Queen Latifah rules the entertainment kingdom; she acts, wries and is even a label president.
Also, she was the first hip-hop artist to gain a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in 2006.
After her debut on Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, she garnered praise with Golden Globe nominations for the musical Chicago, the life story of HIV-positive Ana Wallace in Life Support, and for portraying blues singer Bessie Smith in Bessie. On TV, she not only starred in her own talk show but had a hit with Living Single for several years.
In the music world, she has six Grammy nominations under her belt.
Her latest endeavor, Star, is a musical drama about three talented singers. Latifah plays Carlotta Brown, the owner of an Atlanta beauty salon. Her daughter, Cotton, is played by Amiyah Scott, one of the rare trans people to have played a major trans character on a scripted television series.
Windy City Times talked to Latifah about several topics on a press call recently.
Windy City Times: Hey, Queen. What drew you in to the character of Carlotta in the first place?
Queen Latifah: I think how much she's been through and how many mistakes she's made in life, but how gifted she is at the same time. She's a character who is extremely flawed, who's been hurt, who's made mistakes that have had dramatic consequences on her life and her future. She still has a huge capacity to love, and she never gives up.
She still wanted to be redeemed in many ways. She's never all the way there, but she never gives up. Carlotta never stops trying. She never just completely gives in to one side. She always keeps trying to challenge and grow and change, and it doesn't necessarily look like it because she may play it real cool and calm sometimes, but she's always going through a lot underneath.
I think she's much more complicated and much more challenging for me as an actor to play than people might think because there's so many layers underneath what Carlotta is feeling that I have to find so many angles into her at all times.
When Lee throws in twists and turns which is always fun, I have to find more angles into her. It's fun, it's challenging and it's exciting for an actor. I don't get bored doing it.
WCT: Can you talk about having a trans daughter on Star and what that has meant to you?
QL: That was also one of the big draws of Carlotta is the fact that she has a trans daughter. Carlotta, completely different [from] Queen Latifah, but they cross over in certain ways.
The topic of being trans or having a trans child, or becoming trans later in lifethese things are very topical. More importantly, the thing that [creator] Lee [Daniels] and I talked about when we developed the concept of this show and what we were interested in about this was the fact that everybody doesn't know the right thing to say. It's a new experience for a lot of people, and if we could only communicate about it, we could grow to understand each other.
You'll find that theme along a lot of lines in this show, but this particular thing is very important to us, especially since our whole relationship in beginning this whole movement came after we were at the after party for Precious. We kind of hung, and we got on the topic of Paris is Burning, and how much we both loved that movie and how some of the people in that movie were high school classmates of mine or friends that I knew from hanging out in the clubs in my teenage years. His young years he kind of crossed a lot for the same places and how we wanted build that understanding.
At the same time, you can't always fault people for what they don't understand. You always have to try to build a bridge. We wanted to show the conversation. We hear about those conversations, especially when Caitlyn Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner. It became a huge topic of conversation, but some of it was sort of trivialized, stereotyped or overblown, but what was missing was the actual conversation what was had to get from point A to point Z.
We wanted to show those actual conversations, what challenges people go through, what Cotton is feeling. Let's just start with what Cotton is feeling and why Cotton feels this way and what Cotton is going through. Then, let's deal with Carlotta and what she's feeling and what she's going through and how can a mother and child build a bridge between each other when they both love each other but they're worlds apart on so many other things.
Those were the things that were important to us to really show, and not just show in one episode, but really to carry it through a whole season, carry it through a whole arc and really, really get down and dirty with it. Not just show the pretty sides of it, but show the uglier sides of it so that everybody can gain a better understanding on their own, form their own opinions.
WCT: With Carlotta and Pastor Bobby [played by Tyrese Gibson] just finding out that their daughter is trans, is that going to change their relationship?
QL: Well, I think what's interesting about Carlotta and Pastor Bobby is they are both very flawed people who had a very checkered past and found Jesus. They found some peace and growth and forgiveness in Jesus by following Jesus. But, their lives are still what their lives are, and they come with the baggage they come with and their experiences, so I think what you're going to see is that they also greatly care for each other. They're in love, so Pastor Bobby is one of the few sweet spots in Carlotta's life.
All of these truths are going to make it a lot more messy, and it was one of the easy escapes. It was like going to the movies for her. For a couple of hours, she could escape from everything going on in her life and just be in church, be in his arms and have someone who could care for her for a change where she's normally caring for everything else.
I think she tried to protect that relationship from her life to just hold on to this little piece of Heaven for as long as she could, but now that things are starting to come out, he wanted to be more in her life, he wanted to get into it, and now he's going to get it. She may be surprised by his response to it.
She still loves him, and there's a lot of love there, but the fact that she kept secrets from him is probably what hurts him most, and the concern about how he'll react to the whole truth of her is what may concern her most, so we're going to see that explored, and it's going to takethere's going to be some powerful television coming up, like something you've never seen on TV in the next couple episodes.
I think definitely tune into that because it's something I've never seen and I've never done, and actually knowing Tyrese Gibson and Amiyah Scott in real life, and them knowing me, it was one for the hardest things we've had to play this whole season because we have such love and care for each other.
To go where these characters had to go to be honest, oh man, we all had to hug each other afterward and cry. The tears did not stop when they said, "Cut." We needed a moment to pull ourselves together just to go on the next take because it took so much out of us.
I hope everybody checks it out.
WCT: How much input did you put in for the wigs you wear on Star?
QL: The idea definitely came from Lee. Carlotta is not a stereotype. She is someone we know, but the women we know love to spend time on their hair. Hair is very important, particularly in the Black community. Even though she's busy running a business and has many hairstylists around, she doesn't really have time to really do her own hair like that, so wigs are a way of her changing up her look, expressing herself, doing something a little different, and keeping it fresh.
Part of how she does have a lot of expression and difference inside of her that she kind of gets to let out through these wigs. She's not afraid to take chances on it. It's also maybe a little advertisement, a little display of what the shop can do and connecting to the community.
These wigs are not primarily very expensive wigs. I think if anything costs over $20, then Lee will pretty much call me and tell me to take it off, because he makes sure that we connect to a community that is really shopping in that price point but still wants to look good, and still wants to express themselves even if they don't have a lot of money.
That's something people connect to. This is still a way of her feeling special even in the midst of everything going crazy around her.
WCT: Thank you so much for marrying many of the gay community at the Grammys. It meant so much to people and must have been a great experience you, too.
QL: You know, it was a great experience, and two of my best friends got married, and I didn't even know they were getting married until they wanted to have my name on their marriage certificate. That situation has the same gravitas that I'm talking about in this situation by having a trans daughter on Star.
I wish you could see behind the scenes, the things that I thought about and went through to actually do that. These are the kind of conversations that are important to have to really allow everyone to move everything forward but to have real conversations all along the way.
Look for Latifah Wednesdays at 8 p.m. CT on Fox.