Ashanti --supporting the role in Coach Carter
She's been named by Maxim as one of the 100 hottest women on the planet. (#29, but who's counting?) She has a one-word name that's recognized around the globe. She's won a Grammy. She's even published a book of poetry. And now, following in the footsteps of Beyonce, Mariah, and all the divas who came before her, she makes her big jump to the big screen. In Coach Carter, the new basketball drama, Ashanti stars as Kyra, a pregnant teenager who is romantically involved with one of the team's best players. Ashanti talks with the LatinoReview about her switch from hit singer to hot actress.
How did you feel now that you have done your first film?
Ashanti: I would say that it was a wonderful experience. I think a lot had to do with me comfortable with the cast. Sometimes people shy away just because she's an artist or singer or whatever. Everybody made me comfortable from the people who worked in the hair and makeup to the cast and I think that was a positive thing for me.
How did you relate to the character and do you have a sports background? Did you run track?
Ashanti: I was able to relate to the character because I have a few friends that were in those situations so it was reminiscent thing for me. As far as sports, in high school, I played baseball, I ran track. I made the Wall of Fame in my school for track. I got two scholarships, one to Princeton and one to Hampton. The Olympics came to scout me. I was a cheerleader. I was athletic.
Can you talk about the overall message of the movie?
Ashanti: I look at the movie and it puts me in the mind of "Lean on Me". What Coach Carter wanted was show that you can have good skills on the court but make sure you have good skills in the classroom as well and don't just rely on one thing because you never know what's going to happen. With him locking the gym doors and making them dress up in suit jacket and things and focusing on school and trying to tell them to prioritize and make sure they have something to fall back on is really powerful because that's the way the world is and you never know what's going to happen and you need a plan B, regardless of what you are doing.
Can you talk your character and her situation of being pregnant and not thinking ahead?
Ashanti: Keira was really dependent on Kenyon emotionally and she was going to do whatever but then she got to a point where she was fed up with it and she was looking for support for him and when she felt she wasn't getting it, it didn't make her feel good.
Did you have any hesitation about playing a character that was grappling with teenage pregnancy?
Ashanti: I thought about it. I was like, "Wow". I didn't see that part when I read the script for the screening. It was deep and I thought about it and I like a challenge and I'm going to do it.
Did you have any fear about the political implications and the message it sends to kids?
Ashanti: I wouldn't necessarily say fear but I will say that I hope people will understand that my name is Ashanti and her name is Keira and it's a movie. My personal beliefs are my personal beliefs. What I did was a job.
Do you have fears about teenage pregnancy in general?
Ashanti: Me personally, I couldn't take care of a kid now so I don't know about a 15 year old.
What was it about the role that was appealing because the producers mentioned that your schedule was hectic and you made a big effort to get the role?
Ashanti: When I got the script, it just touch me because it was deep, it was realistic, and it displayed that teenagers deal the same problems adults do and sometimes they deal with more problems than certain adults do and I think it was important to get into something that people will connect with and identify with. I didn't want to do anything where I was the star of the movie. I didn't feel I was ready to carry an entire film on my shoulders. This is a stepping stone for me. I'm testing the waters to see if I like it and that's why.
Have you spoken to any other rapper or singer about getting into this business and the pressure of what is expected of you?
Ashanti: Ja (Rule). He's done a few movies under his belt. He's a different character though. (Laughs) He basically said to do what you do. Come in there and be a 100% real and be comfortable. That's the most important part.
What's it like to work with Muppets?
Ashanti: (Laughs) Definitely a different experience! I had a lot of fun doing "The Muppets Wizard of Oz". I really forgot that I was talking to people's hands because the Muppets have facial expressions and personality and it was just really a great experience.
Were you a Muppets fan prior to the movie?
Ashanti: Yeah. I used to watch the Muppets. My favorite of all-time was Fragile Rock. I cried when it went off TV.
How is the transition like from little role to the lead in the Muppets movie?
Ashanti: Oh man! That hit me like a ton a brick. Being Keira, I had to come like maybe two days out of the week. 2pm in the afternoon and maybe 10pm at night. With the Muppets, it was like 5 am, like 1am. It was a lot of hours. I was in Vancouver and I didn't like the food. Being the only human in the movie for a large percentage of the time, and with the difference angles and the different height, I guess it's just the aspect of it. They had to hold me on these big human life size skateboards and it was a different experience, but it was fun.
What's the release date for the film?
Ashanti: I believe May of next year.
Your album comes out this week.
Ashanti: Yes!!! "Concrete Rose" is out this coming Tuesday, December 14th in stores near you.
Can you talk about the meaning of the title and how you have grown and the success of the first cut from the album?
Ashanti: Well, we came up with "Concrete Rose" because when you think of hip hop, you think of something grimey, grundgy, and gridy like concrete. And when you think of R & B, you think of something really soft and sensual like a rose. And with my music being hip hop and R & B, hence "Concrete Rose".
Can you talk about the first single and how well it's doing so far?
Ashanti: Yes, the first single is called "Only You" and the reception is incredible. I'm so happy about it. It was really a different record for me and with me being a person that likes to take challenge, it was really important because it's my third album and we had a lot of success with the first album and with the second album I wanted to do something really different because that's what keeps people interested in you; when you are making different kinds of moves and you're succeeding with it. It was a little scary and we didn't know what was going to happen but it all worked out and I'm really excited about it.
How do you feel this album is different?
Ashanti: The album is different because, first of all, it's done by a variety of producers. We hooked back with Seven Aurelius. He did my first album. He didn't do the second one. We worked with Jimmy Kendricks and his brother J. It's just a little deeper and a little harder. I've gone through a lot in between albums and I've displayed certain things I have never spoken about before that literally happened to me. It shows the maturity, and it shows the growth. You can feel it. Even visually, you can see from my first album to my third, there's been a maturing process.
Where you glad to be working with Ja Rule again?
Ashanti: It's always a pleasure working with Ru-ski. I think he's in Africa right now.
Have you decided on a second single yet?
Ashanti: We're not sure. We're sort of twisted, which is a good thing. When the record is so hot, which, by the way the title of one of the cuts. When you have an album that has a lot of potential singles, it's hard to choose.
Were you ever approached to do a cut for the soundtrack for this movie?
Ashanti: We actually were supposed to do the entire soundtrack but unfortunately it would have been a conflict with my album. I might have a cut on the score, maybe. I don't even know.
Are you planning a tour?
Ashanti: Most definitely. We actually want to do a tour with the entire The Inc. family, which is myself, Ja Rule, Lloyd, and Black Child. He's the next artist off The Inc. and we are looking at Spring 2005.
Is there a remix to "Only You"?
Ashanti: I think there are like 4 of them out already, just with different rappers getting on them. Not sure if we are going to do an official remix. I have an idea that me and Irv (Gotti) were tossing around but I'm not sure.