October 19, 2008 in Features

This Queen is one busy, busy bee

By Ellen McCarthy The Washington Post
 
Associated Press photo

Queen Latifah
(Full-size photo)

Queen Latifah is tired.

The lady is jet-lagged and yawning, nudged into the corner of a couch, bare feet heavy on a coffee table, eyelids drooping, croaking words as if she’d just been wrested viciously from a nap.

And still, there’s something radiant.

“She’s incredibly charming,” chirped one of her assistants. “Charming” seems like a lot to ask at this hour.

But doubt and you’ve done the one thing the world should know never to do to Queen Latifah: underestimate her.

“It’s crazy,” the actress/rapper/jazz crooner says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m just spilling over with ideas and things I’m attracted to.

“One minute I’m playing the drums and the next minute I’m conceiving a script, a film idea, and then I’m on my iTunes, downloading new music and getting into it, then I’m painting, you know, or doing some mixed-media project, some art project.”

Certainly she has done her share of creation this year. There’s the movie “The Secret Life of Bees,” a new hip-hop album, voice-over work on the next “Ice Age” film and a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”

“Bees,” based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd, has been a long time coming. The civil rights-era story of a poor white girl who escapes an abusive father to find refuge in the home of three elegant black women was brought to Latifah as a potential movie project five years ago.

“I thought it was great … tumultuous and beautiful at the same time,” she says. “And I just thought it was hilarious that it was written by a white woman. … I thought she did a great job capturing these characters and capturing their blackness without being stereotypical.”

Filming in the cold of a North Carolina January, Latifah’s role as a beekeeper nudged her toward respectful intimacy with the swarming insects. She wasn’t stung once.

Latifah first became “Queen” in the late 1980s among rappers in her native New York. The daughter of a teacher and a cop, she was 19 when her first album, “All Hail the Queen,” was released in 1989. She nabbed a Grammy for the single “U.N.I.T.Y” in 1994 and pushed beyond hip-hop with the release of an album of jazz standards in 2004.

She began acting, in films such as “Jungle Fever” and “Juice.” Her Fox sitcom, “Living Single,” stretched from 1993 to 1998. Her Oscar nomination for “Chicago” arrived in 2003.

“I’ve never wanted to be in a box, you know, so I kinda try to open my mind up,” the 38-year-old says. “I remember getting to a point some years ago where it seemed like people around me were starting to live their lives from a place of fear, and it really started to bother me. It really made me only try to be more fearless and do what they didn’t expect me to do.”

The birthday bunch

Artist Peter Max is 71. Actor John Lithgow is 63. Singer Jeannie C. Riley is 63. Singer Jennifer Holliday is 48. TV host Ty Pennington (“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”) is 44. Actor Jon Favreau is 42. “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker is 39. Comedian Chris Kattan (“Saturday Night Live”) is 38. Singer Pras Michel of The Fugees is 36. Actor Omar Gooding (“Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper”) is 32.

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