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January 2005
LAST HOLIDAY: An Interview with Queen Latifah

LAST HOLIDAY: An Interview with Queen Latifah

 

By Stacey Chapman

After “Bringing Down The House” and last year’s “Beauty Shop”, Queen Latifah takes top billing in the film LAST HOLIDAY.  This Academy Award Nominee portrays Georgia Byrd, an underappreciated sales associate, who discovers she has three weeks to live.  Realizing her fate she empties her bank account and fulfills her fantasy by vacationing in a high end European ski resort.  Blackfilm.com interviewed Latifah about the film, her life in entertainment and romancing her co-star LL Cool J.


This film was originally portrayed by a man, Al Guiness. Could you talk about that? Why should a woman play a role that was intended for a man?

Queen Latifah: A woman's right to a man's role. I reserve the right to be creative and to re-conceptualize a lot of these movies. They need to be switched with a little flavor added to them or have a new twist on them that wasn't there before. Studios are open to that. Talent drives a lot of the scripts that you see. So, if a studio wants to work with me the writers make a way for that to happen. It's really not that difficult. I'm not going to limit myself to the typical female role, let alone the African American female role.


The tagline of your film is 'She Always thought She was Somebody...And She Was'. When was the first time you experienced something like that? Not knowing something existed and being surprised and happy at the same time.

QL: Summer camp when I first kissed that boy. I didn't know life could be like that (jokingly). I guess when I was young doing things with my grandfather in Maryland, horseback riding, making home made ice cream, camping, also getting outside of Newark, (NJ). It was fun in Newark but to come to NYC, was definitely an eye opener as a kid. I just loved NY growing up and I still do today. It was all these people, the pace, and the energy. Eventually, I came to New York and became who I wanted to be and created my identity because I was from Jersey.


 


You know LL Cool J from the music industry. What was it like working with him on screen and having him play your love interest?

QL: Well, there's no love interest like LL Cool J (jokingly). It's interesting because we used to work together. Flava Unit Manangement managed him for a period of time. His wife is cool as hell and always has been. In our scenes, I have to act when I allow myself to think that way about him. Working with him is fun because we both come from music backgrounds and have made this transition to film. We still have our roots in music so we can sit around and rhyme. He started rhyming one of my old records; I started rhyming his old records. Then there is respect because we are one of the few rappers that had our own sitcom, got into film, so we wound up working together. I had the same kind of feeling working with Ice Cube and Will (Smith) who's been like a brother to me all these years. As far as the role, I thought this would be good for LL Cool J because you don't usually see him play this type of character. I thought it would show more of his range and make him more empathetic to people. It's a beautiful character that LL plays in this film. He is still that strong guy albeit the cockiness and brazenness or brashness and the outgoing attitude or physicality that you see with many of his roles. He's an emotional sensitive guy who just has a crush on a girl. The film is a classic love story.


What was it about this that pulled you in and made you say, "yeah, this is a role that I can do, that I am going to do"?

QL: To play a character (Georgia) that's shy, meek and humble. That's always bending over backwards for everyone else, afraid of a lot of things and kind of scared to take a chance. She cooks wonderful meals but won't eat them, has all this money in the bank but won't spend it. She won't approach this guy she's in love with for fear of being rejected. So, she's a woman that lives in fear and that's not something I embrace personally. I challenge fear or I try to rebel against it.


You look fabulous in the film but your hair...Did you have a choice about your hair?

QL: I had a hairstylist and make-up artist for all the scenes in New Orleans but she did not do any of the European stuff. Another guy, Nathan, took over and finished up. I hate my hair in this movie! But for where we were, who might have been doing my hair in Prague and the fact that it's black hair, we just figured, hey, the stylist just gave me this crazy ass hair style. This corny hairstyle, that personally Dana Owens would never wear, but Georgia Byrd might, so it's all good.


Just like you did in your film BEAUTY SHOP you recognize and honor working women. In this film when the Valet recognizes that she's a "bitch" you say "No, you're just like a lot of women who work too hard." Can you talk about that?

