Queen Latifah Is Motormouth Maybelle in <strong><em>Hairspray</em></strong>

Queen Latifah chats about her latest dance routine

Hairspray is based on the 1988 John Waters comedy about star-struck teenagers who take part in a local Baltimore dance show. The new version of the film is partially based on the hit Broadway adaptation of Hairspray, which debuted in 2002, and went on to win eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Director. John Travolta stars as Edna Turnblad and Queen Latifah is playing Motormouth Maybelle in the musical. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman will contribute new songs to their Tony Award winning score.

We recently sat down with Queen Latifah to discuss her role in the making of this film. Here is what she had to say about the experience:

Queen sits down and looks at the recorder...

Queen Latifah: What is that? It looks like a Transformer.

It's a recorder. It doubles as a tazer as well.

Queen Latifah: Scary. That's exactly what it looks like. Hell yeah. That's all right. Hello, mate, how are you?

Tell the truth. You look tired.

Queen Latifah: Yeah, you are preaching to the choir. Tomorrow's my day off, though. I'm excited about that.

How did you get this part?

Queen Latifah: I slept with the director. He didn't want me. No, he didn't want me. There was no script when I signed on. There was just the idea of what we were going to do. We had all worked together before, so I figured their quality control would be proficient in making sure the script was where it needed to be. They described my character, and what I would be doing. They told me about all of the fun songs I would get to sing. So I said, "Yeah, lets do it."

Were you a fan of the original movie or stage show before coming onto this?

Queen Latifah: I'd seen them both. The movie I remembered, but I hadn't seen it for a long time. I like the movie. I like John Waters. He's crazy. Then I went to see the Broadway play when this came up, just to refresh myself on what it was. Yeah. I thought it was great. I don't even know how the heck they do that everyday. The play is so high energy. The songs. That last number, "You Can't Stop the Beat?" Good God, you've really got to be in shape to do that eight times a week.

Did you see this movie yet?

Queen Latifah: Yeah, I did.

What did you think of Travolta playing a woman?

Queen Latifah: I liked it. He did a good job. He's a big, sweet woman, too. You know? He's a pumpkin. I liked to play with his bum everyday. It was just so big and squishy. I liked it.

Did you ever squish the front?

Queen Latifah: No. I have those. That's not a big deal. But I don't have a big ol' bum like that. It's kind of weird to be walking up and squeezing people's boobs.

Yeah, I would think.

Queen Latifah: Okay, maybe I did it once. But it was all about the hips. Those things were so wide.

How much input did you have going into your character? In the original, your character stays in the background...

Queen Latifah: There was no way they were going to waste me in the background. They paid me a lot of money. I figured they were going to get their money out of me. As far as input, I didn't really have that much say. It was all there on the script. I didn't have to add much to it. It was more about designing her look, and working with the wardrobe department. We wanted to get the right costumes, and we wanted to get the right hair look. Everybody was so excited to do this, that all of the departments were fine. All pistons were firing. For me, it was about getting the character right. Deciding to do an accent or not. Which I decided against. Even though my family is from Baltimore, I kind of went easy on the accent.

What is your favorite costume? Or maybe one that you hated?

Queen Latifah: I didn't hate any of the costumes. Surprisingly, everything was comfortable. That doesn't usually happen on movies. Usually something is too tight, or something doesn't fit right. The shoes hurt your feet after awhile. Something. But everything was good. I liked my green outfit. The green one is from negro day on the show. I liked the hair. I had sketched out this design of a beehive with all these little curls on it. I just sketched it on a piece of paper, and then the hair people brought it back in two days and asked, "Is this what you were thinking?" I said, "Damn! That's it. Lets do it." So, the hair stuff was really fun for me. I loved getting to change up that look everyday. I got to have blonde hair. I like the blonde idea. That was fun. I liked my leopard print the best. The one from the record store. It was just so comfortable. And it was sexy. It had a plunging neckline. I thought that was nice.

How are you enjoying your celebrity at this point?

Queen Latifah: Celebrity, like anything else, has its ups and downs. It has bonuses. It can either get me out of a ticket, or get me thrown in jail. But it is cool when you are trying to get into the club or get something for free,. Free is always good. I like me some free clothes. Stuff like that. The best part about being a celebrity is being able to influence people in a positive way. To involve yourself in some sort of charitable event, or just to help people. Sometimes you can auction something off and raise some money for some people. That's the best part of it. When you meet someone and they tell you that you've been a huge influence on their life, or someone tells you how much their daughter looks up to you. Or when someone tells you they accomplished something because you also did it. I am a big girl, so I have helped a lot of big girls feel confident along the way. People chasing me around with cameras in cars? That's annoying. It feels like totally a violation. They say it's the price that comes with fame, but I don't think it is. I think it's abnormal. I think walking up the red carpet and taking pictures, that is normal for what we do. But when you are walking somewhere with your kids, and someone starts shooting you with a long lens, it is not normal. That's a little too personal.

