Starring in over 15 big and small screen films and TV series such as Why Did I Get Married and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, singer Jill Scott has managed to transform herself into a variety of phenomenal women.
The Philadelphia native reincarnated herself effortlessly again most recently in the James Brown biopic Get on Up, now on Blu-ray and DVD. When Scott spoke to BET.com, she shared the complexities of playing Brown’s wife Dee Dee Brown, who was a victim of spousal abuse. The singer also shared what she learned about love from her onscreen romance and gave us the scoop on her upcoming album.
BET.com In Get on Up you portray Dee Dee Brown, one of James Brown’s wives. How did you prepare for the role?
Jill Scott: I spoke to her grandson most of the time. He was there, he was working on set. He brought in pictures and video footage of her. And I just watched her. One thing was very clear; she was completely in love with James Brown. She was just mesmerized by him and initially that was his reaction to her as well. There was a powerful connection between those two people. Her love for him wouldn’t be broken and couldn’t be dissipated until it finally was. And even still, if you were to speak to her, she is still very much in love with James Brown. And he’s passed on.
James and Dee Dee’s relationship housed elements of his darker side. His physical abuse of her was depicted in the film. How did you approach that difficult aspect of their love story?
Spousal abuse is something that I’m aware of, it occurred in my lifetime. Not with me, but I grew up around it. I saw it, and I knew the effects of it on the women and the children. I also knew the men who did the horrible deeds. I never understood it. I never understood how someone could stay in a situation like that. Filming the movie gave me a different insight into love. Sometimes love is bigger than what anybody else can understand. I think the most powerful love is an understanding between two people that nobody else has to understand. It opened my eyes in a way because had it been me, I’m just going to say it… there will be no hitting on Jill. None. But I’ve never loved anybody like that.
It sounds like you were exploring the concept of what a person will tolerate and accept because of their depth of love for another person.
I think we make such harsh judgments about people and their existence because we're on the other side of it and we think we would never partake in anything like that. But when I spoke to Dee Dee, even after James remarried a few times, she still valued the moments of tenderness, kindness and love that she shared with him so much that it made me feel like I don’t know anything about love and I need to learn some new things. I’m not saying that I ever, ever want to be harmed but I’m just saying there’s more to living and loving than the square box in our minds. It made me look at things a little differently. I’m not saying that I understand a man harming a woman. I do not, and I think that is terrible. And believe me, I know it, I was a child in it. But at the same time, I had to step out of my personal feelings — because it’s not me, not my story or my life — and look at it with a certain heartfelt rationality. I had to step outside of my heart and use my mind to understand. And then I had to step back into my heart so that I could be Dee Dee.
Shifting gears, you’re currently finishing up your new album. What can longtime Jill Scott fans expect from your upcoming release?
Guts. It really is a new level of bravery. I feel like I put on my cape for this one. And the great musicianship on it, the cup runneth over. There are producers that you wouldn’t expect for me to work with, but once you hear, it all makes sense. And I’m a storyteller, so there are stories involved and definitely more funk. I’m making a stew; I’ve been adding country, soul, folktales, hip hop and all kinds of herbs and spices.
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(Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)