Queen Latifah Interview – HAIRSPRAY

     July 15, 2007

Opening up this Friday is the new version of “Hairspray,” and to help promote the movie New Line held a press day a few weeks ago where almost everyone involved with the film participated in roundtable interviews. About a week ago I posted a bunch of the interviews… and tonight I’ll be posting the rest.

So up now is the interview with Queen Latifah where she talks about getting the part, making the film and what she’s working on next.

If you aren’t familiar with the story…here is the synopsis:

Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, has only one passion – dancing. Her dream is to appear on “The Corny Collins Show,” Baltimore’s hippest dance party on TV. Tracy (Nikki Blonsky) seems a natural fit for the show except for one not-so-little problem – she doesn’t fit in. Her plus-sized figure has always set her apart from the cool crowd, which she is reminded of by her loving but overly protective plus-sized mother, Edna (John Travolta). That doesn’t stop Tracy because if there is one thing that this girl knows, it’s that she was born to dance. As her father Wilbur (Christopher Walken) tells her, “Go for it! You’ve got to think big to be big.”

After wowing Corny Collins (James Marsden) at her high school dance, Tracy wins a spot on his show and becomes an instant on-air sensation, much to the chagrin of the show’s reigning princess, Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), and her scheming mother, Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer), who runs television station WYZT. Even worse for Amber is the fact that it’s not just the audience who loves the new girl in town; Amber’s sweetheart, Link Larkin (Zac Efron), seems to be smitten with Tracy’s charms as well. This dance party gets personal as a bitter feud erupts between the girls as they compete for the coveted “Miss Teenage Hairspray” crown.

At school, however, a short stint in detention and raised-eyebrows caused by the budding relationship between her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) and Seaweed (Elijah Kelley) opens Tracy’s eyes to a bigger issue than the latest dance craze or the coolest hairdo – racial inequality. Throwing caution to the wind, she leads a march with Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) to fight for integration and winds up with an arrest warrant instead. Tracy is on the lam now and goes underground – literally – to her best friend Penny’s basement.

Has Tracy’s luck finally run out? Will she miss the final dance-off against Amber and forfeit the title of “Miss Hairspray,” or will she sing and dance her way out of trouble again?

When big hair meets big dreams anything can happen – and does – in this high-energy comedy that proves you don’t have to fit in to win.

As always, you can download the audio of the roundtable interview by clicking here. It’s an MP3 and easily placed on a portable player.

Finally, I recently posted some movie clips from “Hairspray” and also some behind the scenes videos. You can click on either link to watch them.

“Hairspray” opens on July 20th.

Question: Where you familiar with the stage show and the previous movie?

Queen Latifah: Yes. Mm-hmm. I hadn’t seen the movie in quite a while but I definitely went and saw the play. And that’s where Tevin Campbell is. Tevin Campbell, he’s on Broadway. That was pretty much my extent of it.

What was the process of you getting involved with this?

The idea of it came up. My agents called me. We came and met with Neil and Craig here at the Four Seasons and sat down and had some lunch and there was no script and most of the cast was not in place but I worked with them on “Chicago.” I know how they work. I have a good relationship with them. Adam was directing. I’ve worked with Adam. We had a great relationship so I knew that was going to be a breeze and it’s his element. I think John was involved, too. John was probably the only person cast other than me. And so I kind of banked on the quality control of those guys that the script would be right and they talked to me about the character and how important she is to these kids really making a change. And I thought that was cool. And that I would have some good music to sing. That was nice.

Michelle said she didn’t give any advice to the younger cast. Did anyone come up to you? Did you give them any advice?

I did give them a little bit of advice when they came to me. Some of it I can’t repeat because this is very sensitive stuff, but you know those kids are all right. I mean they really, for the most part, from everything I could see, they have their heads on straight. They were responsible. They showed up, they showed up on time, they showed up ready to go. Time will help them and experience will help them learn how to be savvy in this business. And a couple bumps and bruises along the way will toughen them up a little bit but other than that they’re good to go. They don’t really need any advice. They did what they were supposed to do and did it well. So I’m not the type that’s going to sit and preach to people if they don’t need it just because I’ve been around the block a few times. Nah. The kids really impressed me, especially Nikki because she’s never done this. So even for her, first movie, big movie, big cast, big stars, you know, Oscar winning producers, and she handled it like a champ. I mean she was poised, she was excited, she was humble and she rocked it. I can’t even see anybody else as Tracy Turnblad.

Did you have any character in your head from childhood or anywhere else to base your character on? Did you think of a performer or a singer?

No. Not so much a performer, well, I tried to use some of the rap rhythm that I have in the repertoire. Some of the disc jockeys that used to kind of talk very rhythmically. This character usually speaks in rhymes, and although that was changed for the film, we still wanted to keep a little bit of that rhythm. So there’s certain places where I was able to inject that into it. But a lot of her is based on my mom who was a high school teacher and was one of those teachers that was really cool with the kids and they would come to her if they had some problems at home, if they got pregnant, you know whatever was going on, they would come to Ms. O because she respected kids and she understood they needed to have respect just as much as give it. You know people are always trying to tell kids what to do like they have no mind and they’re stupid and all this kind of stuff but when there was no heat in the school or when the books weren’t there, she was like, “Hey, you need to organize and protest, you know, sit in.” Of course, the administration didn’t know why suddenly three hundred students were in the auditorium quietly sitting there. But she was that kind of teacher that would help empower kids. And so that spirit is part of who I think Motormouth Maybelle is. She wants to see the future for them change. She wants them to have the same opportunities, black kids for sure to have the same opportunities, and even a pleasingly plump little girl named Tracy Turnblad. So nothing should stand in the way of your dream. And I think that’s kind of who she is. I got a lot of that from my mom.