QL: I tend to relate to people. I definitely relate to the working man, that's what my family is, that's where I come from. I love it when there are lines like that. My character is a hard working woman who's not appreciated at her job until she's about to quit. That's when she's made aware that she's valuable to the company. That shouldn't happen and that's not right. You should be awarded for good work and success.


Do you consider yourself a risk taker with everything that you do?

QL: I take my risks with things that only affect me or things that I am really passionate about. I drive fast cars. I ride a motorcycle. I will take a risk for things that I really love or that I want but I won't risk your life. I am not stupid like that. At talent shows for the first ten seconds I was nervous and I found that one face in the crowd that was with me and then I focused on him and it all started coming out and I did well. Everything I have done in my life has been scary but I just do it anyway.


Is there anything in your book of possibilities that you haven't moved to your book of realities yet?

QL: There is plenty to do. I will never run out of things to accomplish as long as I am alive. There is so much to learn and to do. I have learned a lot but there is so much farther to go personally, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically.


What would you tell kids today?

QL: Kids want to be a part of something whether it's with gangs, groups or clubs. It can be a positive acceptance or a negative one. At the end of the day you have to be your own leader and make your own decisions and those actions have consequences. If you're ready to live with them than that's your choice, but nothing is free and anything is possible. It's all about the company you keep. So decide what crew you want to run with.


Another great scene in the film is when you criticize the politicians in the film saying that you don't have a "For Sale Sign" on your head. I was wondering if you have any connections or thoughts with Gov. Schwarzenegger and his own ordering of the execution of Stan Williams this week as political opportunism.

QL: I was totally against the execution and if I could vote in California I would have to vote the governor out of office just because of that. It's not about what Tookie Williams did or didn't do. I am just not with the death penalty. I am against it. There are too many people that have died that were innocent. It's a flawed system. Look at how many people are free based on DNA. It just shows a great lack of compassion. Gov. Schwarzenegger did whatever he could to change his image and legacy but we don't honor ourselves as human beings to literally murder a human.


You have accomplished so much in your life. Do you have a wish list right now?

QL: I want to give back to kids mostly. I want to be a parent at some point. That is always on my mind. There are more movies, TV and producing. I like to be able to hire people and give someone a job. I'd like to discover someone someday and say "Hey, I gave him his first job. I put him in my movie and he got an award for it."


What do you think of the state of female rappers today and can you comment on Lil Kim?

QL: I think you have to move music forward at all times. If you are not doing anything new or fresh then it's the same 'ol same 'ol. Da Brat has a nice album out. I like Ebony Eyes. I like her style and flow. I'm waiting on Eve as usual. Foxy is going through a situation with her hearing. Lyrically, Foxy is still dope. God bless her. It's a matter of time before that hot new girl comes around that's supported by her manager, record label, and the money is put behind her. That's how it works. You need those components to be successful.


Can you comment on Kim briefly do you have any words for her?

QL: I've wanted to go see the girl. I wrote a thousand letters for them to put us on this damn list. It's a catch 22. I feel bad for Kim. I feel really bad for her because she's pretty much the only one who really didn't do anything. She just didn't tell anything. In the circles that we move in, there is something to be said about that, but I just think there could have been a smarter way things could have been done for her and people could haveacted on her behalf in a smarter way. How she wound up in this situation disappoints me.


When you're sitting and watching yourself on the screen do you focus on yourself, the movie, or the story? Stars always have assistants. Can you tell us a little about what your assistants might have done for you, such as bring you soda?

QL: I always have to watch my movie twice. When I watch it I am remembering what we did that day and what we did afterwards that night. So once I get that out the way only then can I watch it as a movie and either enjoy, be bored by it, or be disappointed or happy.
My assistants buy my weed and they get me nice.... I'm just playing. I'm joking. They go get my brew. No, I'm just playing.


Have you had any negative or positive experiences being a star?

QL: It's good when everything is cool but it's bad when you get arrested. So it has its ups and downs just like any other profession. You have your mistakes in front of the world and other people get to have theirs behind closed doors.

LAST HOLIDAY opens on January 13, 2006

 

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