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October 2008
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES | An Interview with Queen Latifah

An Interview with Queen Latifah
by Wilson Morales

October 15, 2008

The last few films that we have seen Queen Latifah have been in a supporting role, and most of them have had her play the voice of reason. Whether it’s in comedies such as ‘What Happens in Vegas’ to ‘The Perfect Holiday’ to musicals like ‘Hairspray’, Latifah presents a dynamic force to the screen. Coming up next for her is the role that puts her in a matriarch’s chair as she leads a group of talented women (Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo) in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s bestseller, ‘The Secret Life of Bees’.

Set in South Carolina in 1964, the film is the moving tale of Lily Owens (Fanning) a 14 year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her late mother (Burton). To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father (Bettany), Lily flees with Rosaleen (Hudson), her caregiver and only friend, to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters (Latifah, Okonedo and Keys), Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna.

In speaking to blackfilm.com, Latifah talks about playing the part of August, the older sister, and using her parents for reference on the 1960s.

What attracted you to this film?

Queen Latifah: I just loved the story. I loved the idea of playing these progressive women. They own their own property, their own business, and they are educated and cultured; and they are very loving and caring at the same time, in a time that wasn’t always the same.

Was their an appeal to be the matriarch of the family?

QL: When this thing first came around, I had a choice between June and August. This was the second incarnation of the script. It had been around before. Gina’s touch on it made it real and viable, and it was something studios loved and wanted to do, because again, it was such a great story. I felt right in August’s shoes, from day 1. This is who I should be. Plus, I said to myself that if I were pregnant, this is the sort of character I could do. As an actor, you have to take yourself where your character goes. You don’t apologize for your character. You are who they are. They are certain scripts I chose not to do because one of them involved smoking, and I had just quit. It’s a fantastic script, but I just didn’t want to play the role because I was scared I might start smoking again.

Who did you go to as reference on 1964?

QL: I had a cheat sheet. My father rose with me on these movies, so my dad put me in the mindset of where it is. The ladies don’t live a different life but they have created a safe haven where they live. That house and land is a special place where they can escape all that. Even Zac’s character can escape the outside world. It was interesting. I had my dad around and my mom to talk to. Gina had prepared these packages for us, so we had the research hand delivered to us from day 1 of rehearsals.

With most of the cast fairly recent in the business, did you take on the matriarch role for them?

QL: Unbeknownst to them. I try to lead by example. I’m not one to give directions on their acting. Denzel (Washington) didn’t do that to me when I did ‘The Bone Collector). He definitely was the example, and may have given a ‘sharpen up’ look, and that I think I may have done the same here. If anyone had any questions, it was all good. Gina and I had some conversations behind the scenes. If she needed me to step up and be a leader, I was fine with that. It was just a progression of August being August.




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