Queen Latifah Interview

The actress talks about her role as Ellie, a warm hearted woolly mammoth, in the film

Queen Latifah joins the cast of the delightful new animated film, Ice Age: The Meltdown, as the voice of Ellie, a warm hearted woolly mammoth. Like the original Ice Age, this is an ingenious and funny story about a family of prehistoric animals who are fighting for survival and looking for love. Ray Romano reprises his role as Manny, who falls head over heels for Ellie. As the ice melts and spring is in the air, the unlikely friends set off on another thrilling journey. Along with Queen Latifah and Ray Romano, John Leguizamo again provides the voice for Sid the loveable sloth and Denis Leary plays Diego the saber toothed tiger. The popular Scrat is back and has a much more prominent role in the sequel.

Queen Latifah portrays Ellie, a mammoth who is convinced that she is actually a possum, in the new digitally animated family film, Ice Age: The Meltdown. While the concept is preposterous to everyone except Ellie herself and her possum 'family', it makes her character especially endearing. During a time when the world is changing beyond recognition for all the inhabitants, her possum 'brothers' provide love and security.

We got to know the other idiosyncratic animal characters in the huge hit, Ice Age and in this film, we are reacquainted with them. Ray Romano provides the voice for Manny, the big-hearted mammoth and once again, John Leguizamo is the voice of Sid, the wisecracking sloth. Denis Leary returns as Diego, the saber toothed tiger. The popular Scrat (a prehistoric squirrel/rat) is also back, but with a much bigger role woven throughout the story, as he tries to catch and keep that elusive tasty acorn.

Just as the original digitally animated prehistoric romp proved to be an entertaining and creative visual feast - the second one is equally enthralling. The story takes place as the Ice Age draws to a close and the animals' world starts to melt. With spring approaching, the snow slides provide endless opportunity for fun, but there is also a big threat: an enormous glacial damn is about to break and the only chance of survival is to journey to the other end of the valley.

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Each animal has fears to confront along the way, as they set off on a risky, funny and often poignant adventure. Manny thinks that he is the only existing woolly mammoth in the world, and is surprised to meet a female of the species, the gorgeous Ellie. He's taken with her, but as you might expect, the course of true love does not run smooth. For one thing she is attached to her possum 'brothers' played by Seann William Scott and Josh Peck. As far as director, Carlos Saldanha is concerned; Queen Latifah is perfect as the female mammoth. "When I figured out that I wanted a mammoth who thought she was a possum," he laughs, " I had no other name in my head. I knew she would be great as Ellie. Her voice just sprang to mind immediately. When she came on board I was so happy. I always think about what the characters can add to the movie. For me, Queen Latifah not only has a beautiful voice, but she is a person who cares about other people. She is warm and has all the sweetness you need for this character, but she is also an amazingly strong woman."

Ice Age: The Meltdown is a 20th Centuiry Fox animation, produced by Blue Sky Studios. The executive producer is Chris Wedge, who directed the first Ice Age, as well as providing the voice for Scrat.

Queen Latifah is a dynamic and charismatic actress who started out life in Newark, New Jersey. Her mother was a schoolteacher, her father a police officer. Her musical talents were obvious from an early age and she sang in the choir at the local Baptist church. In 1989 she released her first album, "All Hail the Queen", which sold over a million copies. Then in 1993 she released an album, "Black Reign", dedicated to the memory of her late brother, Lancelot, a police officer, who died tragically in a motorcycle accident. She has won four Grammy nominations as well as a Grammy Award.

She had her own American TV show, Living Single. Her early movies included "House Party 2" with Martin Lawrence and her film career moved to another level in 2002, when she starred as 'Mama' Morton in the film version of Chicago. She was nominated for an Oscar for the role. Her other film credits include Bringing Down the House, Beauty Shop, "The Last Holiday" and Stranger Than Fiction.

