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January 2005
Are We There Yet?: An Interview with Nia Long


Are We There Yet?: An Interview with Nia Long

By Wilson Morales

When you think about it, Nia Long made her bones in this business after her role in "Boyz N the Hood". Yes, she had already appeared in other films prior to that, and had a soap opera and numerous appearances on TV shows, but it was the John Singleton that launched her career as a leading actress. Since then, she's played and carried many films as the lead such as "Love Jones", and has starred along today's leading black men such as Jamie Foxx, Taye Diggs, and Omar Epps. Interesting enough, Nia's never played the role of a mother before and being a real-life mom now, the time was right for her to, not just act, but throw her passion as a mother, in the role. Starring along with Ice Cube, who also got his break in "Boyz N the Hood", Nia plays a mother who entrusts the care of her kids to a man who wants to date her in "Are We There Yet?." In speaking with blackfilm.com, Nia talks about working with Ice Cube again and her what she wants to do next in the film industry.


So, how many movies have you and Ice Cube done over the years?

Nia Long: Three.


How is he treating you over the years?

NL: We were talking about this the other day because we're saying how when we were shooting "Boys in the Hood", you had a sense of this is going to be a good movie because it was real; it really depicted our lives and the world that we grew up in, but that we didn't have the level of experience in terms of working in the industry so there was that sense of "is that good" or "that it was good" but you weren't sure and you needed to see it and this is an industry that the more you work the better you get and that the more opportunities you have the better you get.


So you figure that's how you changed by now you're a lot better because you've worked so much more?

NL: I didn't say all that. I didn't make it that simplistic. I don't know about me but I think you grow through your experiences; you get better as you grow and I'm not nearly where I think I'm going to be eventually where I inspire to be and hopefully the opportunities will continue to come and in terms of Cube I think he's very conscious of the technical aspect of the business whereas when you're just hired as an actor, you're not really secure in that part of your work and you're not really paying attention to where the camera is and for me I'm also very technical especially after being on the series (Third Watch) because everything is about the shot and it's boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You know what shot is good for what as you're doing.


Did you read the script or did you just go ahead and say yes, I'm going to take this script?

NL: Oh no, you always read the script because you have no idea what's going to happen.


How did you feel about the kids - the part about the kids playing atrocious games on Ice Cube's character?

NL: I said to Brian (Levant, the director), "Brian no one is going to respect me as a mother after this." He said, "oh no, yes they will, this is a movie, don't worry about it." But they're not, they're fighting for you and your ex-husband to get back together, don't worry about it and so that look that they actually use in the commercial in the trailer, that was one of my moments where I have to give a black mama look because if I don't I'm going to be in trouble.


I think in the black community a generation ago there's no way those kids would have acted this way.

NL: Yeah, no, I know. That's true. I mean I have a four year old and I'm telling you we did Nickelodeon last night and he embarrassed me. It was like one of those moments when I couldn't believe my kid is acting like this. I just had to just like walk away from him because he was really pushing my buttons.


Was he bratty or just being wild?

NL: He just was being four. He just was being a child. He wasn't interested in what my agenda was. He wanted to do what he wanted to do and it started because he saw the lights on in Toys R Us. They have the big ferris wheel and we've been out of town for two months, so he just was like, "Mommy I want to go to Toys R Us and I don't care if you have a movie coming out and all that." He was just being a kid. But I had to allow him to have that moment. I don't think you should reprimand your child for everything you're feeling because for them it's as serious as when something happens in our day and we get upset about it.


Especially being age appropriate -

NL: Yeah, they're a little temperamental.


What are we going to see you in next?

NL: I just got the script for "Big Mama's House II" and so that's kind of circulating. We'll see what happens with that. It's on the release schedule. We haven't even gotten a start date but we'll see what happens with that and that will be fun. I've gotten a couple of other things but I'm not really committing myself to anything yet.


What would you like to do next because you've done so much? Would a character like that Regina King role with Ray something you'd like to do?

NL: For me, I need to do a project that starred me, that's about me, developed by me, and produced by me. Regina did an amazing job in Ray. I love her, but it was still Jaime's movie so you can be supporting and have those great moments but if you're talking about getting an Academy nomination, and she should get supporting actress and I hope it happens. I've seen some great write ups and I emailed her the other night because I saw her on an awards show recently.


The Golden Globes?

NL: Not the Golden Globes I think it was People's Choice. I was like, You look beautiful" and we're like two-waying each other and I'm at home in my bed and she's there looking beautiful but it's a process. I think for me to find that project is going to be something that I'm going to have to develop for myself.


That's the formula it seems now. You really have to do it yourself where you have control so that studio executives are not involved in the initial stage.

NL: Well, the studios don't really want to take those risks right off the bat. They'll take the risk after they've seen the finished product and say oh yeah we want that. This is a great film but they are hesitant to take the risk when you just see it on paper.


Would you want to do somebody's story, bio-pics are in these days. Is there someone that you think would make a great life story?

NL: I think Nina Simone has had an amazing journey. She was spicy and she had attitude and she didn't care, she wanted her money in a paper bag and don't mess with me and I've been doing some research on that so.


Was she crazy too?

NL: Was she crazy? Aren't we all? Aren't us all a little bit left - aren't we all just a little bit like - we're often misunderstood - I know for me like I have a reputation of being kind of tough, I have a reputation of also being the girl next door, kind of sweet but I have standards and my thing is, it's me on that screen and I don't have control over everything in this and I'm grateful and thankful and we're all in the service business. If you hire me to do a job I expect everybody else to be where I am. A little bit of crazy is good. It keeps things - balanced.


