Slightly hung over from the night before celebrating her birthday at the Four Seasons hotel, Queen Latifah, donned in sunglasses was weary but still in a good mood when we met again to talk cartoons, music and partying.
Question: Is it automatic to say yes to a movie like this when it comes your way?
Queen Latifah: No. Well, I think that a movie like this is what it is. You’ve seen it and you know what you’re walking into and it’s cool because the kids have something to look at and so I know that my niece and nephew will like it. They’ll be like, ‘Auntie, what’re you doing in that TV?’ Kids don’t get it at all. They’re like, ‘How are you coming out of the TV?’ If I see that they see me coming out of the TV and then I call the house at the same time they’re trying to figure it all out.
Question: How did you like this role?
Queen Latifah: I loved it. I mean, finally something interesting and challenging. That’s the fun of it all. I’ll have to figure out what possum’s do.
Question: How did you do that?
Queen Latifah: I just went online and looked it up. They’re like the trash keepers of the wild and they eat anything. They play dead and they really mean it. They seize up and I was like, ‘I’m starting to understand how this could be very, very strange.’
Question: It’s kind of analogous to humans in a way. Do you think that?
Queen Latifah: I think that it can be. I think that there are a bunch of those things.
Question: What about it being a tender love story about two people getting together?
Queen Latifah: That’s part of it. I don’t know. Yeah. I don’t know if Ellie wear’s her loneliness on her sleeve like Manny does, but part of it is about him moving on and living life again and conquering fears. One of my favourite things that comes across in the movie is the idea of family. You’re family is who they are and not what it’s supposed to look like, and I love that because here are some friends that are like family. They become family, their own little herd by the end of this thing and I think that’s kind of cool because there are a lot of non-traditional families out there that need a little love and so this will be kind of cool for them.
Question: You’re a gregarious kind of person, and so how hard or easy is it for you to work on your own like you have to when doing a film like this?
Queen Latifah: It was very challenging. I have to say that this was one of the toughest jobs that I’d taken on in a long time because I didn’t have the benefit of having co-stars right there, sets, props, wardrobe or whatever it is that gets me in the moment.
Question: Do you have a big imagination?
Queen Latifah: I do have a big imagination and I relied on a lot of it for this, but even my imagination wasn’t allowed to be as free as it can be because Ellie is who she is and the director and producer have an idea about what they want. So I had to reign it all in to kind of be this person. So it was very challenging.
Question: How did you get the voice chemistry with ray romano if you’re not working together at all? Do you prepare ahead of time?
Queen Latifah: I think that he just looks at a lot of pictures of me online and imagines what I might be like [Laughs]. I’m like, ‘You damn freak.’
Question: Is that chemistry even a concern? Do you go about trying to think about that or putting that in there?
Queen Latifah: I think no. It was a little difficult at first for me because there was some connections that were missing in the script which they were working on and Ellie couldn’t be – she was so naive and so unaware. It was like, ‘How the hell are we going to connect these people?’ But we talked about it and I said, ‘There has to be a scene where she realizes who she is. Where she remembers and you show whatever happened to her and how she wound up being like this, and if she remembers maybe she’ll get there.’ So they added this wonderful scene where she remembers the location and she remembers all that happened and how she came to be with this family and it was kind of like the step that she needed to take to grow up. Otherwise we keep seeing her as like a teenager instead of a woman and I think that it was very helpful that she did that. I think that it’s kind of a tipping point for the character, if we can say that with this animated movie.
Question: Do you identify with the character at all?
Queen Latifah: Yeah. I definitely identify with the fun loving side of Ellie. Some of the craziness, like, if someone was chasing me I probably wouldn’t play dead. I would hall ass.
Question: You’re a fun loving girl?
Queen Latifah: I definitely am. You just remember that, how fun I can be [Laughs].
Question: You had a birthday yesterday?
Queen Latifah: Yes. I turned twenty one. I was downstairs at the bar with a bunch of friends and now I’m paying for it.
Question: So just a hotel bar?
Queen Latifah: The Four Seasons bar, and when you have to work the next day you can’t go all out, and yet I still managed to have a lot of fun.
Question: The hip rhythm and the flow that you have, does that help with doing a voice?
Queen Latifah: Definitely.
Question: Is it a rhythm that you get into or do you just concentrate on the voice?
Queen Latifah: Well, I think that it’s both actually. It is the way that you think about the words. It’s the little things that you hear and I’m used to hearing those things in headphones and I’m used to recording in a studio. So I’m used to having to get myself there regardless of having the outside world. So that part was not quite so bad and then the timing comes along when you have to sync yourself to the playback. You’re hearing something, but you’re seeing it on the screen. So once they start animating a scene you might need more of a performance, but it’s still kind of married to the scene and so you have to match that timing with a different energy. That stuff, I think, having the hip hop and the music background, the singing, all of that has been very helpful to me even with other films like when it comes to ADR. I’m always a little quicker than most people probably because of that background.
Question: You have a lot of stuff going on. How do you keep a balance in your life, staying happy and so on versus all the work that you’re doing?