Latifah, 36 is in good spirits and full of enthusiasm for her role in Ice Age: The Meltdown, as she sits down to discuss her characterization of Ellie, as well as her career in general and hopes for the future. Glamorous as always, the voluptuous star is dressed in a low cut, pink lacy top, jeans and large black sunglasses. Her reddish gold hair is loose and shoulder length. The interview took place in Los Angeles.

What type of character is Ellie?

Queen Latifah: "Ellie is very kind and nurturing and fun-loving. At the same time, she's really stubborn and bullheaded. She has her own idea about who she is and she just won't be dissuaded. She really is a mammoth but she's convinced that she's a possum. And you know what? That was part of the problem for me when I was trying to create this character, so that she was convincing and made sense. I felt that we had to have a scene in which she realizes who she is and she figures out that she is in fact a mammoth, not a possum. Of course, she always realized that she was different from the other possums but denied that she was a different species. So they created a wonderful scene for Ellie where she rediscovers and remembers who she was and where she came from. It is very moving. It helps us to give her a maturity that she needs to become a woman, to be Manny's woman, not just a girl playing with her little possum brothers, but actually a female who is mature enough to be the one that will repopulate the earth with mammoths. "

Was this a challenging role for you?

Queen Latifah: "Honestly it really was, I never felt so insecure on a job in my entire life. I'm telling you, these things are so hard because you do the scenes and voices so many times and you're not sure if you're giving them what they want. I kept saying to Carlos the director: 'do you need it this way? You want me to do it that way? Okay.' I thought it was just me finding this work so hard, until I talked to Ray Romano and I found out that he had felt the same on the first movie and that a lot of actors feel this way and find the work tough, because it's such a strange way to make movies. It's like working in reverse, working in a vacuum. But when you start to see it come together, you see the magic of the animation and what's actually happening on screen, you start to feel more confident about what's going on. You see it all making sense. Then you feel better about it. And now that I've seen the movie, I'm cool. I love it."

Do you think that your character is the heart of this film in some ways?

Queen Latifah: "John's character, Sid, also has that warm emotional quality. But yes, I do think that is true of Ellie. She is warm and delightful."

What would you say are the greatest themes in the film?

Queen Latifah: There are some great themes in the film. For me, the most important one is the family theme. It's not necessarily what a family is typically supposed to look like. But it is what it is. It's about a connection and bond that everyone can identify with. I think we see that and I think it's a good film, which will resonate with everybody; it will also be great for many non-traditional families to see, because they will identify with the unusual family. There are so many people who adopt kids, people who are the children of adoption and people who have stepbrothers and sisters or half brothers and sisters. It is like my own family, actually. My brothers and sisters and I are very close and some of us have different moms. Some of us don't have the same parents at all, but we are still bonded and still family. And so it is kind of cool to see a movie that embraces that for what it is. Then there is the theme hinting at global warming, but to me, it is most important talking about the family theme and people who really care about one another."

What are your thoughts about starting your own family?

Queen Latifah: "I'm working on it. You know, I am a late bloomer but I would love to have children. It's never a good time to have a family. You just make time which I will do. That's what everybody I know with kids tells me. To me it will be probably the most unselfish thing I could ever do in my life, because I will be focusing on the children at that point, not on me. And that is cool with me. But in one way or another, I have had a lot of kids theoretically that I had to look out for in my family, kids who I've been helping to raise all these years, so yeah, I guess it's actually time for me to do the real thing."

Q There also seems to be a strong theme about confronting fear in this film?

Queen Latifah: "It is about lots of things. The good thing about movies is that they're subjective. You can connect to different themes depending on your own perspective. It is true that the characters have fears and insecurities. John's character, Sid, does a great job at making sure that people deal with that. Manny's got to move on. Diego needs to learn how to swim. They all learn to be themselves and get on with life. Be who you're supposed to be. This is a new family that is created on the journey. I love the way it develops and I think it really works in the film."

Would you like to do more of these films now you have conquered your own fear of working in animation?

