Friday, January 12, 2007

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby: A Big Momma Interview with Nia Long 06.01.00

Actress Nia Long may not be a household name. Yet. But the twenty-nine-year-old Brooklyn native’s star is rising. Quickly.

Nia Long’s career began on the soap The Guiding Light and continued on television with a series regular gig on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Her impressive film credits include Boyz N The Hood, love jones, Hav Plenty, Soul Food and The Best Man.

In Big Momma’s House, Long plays opposite Martin Lawrence in the biggest studio film she’s done to date. I sat down with Miss Long to talk about the film.

So is Martin Lawrence really so crazy?
He was great. We had a great rapport. He’s pretty serious, pretty straightforward, pretty much all about the work. But every now and then, there’d be like a silence, like a heavy moment, and he’d bust out with a joke and have everybody laughing. We had a good time.

Shooting on Big Momma’s House was pushed because of Lawrence’s heat-stroke-induced coma. How did that affect the atmosphere on the film?
I think it was a wake-up call to let everyone know that life is so much more important than Hollywood. This is art and this is entertainment and this is a great way to make money, but is this the most important thing? No, it’s not.

I’m sure the outtakes were as funny as the film. Why didn’t they add a blooper reel at the end?
I don’t know why they didn’t do they outtakes. I felt for sure they were gonna do them. Maybe they are. The outtakes were hilarious. Once we got what we needed to get in the can, and (director) Roger was comfortable, he’d say, “You guys do whatever you want.” Pretty much every single time, you knew Martin was gonna say something that would get this film an R-rating instead of a PG-13.

Was the intention always to make it a PG-13 film?
Oh yeah, yeah. At the end of the day, this is a film that was made for the family. Certain lines, although there is that undercurrent of sexual jokes, little kids are not gonna get all of them. I mean I don’t know, kids are pretty smart these days, but I don’t think it’s anything that is so in-your-face. Except “Look at that ass.” But it’s okay. It’s light comedy. It’s not like heavy-duty sexual, you know?

You’ve typically avoided roles where the woman was just a sex object. Is this conscious decision on your part?
You know, it’s all about how you play the part and sometimes it’s alright to be the sex object. And it’s all about the material. I don’t think in this film she’s at all portrayed as a sex object. She’s a leading woman and he’s a man and part of the comedy is that “Oh my God, I’m supposed to be her grandmother but I’m finding myself attracted to this woman.”

Do you think the film accurately portrays life in the South?
It’s a comedy film -- a lot of the characterizations are gonna be cliché. In a good way though. It think that it does show the Southern side of life. The real sort of Southern drama -- that soul food -- Big Momma couldn’t really cook -- but it’s a definite feel of like that Southern lifestyle.

At Big Momma’s party, all that cornbread and collared greens and black-eyed peas sure looked good, but is that really reflective of the black experience?
I mean, yeah, those are things that cliché: that black people only eat fried chicken. That’s not true. I mean, my family’s from Trinidad. When we have a family dinner, we don’t have fried chicken. It’s not even there. Greens are not there. It’s like peas and rice and curried chicken.

Are both your parents from Trinidad?
My mom’s side. My dad’s side is from the South. So my dad’s mother, she could make soul food. My mom’s mom could make curried chicken. Sort of a mixture of American and Caribbean food.

Do you get back to Trinidad?
I have not been in a long time and I want to go because I have relatives there that are getting on in years.

Are they familiar with your success there?
Yeah, they know what’s going on. They write me up in the paper. I really owe Trinidad a trip.

Speaking of family, was easy to play Jascha Washington’s mom?
I love children. It was pretty easy for me because I used to teach pre-school and high school. I was a teacher for a few years and I always had a real kind of natural way with children. Maybe because I’m almost as tiny as they are. (Giggle.)

You also worked with Paul Giamatti? What was he like on-set?
Love him to death. He is so funny. And it’s so hilarious how when you work with someone, you turn on the television, and you see them all of a sudden in everything. And I was like, “Gosh.” And I didn’t realize he was in the HBO project that I worked on. And I thought he was great in If These Walls Could Talk Part 2. He was in the first segment -- what a nice man! His sense of humor is so dry, but he’s so funny. He’s a great guy. I think actors in a lot of ways are some of the most dynamic people because if they can see who they are outside of the characters they play, they can bring a little bit of themselves into each role. Something about him is sort of quirky, but like real. He’s down-to-earth.

That seems to be the opposite view most people in and out of the industry have of actors.
I’ve had the best luck. I haven’t worked with anyone that was just a prima donna -- like not a nice person. The thing is that the bigger star you become, the more film companies cater to you. So what it does is it makes it okay to have an entourage. It makes it okay to have special favors. But when you take that person aside from all the things that they’ve been given because they are a star, nine times out of ten that person is okay. I’ve been very lucky in working with big stars who were very giving. But I always genuinely express my respect for them to begin with. I think it’s important that we give that love. And that we verbalize it. And not say it to someone else, but that we say it to the person.

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