Queen Latifah could well be the reigning Queen of Hollywood comedy, as she royally bounces from one hit to the next. Cementing her screen presence with an Oscar nominated turn in Chicago, Latifah now stars in Beauty Shop. Here, she is Gina Norris, a long way from the 'Barbershop' - now she's in Atlanta making a name for herself at a posh Southern salon with her cutting-edge hairstyles.
But when her flamboyant, egotistical boss (Kevin Bacon) takes it one criticism too far, she leaves his salon to open a shop of her own, taking the shampoo girl (Alicia Silverstone) and a few key clients (Andie MacDowell, Mena Suvari) with her. Gina buys a rundown salon and inherits an opinionated group of headstrong stylists (including Alfre Woodard), a colourful clientele, and a sexy upstairs neighbour (Djimon Hounsou. The boisterous and voluptuous comic actress loves to talk, as she proved when she spoke to the media about her starring turn in her latest comedy, as Paul Fischer reports.
Question: EVERYTHING THAT YOU DO TURNS TO GOLD. WHAT'S GOING ON? Latifah: I'm trying to get it to turn to diamonds. Damn it. I've got to get my alchemy on. Secrets? The man upstairs. (She points upwards.) God has just blessed us beautifully and put good people in my life and when you work with your friends since high school and you guys have loyalty and you believe in each other and you tell each other the truth, I mean, I don't know. We just always have dreams and we saw them as goals and not just dreams. We just said, 'Okay. How do we get to it? Let's go for it.' I've never really been afraid to do that. I look at people as people. No one is better than me. No one is worse than me. I'm not afraid to talk to anyone because you're just another person to me. So if I have an idea and I think that it's a great idea, I'm going into the room to sell you an idea that I think is great. I'm not going in there and saying, 'Oh, God, this is the president of so and so.' You know what, the president of so and so needs to give me this deal right! So I mean, I don't know, we just try and be smart about things and be creative and believe in ourselves and do the work that's involved in trying to get there.
Question: THERE WAS A TIME WHEN YOU WERE REFERRED TO AS AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ACTRESS. YOU'RE NOT ANYMORE. HOW DOES THAT FEEL? Latifah: You know what, to me it was like ignorant writers. People like to label you. I've never like being labelled. I can't take it because I'm never going to do the same thing over and over and over. I hate being limited. I hate being put in a box. The music that I've made, the way that I've carried myself, I've always had this weird broad audience. When it was just this many people, they were listening to my music. Some people were like, 'I like that girl. There's something about her.' People's parents always like me or their grandparents. So I had the kid and then I had the grandmother. Gay, straight, black, white, everything in between. It's always been this broad sort of audience that has been down with Queen Latifah. So I think that it's a beautiful thing because that's how I look at the world. I wasn't raised to be a racist. I have such a multi-cultural family. For me to be a racist, I'd have to hate my relatives, my aunts and uncles, my relatives. And that's not going to happen. So I'm glad that people are kind of letting go of that because that's how I look at things. I know we have our differences and things that make us special, that's why we're different. There are really special things about us, but we have so much more in common just being human beings.
Question: WOULD YOU LET ANY OF YOUR CO-STARS DO YOUR HAIR? Latifah: Maybe Keshia [Knight Pulliam]. I might let Keshia do my hair because she does her own hair sometimes and it looks pretty good. But that's about it.
Question: SHE DID HAIR FOR THIS MOVIE, DID YOU LEARN IT FOR THIS MOVIE? Latifah: Yeah. She does some of it I think. Yeah, we all we did it. We all had to do it. I think that she did it. I know I did it. Alicia [Silverstone] did it. Keshia did, didn't she? We all had to do it. She still had to do, initially there were some scenes where she was supposed to be doing more styling. So I think that we all had to learn it to be on the safe side. I had fun with it. They gave me a manikin and I chopped that hair off. I said, 'Don't give me a person, but I can cut this manikin hair no problem.'