The movie is full of great musical numbers but I found your number in the march to be the show stopper.

Thank you.

Can you talk about filming that scene and was it emotional to you?

It was definitely emotional to me. It was something I would not allow myself to forget. And it’s easy when you got a bunch of young people around you and they’re cracking jokes all the time and they’re talking. But I didn’t feel that type of seriousness where I needed to make everybody be quiet, where I was so in the moment that I needed to have that. Sometimes it’s like that on a movie set and you’re in it and you don’t want to hear a bunch of crazy stuff going on, but I would never have so much fun that I would allow myself to forget that somebody marched so I could do this. And someone got bit by a dog and hosed by fire hoses so that we could do this, so we could sit at this table together, all of us, of different nationalities and races and talk. Or dance. Or make music. Yeah, that scene was emotional, too. It was weird because they wet the street down, one of the streets we shot on. And it was like I’m looking at all these kids, these black people, and this truck is shooting this water out and I’m like, it just reminded me of seeing images of people getting hosed and falling down and running and fear. So, yeah, all that was in the back of my head. All that was like underneath.

I thought I saw a tear coming down.

You might have. You might have because I love that song. The song alone just gets me there. Just the lyrics, the melody and the emotion of it, so I mean I’m glad because this movie stays here for the whole time and there’s a couple of scenes that give you a minute to catch your breath and just sort of go into a different place and then it shoots you right back up. So you leave feeling good. I got you on that.

Someone said that if there was a tag team that if there was going to be an interracial comedy, that it was going to be Queen Latifah and it was going to be Adam. How do you feel abouy being a go-to team?

What? Adam’s white or something? [laughs] Adam’s not white! [laughs] I don’t know about the go-to team. I’m with it. I’ll sign up for that. That’s cool. But me and Adam, we click, man. That’s my boy. He’s crazy. And so am I, so we work well together. And we just bonded a lot on “Bringing Down the House.” So I understand him and anytime we get to work together, we’re about to do “All of Me Together,” the remake of “All of Me,” so we’re going to be working together again and that’s going to be fun again. I enjoy going to work and having a good time. It’s tough when you got to work with people who just are in a bad mood all the damn time. So this is, I don’t know, we had fun. Hopefully people will come to the theaters and make this movie a big success.

Do you feel that you’re different from the rest of Hollywood for taking these chances?

To do musicals?

To do the interracial musical?

No. No, not really. I think if anything Hollywood‘s going to be mad because they didn’t get a hold of that properly first. Neil and Craig scooped it up. They did what they had to do. No. That kind of stuff is interesting to watch. And I think what’s different about this movie is it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. It’s all over the movie, it’s there. But it’s a comedy, you know what I mean? Some people I think get nervous going to watch movies that involve some racism or size-ism for that matter because they feel like they don’t want to feel guilty about things or they don’t want to feel like, “Yeah, my grandfather owned your grandfather, but that’s not me.” You know what I mean? They don’t want to feel bad about it. And black people don’t want to feel like “Oh, there they go, dogging us out again.” You know? But this is not really that kind of movie. It speaks to it, it says something about it, but the way it deals with it keeps you in the right… It keeps you in a light place at the end of the day.

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How weird was it to walk down the street with Travolta in that getup?

I didn’t walk down the street with Travolta in that getup. I don’t think I would walk down the street with Travolta.

The marching scene where you’re marching together.

Oh that one. I’m thinking you thought I might be walking down the street [with him] while he’s in the suit. I’m like why would we be doing that? Oh. [laughs] Thank you. Now we’re cooking with gas. Okay. Okay. You know what? I tell you we just got used to him like that. I mean I saw more of him as Edna than I did of John because he’d come in, he’d go in three hours of makeup and when I’d see him, we’d be on set. So he’d come to set as Edna. And even if he took the suit off, he still had the face and the hair, you know, until we shot again. So I kind of got used to him that way. He really had the sensitivity that she needed and the kindness. Edna’s like a sweet lady. You like Edna. She can be tough, too, but she had to find her inner tiger again. So I kind of, I was used to him in that way. Yeah. Seeing him around here as a dude is like, okay, yeah. He’s dude, you know what I mean? What up, John? How’s it going? He’s nice like that anyway. He’s a sweet guy.

Are you doing the lily Tomlin part in the “All of Me” remake?

Yes. I got the cush job. [laughs] Whoever’s not going to be Lily Tomlin is going to be doing some serious work. Yeah. But we’re hearing a bunch of pitches. We’re supposed to pick one next week, pick a writer next week. Everybody’s been coming in and pitching. Adam’s sister and New Line and they’re kind of just weeding through the pile and then we’ll decide.

Has anyone else been attached?

No, no, no. Just me, New Line and Adam. Adam’s company. But Adam’s not directing necessarily. We’re just producing it together.

How do you feel about 60’s music and listening to it?

I love it. I love it. And I feel like it’s making a comeback too with people like Amy Winehouse and Lauren, what she used on her album and there’s another girl Sharon something I’ve been listening to. Gosh, I can’t remember her last name but I hope it kind of makes a comeback. I mean that kind of music, that rhythm, that sound, it’s just, it’s so simple and powerful. Yeah, I hope that comes right back, too. That’d be nice.

The kids in the audience that I was next to were dressed up like 60’s girls and they were moving to it.

Yeah. For sure.

That wasn’t their generation.

No, it sure wasn’t. But music is universal so if you do it right it’s going to resonate with somebody, you know?

Are you working on any recording right now?

Yes. I’m about to finish my album in the next two weeks. It’ll be done by the 30th. Another half like jazz and eclectic stuff, you know, all covers. It’ll be out on September 18th.

What’s it called?

“Trav’lin’ Light.”

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