by Stephanie Frederic and Kam Williams
In just one week, Rapper turned actress Queen Latifah jumpstarted 2008 in royal fashion winning a Golden Globe Award, launching her new deal with celebrity weight loss champ Jenny Craig and opening a surefire hit movie, "Mad Money."
"If this is how it's starting, I'm really excited to see what's down the road," remarked Latifah to the LA Sentinel this week. "I can't really explain it, but I really, really like what's happening."
Latifah, 37, says she was sitting in her "pj's" watching the Golden Globes like many stars who opted not to cross the picket lines due to the ongoing writers' strike, but the cancelled show didn't diminish her excitement about winning the award for the HBO film, "Life Support' – a made for TV movie chronicling the real-life struggle of a crack-addicted, HIV – single mom. The movie shed like on a seldom examined plague taking a devastating tol on the Black community.
"I am so thrilled. Thank you to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association… Life Support is such an important film which addresses such important issues and I'm so proud to be recognized for my work in it. I only hope that the film helps in our fight against AIDS and HIV. My partner Shakim Compere and I were so passionate about "Life Support" that we signed up to produce it and never imagined it would go this far. So, thank you to the HFPA, HBO, Nelson George, Shelby Stone, Jamie Foxx and the entire cast."
Born in East Orange, New Jersey under the name Dana Elaine Owens, Queen Latifah seemed destined for Hollywood success. After launching her showbiz career as a human beat-box for the rap group Ladies Fresh, she struck out on her own, releasing "All Hail the Queen" in 1989, the first of her half-dozen solo albums thus far.
Latifah's film career followed two years later, starting with a supporting role in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever. She's since added about another forty acting credits to her resume', including an Oscar nomination for Chicago, and appearances in such diverse productions as Hairspray, House Party 2, Bringing Down the House, Brown Sugar, Barbershop 2, Beauty Shop, Taxi, Last Holiday, The Perfect Holiday, and The Cookout.
Latifah's latest movie, "Mad Money" opens this weekend. Slightly reminiscent of her bank robbing role in "Set It Off," this one – a lot less violence, but a crime all the same – features Latifah, and her Federal Reserve co-workers, coming up with a plan to steal "old" money that was scheduled to be shredded. They justify it by calling it "recycling" – that's until they are discovered by a security guard (Roger Cross) who has more than a casual interest in Latifah.
Here, she talks about her crime caper "Mad Money," co-starring Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes who conspire to steal millions of dollars in currency about to be destroyed.
LA Sentinel: Tell me a little about your character, Nina Brewster.
QL: Nina is a mother of two, and she works at the Fed shredding money, all day, every day. The way she kind of gets involved in this plot is that she really desires to send her sons to a better school than the one in their neighborhood, and to just have them live in a better place in general. And that's sort of the pressure and the enticement that Bridget's character [played by Diane Keaton] uses to get her to be involved in it.
LA Sentinel: Were you familiar with the fact that the Fed routinely destroys old bills?
QL: I don't know if I ever have just consciously thought about money in the sense of the process that it goes through. I only assumed that they had to destroy some. I knew that they must destroy money, because they create new money. You couldn't just put that new money into circulation without throwing off the entire economy. So, yeah, I did realize that they had to get rid of all that ripped up, beat up, dirty money somehow. Would I want to do that for a living necessarily? Nah.
LA Sentinel: How was it working with Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes?
QL: It has been a blast. It's been a lot of fun. I've been a fan of Diane's for a really long time, so just to be able to work with her and watch her do her thing was amazing. Her energy is just unbelievable, and her skills. And she's just fun to watch. And Katie [Holmes], too! Katie gets to play this crazy, aloof character [Jackie] who wants my character to have lots and lots of sex, which is always fun, because she really cares. It's not that she's being nasty or throwing it out there for shock value, she really cares about it and wants my character to be happy. It's funny. She does have some of that free-spiritedness naturally, so it seems only right that she's the person that plays this role.
LA Sentinel: How do these three women feel about the crime they're committing?
QL: I don't think they really get into the economics of it all. The only one who seems to think about it is Don [Bridget's husband, played by Ted Danson] But in their minds, obviously, this is not enough money to really make a big splash. It's found money. It's not going to exist after they destroy it. Who's getting hurt? They figure this is like a crime that's not really affecting anyone. So, why not?
LA Sentinel: The plan was to only to "take" a few bags of money, but it never works out that way – it's never enough? The money ends up making a big difference in their lives?
QL: For my character, Nina, for sure. She has some really basic things that she needs to happen in her life. She needs to put her sons in a better position so that they don't get caught up in the traps of growing up in the ‘hood, which is where they live. So, her being a caring parent, that's her desperation. But once she doesn't have to worry about that anymore, you get to see her flourish
You get to see her have a personal life and be a woman, and just enjoy the company of a man. And just kind of come out of her shell. Money helped that happen. It doesn't sustain it. Once you get going, you still gotta do what you have to do. But it did help.
LA Sentinel: Tell us about your plan to become the new celebrity spokesperson for Jenny Craig?
QL: Well, I get started this week. My plan is not to disappear on this diet, but just to get to a healthy place and start eating better. I'm not trying to lose 30-40 pounds. I'm a plus-sized woman over 200 pounds and who doesn't want to get healthy. I started sampling a lot of the food and it's really good. I love their Lemon cake.