Her parents separated when she was 8 years old and later divorced. As the multi-hyphenate Latifah made her ascent in Hollywood, she credited her mother as a key support. The first clue that something was seriously wrong arrived when she fainted while teaching. Heart failure is characterized by the heart's inability to pump enough blood. I started counting the things I can't do instead of the things I can do.
There's hardly a title this Queen doesn't own: rapper, actor, producer, and the author of two books, including the just-released " Put on Your Crown ," a tome on self-esteem that falls somewhere between biography and self-help book.
Heralded turns in projects like "Set It Off" and "Living Out Loud" followed, but it was her effervescent turn as Matron "Mama" Morton in 's "Chicago" that cemented her respect in the film industry—and earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.
Despite, in her own words, "not being a size zero blonde," she was soon playing romantic leads in films like "The Last Holiday" and being pursued by Eugene Levy's character in "Bringing Down the House.
Things begin to change when she finds herself brought into the life of star Nets player Scott McKnight, played by rapper Common in a sexy, star-making performance. As Latifah does with almost every role, she brings warmth and wisdom to a wonderful character in a sweet romance that should charm even the most jaded cynics.
Just try not to smile when Leslie has her Cinderella moment, descending the stairs in a stunning evening gown. It's an apt comparison, at least for Compere.
How important is it to you to develop your own projects? Queen Latifah: I don't always have to do my own projects, but it's kind of what I've always done. My partner Shakim and I have always been entrepreneurs from the time we were teenagers, and we're used to creating things from the beginning.
It was about us being able to design our own destiny, if you will. To be honest, in the beginning, it was also about getting our friends out of their terrible contracts.
But being able to find or create something from the beginning and guide it all the way through fruition and into success is an amazing thing to be able to do. Back Stage: Had you always planned on pursuing acting, or did it come about through your music?
Latifah: My mother always told me, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket, and that's how I looked at things. So I wanted to have different options and choices. The acting bug sort of bit me in high school when I did "Godspell" my freshman year. I went to an all-girls Catholic school, and this director came in from outside, and no joke, he was a hard driver.
He expected nothing but the best from us. I remember I had to cry in it, and I felt really, truly connected. And that was it; I wanted to do it.
Back Stage: I think it's more acceptable now, but when you were starting out people didn't want to see hip-hop stars as actors.
Latifah: No, they didn't. But I understood; it was kind of difficult when rappers would come out of nowhere and start taking the good jobs.
Producers wanted us because we came with a marquee value, and that was worth something, even if our training and skills weren't quite as good as actors who were trained and theater majors.
It was easier for us to come in and bring our fans with us than to just hire a no-name actor, I guess. I get why a lot of actors really felt we needed to get up to par. And I respect that.
If we're going to do this, we should do it right. So I tried to invest in learning and hiring an acting coach and trying to really develop my ability, to honor those who are doing their best and struggling. It's only right that I do my best to be the best actor I can be, and we all should.
Back Stage: Who did you study with? Latifah: Richard Lyons.
I don't use him for every film; but when I need a tune-up, I'll go see him. Latifah: None. I did audition for it with Spike Lee, and I actually didn't get the job; I was the second runner-up. He wanted a female rapper to play the role, and Monie Love got the gig.
But she got pregnant and couldn't do it. So he gave it to me. So thanks, Monie, for having babies! Back Stage: I'm assuming you didn't have to audition for "Living Single," since the role was created for you?
Latifah: We created that from the ground up; I just wish we had known we should have put "created by" on the credits, but you live and learn. Will Smith was a great friend of ours, and we kind of grew up on the road together, and when we saw him do "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," we said, "Hey, if Will can do it, we can do it!
Cooper" and looking to create her own show. We just started building the concept; Yvette followed me around for a few weeks, learned how I spoke and some of my little lingo and my style, and created the role of Khadijah based on me. Back Stage: In your book, you say there were people who wanted you to lose weight for the show.
How did you react to that? Latifah: It was some people from the studio who suggested that we all lose weight. Luckily, I have a strong team, and when they told my manager that, he kind of laughed at it and said, "You can't be serious. We were four women who were meant to represent what women really look like, and real women should have an opportunity to see themselves on television.
So why would we all try to get skinny just to purport some idea of what beauty is supposed to look like when we are beautiful just the way we are? Losing weight is a personal thing; it's not about anything else.
We were all healthy, we just come in different shapes and sizes, and I felt we were truly representing what people look like.
I was like, "I'm from here; I know what we look like.
You guys are from Hollywood, and Hollywood has a different idea of what beauty is supposed to be. But this is what the rest of America looks like.
You're in a bubble, and I don't represent that bubble. Latifah: The first time I saw it, it tripped me out. I was like, "What's missing here?