grab that big girl and make her feel like... sometimes a woman wants to be taken, not taken against her will, but like held and knows that she's in the arms of a man who's assertive and will take the lead, because there's plenty of women who would do it themselves.
For him to do it was breaking out of a shell and that was his whole problem through the movie, being able to express himself, able to break out of the norm that he was stuck in with his job, or his wife. I mean he drives by the woman's house every day; he's obviously still in love with her, but he has all these other things holding him back.
For him to do that in that scene was a way for him to open up and he helped to learn that from Charlene.

Q. When we go home tonight, to our wives, and tell them that you advised us to be assertive, to grab them...
A.
I think that they'll dig it.

Q. If I get a black eye, I'll let you know...
A.
If you get a black eye that was some good stuff going on, especially if it didn't come from the hand.

Q. How tough was the fight scene to do?
A.
We were hoping for an MTV fight scene award next year, so that's all that was really on our minds.
It took two days and we've got to give praise to the stunt women, who worked with us; these women, they got hurt doing some of this stuff, but they're troopers, so they just kept going.
It took about a week to shoot the whole scene, because we had to shoot all the stunt double work and then we had to shoot the entire scene ourselves, so it was very physical. We were all sore the next day.
We had to keep practising jerking our necks, so we wouldn't get whip lash.
It's actually my favourite scene in the movie, I think it's just so funny. What it does is go against the stereotypical, the black girl can always beat the white girl thing, the white girl is always going to fall when she's running.
A lot of stereotypes are challenged in this movie and this girl can actually throw a punch, she can actually fight, which makes it more fun.
It's violent, but it's funny; every time she stops and breaks into this Tae-Bo, it was a nice even fight that you don't see very often.

Q. Were you involved as a youngster in playground scraps?
A.
I've been involved in a lot of playground scraps, but I was usually the one breaking up the fights.
My father was a Vietnam vet, a police officer, so we learned how to fight at an early age. Every day, my father came home from work it was, 'ok, attack Daddy'.
Anything my brother could do, I could do. My father wasn't a chauvinist, so he taught me how to fight, taught my brother how to fight, taught me how to shoot, taught my brother how to shoot.
It was just normal for us, but we weren't taught to be bullies, we were loved and disciplined kids.
I hated to see people tearing each other apart.
I was the most popular kid in my High School when I graduated, so pretty much everybody liked me and I liked everybody and I didn't judge anybody.
I hated to see people I liked tear each other apart, so I'd jump in the middle of the fights because neither one of them could beat me, I was big and I could fight.
I've only had a few fights in my life and most of those have been hip-hop clubs on tour, coming up in the early Nineties, when this whole music was crazy and all kinds of stuff could happen in clubs, but other than that I've never really had to be violent.

Q. How do you look for scripts? I've heard you've had a character changed from male to female for you to play?
A.
There's a couple of things I'm working on right now; one movie with Fox that was written male originally that's been changed to a female role for me, but a lot of these roles can be changed.
They can be changed racially, sexually, you just have to have a creative team who can take a chance and see their movie made in a different way to the way it was originally written.
With being able to show all these different sides, I've gone from playing a bank robber, to a lounge singer, to a prison warden with this big number, to an ex-inmate who bulldozes her way into this guys house and turns his life around and is good with his kids.
It's like you've seen sensitive, you've seen physical, you've seen angry, you've seen soft, you've seen singing and a little bit of dancing... It's taken time, but I've finally been able to penetrate a lot of the minds of the people in Hollywood and out of Hollywood.
A lot of directors who do business in the States are changing roles for me and seeing a lot more action, or a lot more physical things I can do, and still the sensitive things that require me to dig deep and be very emotional, and those tend to be harder to play than jumping up on a counter and sticking a gun and saying, 'give me your money'.
I think the attention from BAFTA, to SAG, to the Golden Globes, to the Oscars has opened up doors for me that may not have been open to the degree they are now. I must say, I have 50,000 scripts thrown at my head, I'm ducking scripts.

