Mo’Nique for “Phat Girlz”

There’s more to the brazenly irreverent Mo’Nique than meets the eye. An actress, comic, fashion designer and spokeswoman and recent mother, this tell-it-how-it-is performer plays a version of herself in the heart-warming and funny Phat Girlz.

In the midst of a successful stand-up career, dynamic funny woman Mo’Nique landed her own sitcom, starring on the “Moesha” spin-off series “The Parkers” (UPN, 1999-2004) as Nikki, the charmingly brash mother of “Moesha” veteran Kim Parker (Countess Vaughn). The former plus-size model quickly made a name for herself on the stand-up circuit, enjoying the positive audience reception that followed her dare-induced debut performance enough to consider pursuing a career in comedy. Mo’Nique started out entertaining young audiences, playing well to high school and college students with her positive outlook and unique attitude, and moved on to opening slots with touring R&B musicians including Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown.

Before long the versatile comedienne was seen in frequent performances on TV’s leading stand-up venues, including appearances on “Showtime at the Apollo” (NBC), “Russell Simmons Def Comedy Jam” (HBO) and BET’s “Comic View” before landing “The Parkers”. The comedian segued into acting and happily took the role of Nikki on the series, the character’s energetic manner and strong personality based on the real-life Mo’Nique displayed in her comedy routines. On the series, mother and daughter attend Santa Monica Junior College together, much to the initial chagrin of the younger Parker. Despite her acting inexperience, Mo’Nique capably handled the role, proving charming as an adult student with an eye for one of her professors (Dorien Wilson) and likable as a strong-willed young mother with a combative yet supportive and loving relationship with her equally strong-willed teenage daughter.

Monique also successfully launched a thriving film career, landing several supporting roles in big screen comedies and occasional dramas, with most of her projects predominantly aimed at urban audiences, including “3 Strikes” (2000), “Baby Boy” (2001). “Two Can Play That Game” (2001) and “Half Past Dead” (2002) and, in her big screen breakout, an outrageous airline security screen in the comedy “Soul Plane” (2004). That same year, she voiced a CGI character for “Garfiled: The Movie” She showed dramatic flair in Domino and will turn up in the thriller Shadowboxer. In this exclusive interview, Mo’Nique talked to Paul Fischer.

Question: Why do you think this is the right time for you to star in a movie that really does promote, what lay within you rather than what, what peoples’ perceptions of you are?

Mo’Nique: Well, I think it’s time because we’re in such a place where it’s so easy to hate. It’s so easy to judge. It’s so easy to discriminate. It’s real hard for people to love and embrace and love themselves. So it’s more than time. It’s overdue.

Question: What was it about this character that you could most easily identify with?

Mo’Nique: Her struggles, the non-acceptance, people saying no, not because you’re not qualified just because you’re fat.

Question: She finally realises that she has the courage to do what she wants to do. When did you feel that courage? When were you able to do that?

Mo’Nique: My issue has never been because I was fat girl. Like I never let people make me feel bad about that. I’ve never just been willing to buy what you were selling me. You can’t sell me that I’m not beautiful and I think that happened years ago when I was in the 9th grade going into the 10th grade and I used to be in love with this guy named Timothy Edwards, and he said to me, you are really cute, but if you lost about 20, 25 pounds you would be beautiful. And I just thought he was stupid. I didn’t say, oh, my, god, because I’m fat… no, because you’re stupid! And to this day he still lives with his mother. Now that’s when we were what, 13? You’re stupid! [Laughter].

Question: Did you use comedy as a defence mechanism do you think, is it part of that?

Mo’Nique: You know what, I think it wasn’t so much of a defence mechanism, I think that I wanted to take the power from you. Like… I know I’m fat so let me talk about it, because the moment you think you have the power you’re then going to start hating and you’re going to start saying things that are so mean and so, so hateful – so I’m going to say it first. Yes, I’m fat. Now what? Now what? Now why don’t you want me to come to your party?

Question: When did you first notice that you were able to make people laugh?

Mo’Nique: 19 years ago on stage at this comedy club called Burke’s for open-mike night, and I got a standing ovation.

Question: How different are you as a stand-up comedienne now than you were when you first started out?

Mo’Nique: I’m a lot more honest now. When I first started out it was just about being, being funny – but now for me it’s about being honest.

Question: What are you most honest about?

Mo’Nique: Me. I don’t do jokes, I tell you my life. I refuse to pay somebody $500 an hour to lie on a couch and say let me tell you my problems. Let me take it to the stage and tell you so we can laugh about it.

Question: I mean one of the things about this film that I was not expecting was to be as moved as I was by it…

Mo’Nique: Wow.

Question: So do you think that that’s the reaction that is likely to come about – that people will be surprised that there is so much more to you than the comedienne that we know about?

Mo’Nique: I think they will because Phat Girlz is an awesome roller coaster ride. You go on a ride with that movie. And I think they’ll cry, they’ll laugh, they’ll get angry, they’ll be happy – it’s an awesome ride.

Question: Now you’re extraordinarily busy. I don’t know how you do it. You have twin boys now, too, So how are you able to balance motherhood, a clothing line, a film career, stand-up, which you still do?

Mo’Nique: I have an incredible man, wonderful help and an awesome team.

Question: And how do you relax?

Mo’Nique: When I go home I’m home. We don’t discuss business. We don’t discuss movies, shows… when I’m home we discuss home. When I leave this I leave this.

Question: And tell me about the clothing line and how important is that for you?

Mo’Nique: The clothing line is going to be extremely important. Unfortunately right now I’m in the midst of a lawsuit because someone decided to take my likeness and put in their clothing line. And I have nothing to do with that, Paul…

Question: And, what about acting, because you’re also, you’ve done other things besides just straight comedies. Are you looking to do more dramas? I know you have a TV show that you’re also involved in, right?

Mo’Nique: Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance, uh-huh. That’s the first full-figured reality beauty pageant. It’s ten other women and I am the host, but I’m in the midst of it. I participate with them.

Question: That’s pretty cool. And I understand you were at the American Idol last night.

Mo’Nique: I did! I am such a Mandiza fan. Paul, when I tell you I think she has an incredible voice – oh, and I told her, I said you’re making it bad for all the fat girls because they believe that we all can sing! She’s going to be the next American Idol.

Question: And what’s next for you at this point? I mean do you have anything else on the horizon?

Mo’Nique: I have a movie coming out in June called Shadowboxer, directed by Lee Daniels. Now that’s my first dramatic role all the way through the film.

Question: Well who do you play in that?

Mo’Nique: I play a crack addict, who is romantically involved with Joseph Levitt. And you watch this woman become a functional addict to a straight out crack-head.

Question: Now how much research did you do for something like that?

Mo’Nique: I knew that character; my sister’s a recovering addict. She’s been clean for ten years so I knew that character very well.

Question: You have so much to say. Have you ever considered writing another book?

Mo’Nique: I did t once. It was a New York Times best seller. Called Skinny Women are Evil.

Question: [Laughter].

Mo’Nique: They are, Paul, because they’re hungry.

Question: What else is there left for you to do? What else are you striving for?

Mo’Nique: I would love to direct.

Question: Do you have anything in mind?

Mo’Nique: Not yet but I will.