Question: WHAT'S THE BEST BEAUTY ADVICE YOU'VE EVER BEEN GIVEN? Latifah: To let my skin rest. Less is more. Beauty comes from the inside. That's the best advice that I was given because now I'm not trying to make it all happen out here. It does start in here. I'm sure that you being in this business have interviewed a lot of actresses who don't even realize how beautiful they are, or have the worst attitude in the world. They're pretty, but they got nasty attitudes which makes them ugly. So for me, it might sound cliché, but beauty for me really does start on the inside. It's like a state of mind, a state of love if you will. Then, whatever you can do on the outside is all like a bonus. Most women don't even need a lot of makeup. They just put all this crap on their faces and clog up your pores, get pimples and stuff. I mean, when I'm not working I don't wear makeup. Maybe some lip gloss and maybe a little mascara, but that's it. my skin needs a break. My hair needs a break from all that heat pressing on it. I'm in a ponytail. I'm keeping it simple. I'm kind of a low maintenance girl, but I got a badass team that hooks me up.
Question: AS FAR AS THE TRANSITION FROM 'BARBERSHOP' TO THIS, IT SEEMS LIKE IT MIGHT BE DIFFICULT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? Latifah: We kind of just wanted to create something new. Gina was introduced in 'Barbershop II,' but she wasn't really established. We didn't really know who she was. So now it's like who is she? Who are we creating here and what's the story, what story are we going to tell? We wanted to have some fun with the idea of a person who builds a clientele in this exclusive, mostly white shop decides to open this shop that's in the hood now and her clients follow her because, you know what, they need their hair done and you tend to follow your stylist. So what happens when you through all these people in one shop and what happens when you inherit someone else's staff? There's a tension that's created and how you work through all of that stuff and raise a daughter at the same time and put food on the table and pay the bills? That kind of stuff is human relationships, relatable, anyone can understand that. Anyone can connect to it. We've all maybe seen situations like that or maybe we'd like to see a situation like that. But I think that parents can definitely relate to a relationship between the mom and the daughter. Anyone who's ever had to deal with a boss who's a jerk can relate to that, and how you really just want to tell their ass off one good time and walk out the door. So I'm doing it for everyone who really wants to do it. I've got to do that one time in my life, and I know how it felt. I quit Burger King because the manager disrespected me. So after I tore him a new one I walked up out of there. Okay, actually he said I was fired, but I was going to quit anyway [Laughs].
Question: WHY DID YOU SHOOT IT IN ATLANTA AND NOT CHICAGO? Latifah: Because it's warmer than in Chicago and it was the wintertime. I really didn't want to shoot in the winter in Chicago, honestly. Come on. I was like, 'We've got to move this to some place warm.' The boys wanted Miami and I'm like, 'Look guys, we can't shoot in Miami. There is no way we can shoot in Miami right now. We might have too much fun and not get a movie done in Miami. Lets not go quite so far south.' Atlanta, you know what, we know Atlanta. Bille [Woodruff] knows Atlanta. He lived there for three years, and we felt like he could kind of pick up the vibe of Atlanta. Keshia is from Atlanta. We spent a lot of time in Atlanta. At least a couple of times a year we're down there for like the past fifteen or so years. So Atlanta is a place that has a lot of rich musical culture. It's got it's own kind of flavour, it's own thing going on and we felt like this was a place where if we did do 'Beauty Shop' and Beauty Shop' two and three, this is a place that it could happen because there's plenty to draw from locally. So we thought it would be kind of cool.
Question: YOU AND KEVIN BACON, YOU TWO WERE REALLY GOING AT IT. DID YOU WORKOUT HOW YOU WERE GOING TO DO THAT SCENE? Latifah: No. We got Kevin Bacon and Queen Latifah. We act, this is what we do. It's like, 'Okay, a couple of rehearsals and lets shoot it.' He's a great villain. I was like so excited to have Kevin onboard. When we got the call that Kevin was doing it, it was like, 'Yes! Kevin is doing it. This is great.' Andie [MacDowell] and Alfre [Woodard] and Mena [Suvari] and Alicia [Silverstone] and Sherri [Shepherd]. It's like everyone that we wanted is in the movie and they were all able to do it and wanted to be involved in it. So we got our dream cast, we definitely got our dream cast.
