Queen Latifah is an award-winning musician, actress, author and entrepreneur. She made her screen debut in Spike Lee’s movie Jungle Fever, and went on to appear in Living Out Loud, The Bone Collector, Stranger Than Fiction, The Secret Life of Bees and Bringing Down the House. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mama Morton in the musical Chicago.
She is currently starring as Vi Rose Hill, the lead vocalist of the Divinity Church Choir in the new comedy Joyful Noise. When the choir director, Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson), dies suddenly, Vi Rose is chosen to take over the choirmaster duties, to the chagrin of Sparrow’s widow, GG (Dolly Parton), who feels Vi’s traditional style is old-fashioned and dreary.
But the two must find a way to work together, as the people in their town are depending on them winning the National Joyful Noise Competition.
Queen Latifah spoke at the press day for the film about ‘fighting’ with Dolly in the movie and the importance of music in her life.
Can you tell us a little about your character?
Vi Rose is a bit uptight. Her husband is away in the military and she has her hands full.
She’s raising two challenging teens, she’s a nurse, now choir director – one of those women who does too much and [who tries] to control everything in order to just keep it all together.
But life doesn’t always work that way and sometimes you have to let go and let God. That’s what Vi Rose has to learn; that’ her journey,
You do something really rare and refreshing in this film, you honor the struggling single mother, coming from a place of rage and also hope. Where does that come from inside you?
Maybe I made my mom fill with rage at times! I come from that household. I had a two parent household until the time I was ten-years-old, and then my parents separated.
So for a time it pretty much was a single parent household. And I know what it is to be a seventeen-year-old as well, and be independent and stretch out on your own.
I didn’t just become Queen Latifah by going to school every day and being a good girl. I was adventurous.
I was coming to New York City and cutting class and finding out what there was to see and do and experience in the world, and I didn’t do it the right way necessarily, but I think I can understand now what my mom went through.
We talked about things a lot, we communicated a lot, so I know what my mom was feeling even though I’m not a parent, to raise a child and put all you have into them and have them disrespect you or go against the things you’re trying to teach them or help them with their lives. It’s a tough situation.
What was it like working with Dolly?
Dolly’s fantastic and we had a good time getting creative with our characters clashing.
[There’s a scene where] G.G. was throwing rolls and spaghetti [at Vi Rose] – and Dolly’s got great aim. I don’t think she ever missed. Personally for me it was fun but I don’t know how much fun it was for Vi Rose. It’s probably the only time I’ve ever played a character who lost a fight in a movie, and to little bitty Dolly Parton!
Dolly is the genuine article. I think that’s a thing that people get about both of us, they feel like they can walk up to us and hug us. I don’t know what that relatable thing that we have is, but we’re just us. So when we met we were just us and it worked.
Dolly and I had a lot of conversations before the film started. We felt that on top of making a good movie, and some good songs, we could actually uplift folks.
Joyful Noise is basically a movie about people making it through challenges, pulling together to accomplish a goal and reclaim their spirits along the way. That’s what a lot of people need today, hope.
There’s an old saying that America is never more segregated than on a Sunday morning – is that still true?
I don’t think it’s as true as it may have once been. At least I know my church in LA is way multicultural. I think maybe at one point in the history of our nation that’s perhaps how it was. But I think in these times those barriers have been broken down.
We’re all getting to know each other and our kids are, and they’re the ones who are making sure that churches are not segregated.
What has music meant to you in your life?
For me music has always touched me in a special way from the time I was a little child, and being in church and hearing the songs and hearing the harmonies and certain notes just hit my ears in a certain way.
[Music] has been a lot of things to me, it’s been an escape, it’s been a release, a way to express myself, whether it was through rapping or the loss of my brother, releasing those thoughts and emotions. So I can’t imagine a world without music.