There isn’t much Queen Latifah has yet to conquer in the world of entertainment. With an endless resume (rapper, producer, actress, Cover Girl, mogul), Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens wears numerous crowns with poise and grace.
BET.com caught up with the royal risk-taker while promoting her latest film, playing opposite Dolly Parton in Joyful Noise, which opens in theatres this Friday. Here, she discusses her “unlikely” pairing with Miss Parton, missing female voices in hip hop and the importance of believing in one’s self.
What was it about this script that made you want to bring the character Vi Rose Hill to life?
There was nothing else that I’d seen or read that brought the whole competitive gospel competition world to the screen and there are so many different stories intertwined. Vi Rose is a mother of two, dealing with a teenage daughter, a son who has Asperger’s syndrome, as well as an estranged husband. G. G. Sparrow, played by Dolly Parton, is dealing with the loss of a loved one and has a grandson who is a bit of a troublemaker. They collectively find their way spiritually, being in touch with God and relationships. It’s just an overall great story with tons of humor and lots of music.
Miss Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah seem like an unlikely match. How would you describe your chemistry with Miss Dolly?
I think the idea of Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah is as natural as sliced bread and peanut butter and jelly! [Laughs] The idea of us playing these two roles together was perfect. I grew up admiring her style, her voice, her acting and her big boobs, to be honest! [Laughs] I developed rather early and the way she carried herself with confidence inspired me as a kid. I was just glad that she signed up to do the movie because she became such an important part of this film. During our very first conversation, we talked about how we could really inspire people through this film. That was an exciting proposition for me!
Any other fun set stories you would like to share?
Dolly Parton made me chicken and dumplings. That Tennessee woman can burn some pots! And we know that I am not necessarily shy to a fork! [Laughs] Being away from home and having a nice home cooked meal made by Dolly Parton was pretty incredible. She also brought homemade fudge to the set. Who has time to work a 16 to 18 hour day and go home and make fudge? She is a superwoman!
Set It Off celebrated its 15th anniversary in November. When you look back on Cleo, which was a ground breaking role for its time, what did you learn most from portraying her?
What I learned from portraying Cleo was that I really had to believe in myself. A lot of people, even those closest to me, were worried about me playing a character that was a criminal and a lesbian. But I thought that the role was just so juicy and there were so many levels that I could showcase. Before that role a lot of what I was doing and being offered was a remanufactured version of the image of Queen Latifah: a strong, Black, positive woman. I knew that I could never show people my acting skills if I kept playing a version of me. The director, F. Gary Gray, also wanted to strike out in a different direction, so he came up with that script and that role. Initially the script was really crazy! It was way more hard core then what you saw on the screen, the rewrite toned it down. I really had to take a chance and it paid off! Yeah, it caused a lot of controversy at the time, but I would not be sitting here today as an actor and a producer if I hadn’t taken that chance back then.
The last time you spoke to BET.com you mentioned how disappointed you were that female rappers had disappeared, but this was right before Nicki Minaj really blew up. Some are saying that Nicki is saving female rap, what is your take on that?
I don’t know about saving female rap, I think that she is one of the only female rappers out. That’s why Nicki Minaj has a lane that’s incredible right now. I’d like to see a couple more lanes open up. Yes, she is a voice and she’s doing an incredible job. I hope the door continues to open for other female rappers. I want to see 10 female rappers getting regular rotation. It can’t be all about a man’s opinion. The objectification of females is not a good thing! Not every rapper does this, but when the lyrics focus solely on the strip club, "poppin’ bottles" and how many girls they can "tap," it distorts what kids are learning. I think if there was more of a female presence in hip hop we could break up the monotony. It’s all about balance.
Why should the BET.com readers rush out to see Joyful Noise?
It is set in a town that’s suffering from the recession. It is so relevant right now to see people going through the struggles that they are going through. Ultimately, finding this spiritual aspect that uplifts everyone despite what’s going on. I feel like it is a great movie to bring to the screen for America and the world. It’s something that we need now.
Joyful Noise is in theaters Friday, January 13th.
Check out the BET.com exclusive clip featuring the music of Joyful Noise.
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