How do you react when that happens to you?

Queen Latifah: I try not to react. It is annoying. It doesn't happen everywhere. It only really happens here, in Los Angeles. And that's because the whole industry is out of control. And it's dangerous. Guys literally chase you down. It's maddening.

When you are here, do you find yourself staying away from public places?

Queen Latifah: Not really. Life goes on, and I don't want anybody to steal my joy. I forget sometimes, because I don't live Hollywood. I don't try to go where all the famous people are. Some of the good restaurants and some of the good stores are places that celebrities like to go. You want to go to them. I have a favorite perfume that I like to get from Kittson. And sometimes I forget that if I go into Kittson, who knows who could be in there. People wait for celebrities to walk in there, and I forget about it sometimes. Or I'm gone in New Jersey, where I don't have to deal with that. Then I come back to LA, and I'm shopping for some records, and I come out of the store, and they're snapping away. You have to comb your hair, and keep yourself together. That's annoying.

You really don't have to deal with that out of town much?

Queen Latifah: No. New York is too busy. It doesn't happen unless someone knows where you are at, or if someone makes a call. Its not really too bad. I'm not saying there aren't any photographers in New York. But it's not as bad as it is here, where people are in their cars waiting for you. You are walking, or you're jogging, and as soon as you get somewhere a car pulls up and starts snapping away. Its crazy. Just the fact that someone does that for a living. I feel for them sometimes. It is what it is. You kind of get used to it. People will write something about you that isn't true. Or say you were somewhere you weren't. You pretty much have to ignore it.

Did you have any advice for Nikki Blonsky?

Queen Latifah: No. There was no need to give her advice. I was eighteen when I started making records. I met a lot of people, and learned to keep my composure. There were a lot of people who couldn't stay in the game, because they couldn't deal with people walking up on them and asking for autographs all the time. They didn't want to go to radio stations early in the morning. They didn't want to do a lot of the work that comes with that. This girl Nikki has what it takes. She can stay composed on the set with all of these big actors and this big budget movie. There were Oscar wining producers, and she just dove into it. I think she did a great job. I hope she has a long and successful career.

When you started acting, there weren't any musicals.

Queen Latifah: School Daze. That was about it.

Well, did you ever imagine that you would become the leading lady of the modern day musical back when you first started in this business?

Queen Latifah: Your words, not mine. But that is kind of cool. I had not idea. I loved musicals growing up as a kid, but I never imagined that I would be doing this. I didn't know this would happen, but I'm glad it did. I'm glad that Moulin Rouge was a hit, and that Chicago was a hit. A bunch more have come out since then and made a bunch of money. Dreamgirls. I just hope it continues. It's a nice, sweet escape for a couple hours. It's really what movies are about. You get to go into this dark room, and for a couple of hours, you get to go into a whole other place. A place of music and dance.

Would you say that doing the musicals changed your personal artistic direction as far as where you were taking your records?

Queen Latifah: I don't know if they changed it. I think they made it a lot easier. I did Living Out Loud, and got to sing a couple of songs in that movie. Then I did Chicago, singing in that movie. I think a broader audience became more familiar with the fact that I could sing. So, when I went to make an album, they were ready for it. The timing was right.

What is your ideal role?

Queen Latifah: Captain Jack is pretty damn cool. I wouldn't mind being a pirate.

Would you ever consider playing Aretha Franklin?

Queen Latifah: Would I play Aretha Franklin? No. Mm-mm. Pearl Bailey has been mentioned. And I think Betsy Smith would still be a good role for me. I think that story was so cool. She was so different and ballsy. She was one of the highest paid entertainers back in her day. She had a story to tell. There are a few. Honestly, I would love to do something Sci-Fi. I'm a big Sci-Fi fan. I would love to do some kind of space alien something. Something that isn't cheesy.

Would you consider being a villain?

Queen Latifah: I wouldn't mind being a villain. I would love to be a good villain. You know what I mean. I want to be the best bad villain ever.

What are you working on now?

Queen Latifah: I'm finishing up my new album. Its called Traveling Lite. It will be released in September. That will be done at the end of this month. I am launching the Cover Girl Queen Collection, which is our makeup line for women of color. I'm launching a clothing line called Dana O, through Curvation. Which is a line of intimate apparels that I sponsor. Or endorse, rather

Are you working on any movies?

Queen Latifah: I'm currently working on a remake of All of Me. We are hiring a writer next week so that we can get that done. That is going to be fun.

Do you know who the other actor is going to be in that?

Queen Latifah: No, not yet. We are kicking it around. I don't know if Steve wants to try it again.

You think he'd come back?

Queen Latifah: I'm going to talk to him and see if he's into it. I would love to work with him again. But that's hard work. He is so physical. He should have gotten an Oscar for that.

Do you think they would reverse it this time, with you being the Steve character?

Queen Latifah: No, I'm on the inside. It has pretty much already been decided.

Hairspray opens July 20th, 2007.