Nia Long for “Are We There Yet?”

Nia Long has always been an actress exuding confidence. At the end of a long day promoting her newest film Are we there Yet, the beautiful actress says that picking this romantic comedy during her Third Watch hiatus was a no-brainer. “I haven’t done a comedy for a while and this was a lot of fun to do, especially since Ice Cube had to do most of the work,” Long says laughingly.

In the film, Long plays a divorced professional with two bratty kids determined not to allow any other men in her life, because they live in hope that sense that will prevail and mom will get back with dad. Wishful thinking it may be, but when Ice Cube enters the scene and reluctantly agrees to take the kids to Vancouver to join their mother, all hell breaks loose.

“It’s an old-fashioned family comedy with me ass the straight gal but looking a bit more glamorous than on TV”, Long says, referring to her other stint on TV’s Third Watch. Shooting Are we there Yet also gave her the chance to re-team with Ice Cube for the first time since the pair first met on Boyz n the Hood. “That was great, because there’s an automatic comfort zone when you work with an actor again, and realize how both of us had grown in leaps and bounds since then.”

Long first began her acting career as a teenager, appearing in several stage productions, including “227” which was the basis for the NBC sitcom of the same name on which she made a guest appearance. She landed a role in “The B.R.A.T. Patrol” (ABC, 1986), a “Disney Sunday Movie” and appearances in music videos before breaking onto the big screen in “Buried Alive” (1990). In John Singleton’s acclaimed “Boyz N the Hood” (1991), Long played the marriage-minded girlfriend of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Tre.

Her three-year stint (1991-1994) as Kathryn ‘Kat’ Speakes on the CBS daytime drama “Guiding Light” garnered her attention and Long used the experience as a springboard to primetime and higher profile features. While still on the soap, she landed the role of Whoopi Goldberg’s daughter in the comedy “Made in America”. Long fared slightly better the following year when she joined the cast of the hit sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, playing the recurring role of Will’s girlfriend, but when the series returned for its final season, her role had been dropped.

Long wasn’t out of work for long. First time director F Gary Gray offered her a strong comedic role as Debbie, the foxy neighbour who becomes the object of Ice T’s affection, in the sassy comedy “Friday” (1995). Another novice, Theodore Wicher, gave the actress her first real lead in “love jones” (1997), as a photographer who has an on-again, off-again relationship with a writer (Larenz Tate). Long and Tate generated real screen heat and both earned high marks from critics.

The actress followed with the sleeper hit “Soul Food” (also 1997), playing the youngest of a trio of sisters, a newlywed struggling with her career as a hair stylist and the demands of her marriage to an ex-con (Mekhi Phifer) trying to go straight. After appearing in a pair of urban-oriented action-thrillers, “Butter” (1998) and “In Too Deep” (1999), Long appeared in the predominantly African American ensemble of writer-director Malcolm Lee’s “The Best Man” as the one-that-got-away old flame who reunites with her otherwise committed ex (Taye Diggs) at the wedding of a mutual friend, played the clubhopping best friend of Patricia Arquette in the horror-thriller “Stigmata,” starred opposite Jamie Foxx in the hostage comedy “Held Up” and appeared opposite Colin Firth in the low-profile Indie “The Secret Laughter of Women” (all 1999).

Long next appeared as Mary McCormack’s lesbian girlfriend in the gay-themed ensemble drama “The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy”; as a empathetic receptionist who shares a bond with Giovanni Ribisi in “Boiler Room”; played a member of a protective circle of lesbians in the HBO telepic “If These Walls Could Talk 2”; and played Martin Lawrence’s love interest/faux granddaughter in the comedy “Big Momma’s House” (all 2000).

After the middling haunted house film “Sightings: Heartland Ghost” (2002) and joining the cast of the NBC drama “Third Watch” in 2003, she scored as Melvin Van Peebles lover Sandra in “Baadasssss!” (2004) writer-director Mario van Peebles’ well-received account of the making of his father’s breakthrough film. She was also enticing in her supporting role in the 2004 remake of “Alfie,” playing the should-be-forbidden girlfriend of Alfie’s (Jude Law) best friend (Omar Epps) who proves too great a temptation. Long’s career continues to thrive, and says she loves doing Third Watch “because it’s not only a great character but I have the chance to do something unglamorous, which makes for some real acting challenges.” Long is committed to one more year of the series, admitting “that for the moment I just want to keep my options open.”