Queen Latifah: It’s all about that. Occasionally you have to get bent beyond recognition. That helps you to keep everything in perspective. Once you have to look at life through whatever colour glasses – right.
Question: Do you feel a certain sense of responsibility because so many young fans look up to you?
Queen Latifah: I always have. I’ve always had that feeling, but I don’t share the load alone. I have a partner. I have a staff. I have family and friends who understand and I don’t live in Hollywood. I mean, I might live in Hollywood, but I don’t live in Hollywood.
Question: Where do you live?
Queen Latifah: I live in New Jersey and I live here in L.A., but I don’t live and die by what I do for a living. I mean, I live a life outside of Hollywood.
Question: The last time we talked you said you’d like to have a family and start a family. You still feel the same?
Queen Latifah: Yeah. I want that.
Question: Is it hard to balance that aspect of life?
Queen Latifah: It has been. It has been. I’ve tried to handle a bunch of stuff before I got to that point, but I think that I’m ready. I don’t think that I’ll mess my kids up any worse than anyone else [Laughs].
Question: What are the requirements for Mr. Right?
Queen Latifah: Good clean sex. Intelligence. Creativity. Athleticism. Most importantly though, good clean sex.
Question: Do you have kids that you spend time with?
Queen Latifah: I have nieces and nephews. I have a lot of little cousins and stuff. I mean, friends of mine have kids who think that I live in the TV and so they come over to the house.
Question: Now that you’re a wooly mammoth what are they going to say?
Queen Latifah: They’ll be happy. It’ll be fun. The kids I don’t worry about because their imagination stretches far enough to make it all work out I guess.
Question: When did you get your first glimpse of this character and how did you think she looked?
Queen Latifah: Right away. They pretty much had an idea of what she was going to look like when they approached me about doing it. I always thought that she looked cool and the more hair she got I was like, ‘Yeah!’ But there are so many scenes where she has the biggest, prettiest eyes and makes these expressions and you’re just like, ‘Oh, Ellie.’ She’s so adorable, really adorable.
Question: Are there going to be any Ellie dolls?
Queen Latifah: I sure do. They gave me the doll and I had to keep the doll away from my dog because my dog thinks that all dolls are ours to play with. I’m like, ‘No!!’ He came in the room one time with the doll and I was like, ‘Gimme that! Calm down. Relax.’ I tried to make him not play tug of war and trade another doll for Ellie.
Question: What kind of beast is he?
Queen Latifah: He’s half lab and half wemereiner. So he looks like a black wemereiner which is kind of cool.
Question: What’s going on with ‘Bad Girls’?
Queen Latifah: If we ever get that done. We’re just rewriting that. Rewriting it and rewriting it. We’re trying to get the script right, but the idea is right. Me and Jada ducking shots. It would be a wonderful cast. We’re just trying to get the script right.
Question: What’s going on with ‘Bad Girls?’it’s the female equivalent of ‘Bad Boys’?
Queen Latifah: Yeah. Exactly.
Question: You’re not affected by all the turmoil of Paramount?
Queen Latifah: Not really. I mean, who can’t be affected by any company that’s trying to find it’s new legs again. But I think if they keep doing what they’re doing they’ll work it all out.
Question: What else are you doing? Are you recording?
Queen Latifah: Yeah. I’m recording a new album right now. I’m working on another album as well. I’m doing two albums at the same time. One is all written, all the material is new. The other one is covers and new material. So I’m busy in the studio. It’s been fun. I’ll tour this summer too. Then we shoot ‘Hairspray’ after that.
Question: How is that coming along?
Queen Latifah: That’s going to be fun. I can’t imagine that it’s going to be anything, but fun.
Question: John Travolta doing that role?
Queen Latifah: Yeah. I’m looking forward to someone else being dressed up and being in makeup longer than me. That is always a pleasure. He’s going to be able to relate to his wife so much better after making this movie. ‘Honey, I love you. You work so hard.’
Question: Is it a life long dream to do a musical film like this?
Queen Latifah: Well, after ‘Chicago,’ to just do another musical is always going to be fun. It’s not just about the fact of doing a musical. It’s about the work involved, the work ethic. It’s about showing up and having to sing, dance and act. There’s just something to be said about that. You kind of get whipped into shape and it’s kind of fun. You do something that’s really enjoyable to do too. You trust the director and the producer because you know that they come from stage and they’re bringing a crew to make it happen. ‘Chicago’ was like that.
Question: Are you a big Spurs fan?
Queen Latifah: Not particularly. I’m not a big Spurs fan. I’m not, not a Tony Parker fan. I’m just not a big Spurs fan. I saw them play a few times, and they’re a great team, but I’m more of a Detroit Nets fan. I’m an east coast person and we roll with who we with.
Question: What’s left for you to conquer?
Queen Latifah: I have yet to conquer this morning wake up thing, this morning person thing. I’m working on that. It might be that I have to agree to disagree.
Question: What we’re you drinking last night?
Queen Latifah: Tequila. I haven’t been drinking a lot at all and so I don’t have a tolerance level at all. I’m over the hill.