Question: WHY DO YOU THINK THAT A LOT OF THESE TYPES OF MOVIES ARE COMING OUT NOW? Latifah: It's because of 'Barbershop.' I'm sure it's because of that. It's almost like a no brainer. Like, 'What took so long for us to make a movie based in one of these locations because everyone goes there?' There are like ninety thousand hair salons in this country. Ninety thousand beauty shops and barbershops in this country. That is a humungous amount of businesses. These are places where we find out what's really going on in the community. What's going on in the world? What's important to people? People need to go to the beauty shop. You need to go to the beauty salon. You need to find out what's going on from the people because this is where they're talking about everything. If it's on TV and talk shows, it's getting talked about in the shop. If it's on the radio, it's getting talked about. Where else do you go where you let someone feel on your for two hours outside of your relationship and not get in trouble for it? It's a disarming situation. You go here, someone rubs head, they wash it, they fix it, and I mean, they're touching on your for a good hour or so once a week. So this is like your therapist. You can't keep this wall up for very long when you do this every week. So you tend to open up and have conversations and talk about things that are going on. So, yeah.
Question: DO YOU PREFER SCRIPTS THAT DEAL WITH RACE LIKE THIS, AND 'BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE?' Latifah: No. I don't go out of my way to do it. Sometimes they come to me and sometimes like this one we created. But 'Bringing Down The House,' they brought that to me. It was written already. If anything, we had to fix that script. The script that I read and the movie that you saw is not the same thing. I would've never made the script that I read. I had to tear thing that up which is always the case. So it's fun to get into the creative process. But you know what, America is really on some race stuff. It's unfortunate that we don't deal with it and that's why it doesn't go away. I was conceiving a pilot with a friend of mine who used to direct 'Living Single' based on a college basketball team in the south and we put these people together and they go back and forth, and the thought of it was that I miss the '70's where you had shows like 'The Jefferson's' and 'All In The Family' where Black people could be Black and white people could be white. Racists could be racists, and non-racists could be non-racists, but it was talked about. You could form your own opinion as to how ignorant or how reasonable these people were being. See, we don't talk about the shit no more. Excuse my language, but we don't. We're just politically correct and we act as if it went away and it didn't go away. I mean, we've got too many examples of how racism is still alive and thriving in this country and I think that a lot of that is because we run from it. We don't deal with it. We don't admit to it. We hide it and we do covert things. We do things behind the back. We don't celebrate the differences that we have and celebrate the things that we have in common. We buy into whatever media hype is going on. We don't talk with each other like we should. When you really think about it, I mean, at least in the business that we work in we get to work with so many different cultures, races, people. And I have so many cool friends of different races. It's hard for me to imagine not living life like that or my family members of different races. So like I can't really imagine another world different from that. When I had a talk show we had people come on the show who were only racist because of where they lived. We got their ass out of that town in Texas, away from their peers where they had to fall in line with everyone else because of peer pressure, we brought them to New York and we had a Black producer bringing them in, walking them through the steps, getting them into their hotel. They're in New York City and seeing all these different kinds of people and faces and are being treated well and having a good time. They go out to a local bar and have fun, whatever, and you start knocking that stuff off and you realize, 'You know what, it's just what was taught. It's not really how they feel. They're just going with the crowd. They're just succumbing to peer pressure.' I find that that's how it is a lot in this country. It's not really how people want to think. They're just used to following the status quo. So I think that the more you can open up this kind of dialogue, the more that you can poke fun at it, mess with it, put it in people's faces, yeah, you might piss some people off, but so what. So what, deal with it.