Q. Did you feel pigeon holed before?
A.
No they couldn't pigeon hole me, luckily, and thank God. I've been blessed with the fact that I've always done different things, so when I was rapping, I did little singles, so I was making TV money, so record companies couldn't stick me up because I was making money on the TV, and when it came time to do a movie, I could be more selective, because I wasn't just an actor.
I feel for actors who have to do this, and this is their only means of making a living, because often you may have to take a job that you don't want in order to pay the bills. Me, I've been fortunate enough to be making money in other areas, so I could wait.
Then I'd try something else crazy, like go do a talk show for two years, and I said if I get some really good roles, I won't do the show, but not enough roles came in.
As soon as I went into production on the talk show, here come all the roles, so I'm like, 'ok, here we go again'.
After those two years, I got to start off again, I decided I really, really, really wanted to do it and dedicate myself to it and that's the plan, so I've got about nine movies lined up. I'm gonna be shooting movies for the next two years, praise God, and I'll be able to employ people and get people working, and that, to me, is also the joy that I get out of it.

Q. I heard you've been offered a lot of musicals and, out of those, you'd like to do Willy Wonka and Bessie Smith?
A.
Yeah, actually I got the role of Bessie Smith, I got that job way before everybody else had the sense to recognise that Queen Latifah was a real commodity.
We screen-tested and I got the job, but the price tag was thirty-five million dollars and, at that time, nobody was willing to spend that kind of money on a musical.
This was in '94, I always knew it could be a great movie, so we keep trying to revive it.
Finally, I said why don't you just pull that script off the shelf and we'll see if there's anything worth doing with it - if not, we'll scrap it and start again, but let's just do it once and for all.
I would love to play Bessie Smith, because I think she had an interesting story, and, after Chicago, I had a lot of musicals thrown my way... any stupid little idea to have me singing, and, you know, I don't want to do that either.
I don't want to get pigeon-holed into singing in every damn movie that I do so, like Chicago was special, you could read the script and say, 'this is going to be something'.
Then, to sit in a room full of people and hear Catherine and Renee and Richard and John C and everybody singing and the whole cast reading their lines and standing up when it was time for all of us to sing our songs, you knew it was going to be something special.
So you don't want to be doing just any old thing, especially as the bar has been set so high, and Rob Marshall is such a great director, I'm spoilt now.
You'd have to really come along with something really special in order to get me to do it, because I'm just used to working hard for somebody I know is working twice as hard to make this thing work, and he really was - he and his entire team really did a great job, so you know once you get there, you've got to have the best.

Q. Do you feel more empowered in the record industry or the film industry?
A.
When I've dropped this next album on our independent label and I own my own masters that's when I will feel as empowered.
I do feel empowered because our company, Flavor Unit, has done more revolutionary things than you guys can imagine.
We were like the first to do production deals outside of Def Jam and a couple of other companies.
I mean, to get kids from Jersey coming up with not a lot of experience, we brought you Naughty by Nature, and we brought you Outkast and, at one point, we managed 35 per cent of hip-hop and R&B.
We have 35 gold and platinum plaques to our name, as a management company, not to mention what we've done as a production company.
So we're pretty content with where we are musically.
Everyone in the music business knows who we are, but until we release these records independently, that's where the power is going to come for me.
I really don't want to go sign a record deal to be honest with you, I could have done it, I would have had an album out years ago, but the music is tight.
I'm not worried about the music but at this point in your career, when you look at the map, you want to own, you just want to own.
I was signed to Motown, a company that lived off its catalogue, lived off its masters, so I would like to be in a position where I can live off the ownership of my masters.
If I can't get that, then what's the point of putting records out? You might as well just go back to the slave dealers.
I had a super star deal, 17 points on an album, but that's still not ownership; you know, it's just 17 per cent and then every video, every dime they spend is going to be charged back to me.
So, for me, it was just pointless, I'd rather just sit out and do TV and do movies, do a soundtrack here, do a soundtrack there.
We're very close to getting the deal that we want, so I think once we get there, I think I'll really be a force to be reckoned with, but the good thing with these deals, these film deals, is that we do have rights to a lot of the soundtracks, and so we will be able to bring music right along with the movie.

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