Do you think a film like Ray will come around again?

NL: It took a long time to get that film made. I went in for it almost right after or like maybe six or seven months after I had my son and actually auditioned for the Regina King part and they just were like, "No, you're just - you just don't really seem the part" and I'm like but no - and was happy she got it and I have to sort of - and one of the reasons I did Third Watch is because I wanted to break that thing of just being the pretty girl and play it down and let it be about the work and - but anyway that's a whole other subject - I think when you look at the work that Jaime has done even like Ray Charles he - to have someone else come along and be Ray Charles, I don't know - that's like I don't know. For Jaime I think - when you look at his body of work - he's really, really, really talented. And I think there are a lot of other actors that are just talented, it's just about this opportunity - it's just about when are we going to be put in those positions where we can shine because really it's not that difficult, but you need the words, you need the script, you need the material, you need the commitment, you need the passion, it's like we depend on writers, we depend on producers, directors depend on us and once things are in the divine order as they happen the way they're supposed to and I know for Ray no one wanted to pick up the film, it was in turn around forever.


How is like to do a TV series?

NL: First of all when you're a mommy like you like the consistency of being on a show like that's just peace of mind, I know I have financial, you know stability, I know where I'm going to be, I'm not traveling here and there and everywhere. That didn't necessarily prompt me to it but it definitely opened up my mind of saying okay, maybe this is a good time to do this, I've been - I took a little break - I was coming back to work and the last thing I was going to do was take a step backwards, so I knew that if I was going to take a feature it was going to have to be taking a step forward and that's when Alfie came along and it was the perfect vehicle for me to come back, playing a little bit older, playing a little bit more, not so much girl but now woman with some issues and then this came along, so you have to talk about building a career and Third Watch is something for me. It's like going to the gym everyday. It really is. I work hard on my craft, I sweat a little bit, I run a little bit, I might sprain an ankle every now and them, but it's all good and the more you do it, the more in shape you are and it's like a machine, it's my motor, it's the thing that keeps me going and so when I have these auditions for these big movies, I can depend on myself because I've been working consistently.


Do you watching yourself on the screen? Do you watch the movie as a spectator or do you focus on yourself? What goes through your mind when you see yourself on the screen?

NL: I can look at a scene and know exactly how I felt in that moment. It's weird but I can watch Boys in the Hood and know exactly how I felt in a moment. It's totally a reflection of my personal growth, my personal feeling, it indicates like moments in my own life where you've had to separate the personal from the professional. They say film is timeless and it really is in that sense for me because I can watch things and know exactly how I felt but I've also had those moments where I thought that was really good, I got where I wanted to go, I like the way it was put together and how it was edited and then there are moments where I didn't really love that so much, my make up, my hair, and you're critical, but I pay less attention to those things because I feel like I've been doing this since I was 18 years old. I'm 34, and it's like the work is there, it's just a matter of me getting those opportunities and growing and reaching different levels of the business and you can't be so hard on yourself.


What was the first movie you ever saw?

NL: Kramer v. Kramer was the first film that I remember seeing. That and Mahogany but Kramer v. Kramer, oh my God this is so dramatically good, it may have been because I was from divorced parents that I could really relate to sort of the subject matter.


What were you like 10?

NL: What year was that?


1979

NL: I was about 9.


In "Are We There Yet?" divorced parents plays into this role - on behalf of the kids sitting there - and I understand from reading about it that this is something with a lot of kids - a lot of kids of divorced parents.

NL: Oh yeah.


Is if their parents will get back together again. Do you think the movie is positive for the kids that are going to be seeing it to tell them that this is not a good thing to be thinking?

NL: I don't think it's a matter of not a good thing to be thinking of, I think it's just going to say, , you're not like the only one that feels this way, there are other children that feel what you feel but I'm a single mom myself, it just didn't work out, hey, that's life, we're great friends, I have a beautiful son, I don't regret it, I'm very proud of the way that we handle our relationship and the way that we keep our son first and that's our priority. I'm not going to live my life unhappy and why should he and we talk about it and I think what's great about the film is that it shows is the meaning of family doesn't have to be as traditional as it once was, like you can make a family, your best friend can become more of your family than your sister, your uncle can play the role of your father more than your father ever did, so it's really about making those connections with people and knowing that you have a team where you're surrounded with people that love you and that's what family really is about and for those fathers that aren't taking that responsibility they're the ones that are missing out. A girlfriend of mine came to the premiere and she was there with her kids and was recently separated and I forgot to tell her that this is part of the film and I said you know what, it's okay though because let them come to you with questions and if they don't have questions then you know it wasn't a disturbing thing, and she said they never said one word to her, and she's got like five kids, all ages, so you know it can be very healing.


We talked about like the wide variety of roles you played, what was your sexiest scene -- in the Boys in the Hood movie that you done?

NL: I don't like to judge myself in that way, that's hard, I think probably Alfie and I think I had some really good moments in Love Jones. I think Love Jones because that's the kind of person I am - that film and Lorenzo's just - he's steadfast.


Is nudity an issue for you?

NL: As long as I've been at a gym and it all looks right I'm cool. If I haven't worked out I'm keeping my clothes on.


Thank you.


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