Queen Latifah


Interviewed by Alec Cawthorne

Many rap stars have attempted the transition from music to acting, but few have been as successful as Queen Latifah. With roles in films as varied as "Jungle Fever", "Living Out Loud", and "The Bone Collector", she's combined a love of movies and music. Now she gets to do both, playing Mama Morton in "Chicago"...

Did you always plan to play your character, Mama Morton, so sexily?

Yeah! It was written that way. She has a little sexy number and Rob Marshall is the kind of guy to bring that out of you. He's like: "Come on baby, sell it, you got this!" He's got a way of gassing you up. When it was time to shoot it all, the rehearsal was done and we just went out there and had fun. It didn't hurt that we had all the dancers and actors from the stage show standing on the sideline saying, "You did it girl!"

There are interesting differences in the casting of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and yourself...

There are different flavours of sexiness, you can have choices in this movie. Whatever your thing is, you got at least one to choose from with this film. I think it was a good way to go, casting wise. To me, though, all women are beautiful. Every woman is a queen and we all have different things to offer. Doesn't it look good to see all these different kinds of women up there?

How do you find time to do everything from rap and TV shows to movies? You seem to do everything except a newspaper delivery...

I used to want to do that. They make good money those newspaper boys. I have a great team, I don't do anything by myself. I have different agents who want me for five different things. We try to map out what's coming up for at least the next six months. Then we try and fill up the other spaces. Meantime I'm saying "Hit the brakes! Give me two weeks' vacation! Don't call me unless it's an emergency." My mother is the only one who gets the number.

Do you want to do more musicals?

I heard my favourite musical, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", is being made, and I don't know if there is a role for me. I love Willy Wonka, maybe it's the little kid in me, but I just hope they make more musicals period. When I was growing up, there were so many musicals you could watch. I like the fantasy of musicals and I love music. So to hear music in a scene is just as strong as seeing that scene being acted out. It takes you further into the mind of that character.

I would love to do the story of Bessie Smith because she had such an interesting story. I'm not a big blues singer, so that would be a real challenge for me. But you know, I would love to play Sarah Vaughan and bring her story to life. And people keep coming up to me and saying I look like a young Pearl Bailey, so maybe her story would be interesting for me to take part in. But I also like fantasies like "The Wiz" - I would play the hell out of a big bad witch. Or the good witch. I think I should play them both! It just opens up the world a little bit more for me. I hope they keep making musicals.

In "Chicago" you say that after a little success you forget the people who put you there. Do you think that's true?

Some people do, I don't. A lot of people think they did it all on their own. In films there were some directors who took a chance on me, even though I hadn't been trained. They just saw some natural talent in me and gave me a shot. Then someone else gave me a shot. Then I hired an acting coach because I wanted to get better.

There are a lot of people who helped make Queen Latifah who she is today. I don't forget, but a lot of people do and get big heads. My mom will make me walk the dogs or take out the trash when I go home. I'm not allowed to get a big head, I've still got to do the simple things in life.

"Chicago" is now playing in London and opens nationwide on Friday 17th January 2003.