Queen Latifah: "I would love to, because I enjoyed it so much and I've got a million voices in me that I need to let out anyway, so it is better that I do the voices for movies than subject my friends to them. They've had to listen to me for years."

What are your criteria for choosing projects? It seems like you get a lot of choice. Did the Oscar nomination for Chicago open up more for you?

Queen Latifah: Things definitely changed in terms of opportunity. It's still a grind; it's still hard to try to find the right things. But the opportunities became a lot greater, so it t was just about creating the right deals, making movies and now it is about making sure I do good projects. But I never feel secure about a film until it's written, until it's on that page, until it's green lit. I have been trying to do fun, interesting projects. I didn't want to become a 'serious person' after that Oscar nomination. Some people take themselves so seriously, it's like 'Get over you. Yes, you did a great job in that movie but come on, get real'. I didn't want to become one of those people who now takes themselves so seriously that they cancel themselves out of everything they could possibly have fun doing. And then they miss out on the fun and the entertainment."

So what did you do for fun?

Queen Latifah: "This film is fun. I did SCARY MOVIE 3. And I only did that because I asked the teenagers: 'did you like SCARY MOVIE? Do you think I should do it?' They said 'yes' so I did it. And then there is another reason for me to take part in a film like that. I believe that the kids, young people should have an opportunity to have Oscar nominated actors in their movies too. We shouldn't be so serious that we can't give the kids something to laugh at. So I did a couple of comedies and I did some heartfelt movies. For me, my criteria for making films is all about trying to do something different from the last time. So if I catch myself doing too much of one thing, I'm always trying to move away from that, because it's not going to be challenging enough to keep my attention and focus."

Are you still enjoying your work as a model for CoverGirl?

Queen Latifah: " Yes I am. I'm actually launching a new line of CoverGirl make up called 'Queen Selection' which is for women of color. And it's been doing really well so far. We've just sold it in limited release in 18 cities in America and everything is selling out so far and it will be available internationally soon."

What's different about your cosmetics line?

Queen Latifah: "Well, it'll be accessible first of all. It'll be very dependable and trustworthy. We have been working really hard at developing the foundation colors, which are important. For many women of color, especially when they have darker tones, they can start to look gray. So we're reconfiguring the whole mixture to take all that ash color out of it and just give the makeup the correct tones. The foundations are really our basis and the most important thing, making sure that women can look the way they like to look. Apart from that, I look at fashion and trends, what lip color is hot? What nail colors are fun? And then we try to package them in a cool way."

Does anyone in Hollywood try to persuade you to change you're appearance - to lose weight? It is still true obviously that most Hollywood stars are very thin.

Queen Latifah: "Yes some have over the years. I just haven't listened. I'm too hard headed for all that. Every time I've heard those hints, those sorts of inferences, I've ignored them because honestly, I feel that there are people who look like me out there. So they need somebody to look like them, to represent them. So if I were to lose too much weight, I would not be doing that. Being healthy is a whole different story. I have been exercising a lot lately just because I feel like it. When I want to push myself and do intense workouts, I do that, but I'm not going to do it because anybody thinks I should look a certain way. It's really more about how I feel and about being healthy. And I feel strongly that women who look like me should feel great. So I am not changing."

You are making a new film version of HAIRSPRAY soon, with John Travolta, are you excited about that project?

Queen Latifah: "I am excited. I respond to the hairspray theme and also it is very important to respond to hairspray. (laughs) I'm from New Jersey; you know, where we take hairspray very seriously - to the point where we've created probably the biggest hair on earth. And I think if you go back into the '80s, you'll find that our hair has been the biggest and most bouffant hair ever!"

Are you looking forward to working with Jon Travolta?

Queen Latifah: "I can't wait. I mean, he's going to be in more hair and makeup than me every day of the week for his character. At least that means I don't feel so bad about that aspect. I haven't met him yet but his wife, Kelly Preston tells me he's really excited about it. So I hope we will both enjoy it. I think it will be fun."

Ice Age: The Meltdown is in theaters this Friday.