The comedian-turned-actress is having a field day with her latest laugh-a-minute romp
Comedian Mo'Nique returns to theater screens this month in the comedic romp Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins. In the film, she plays Betty, a conjugal evangelist that frequents the local prison with jugs of sweet tea for her loyal imprisoned "followers". She also has a crush on her wealthy cousin Clyde, whom she falls for all over again at a family reunion.
I recently met up with Mo'Nique to speak with her about her role in the film. And I asked her about Betty and Clyde's relationship. She explains that the two characters aren't really related, "Betty and Clyde. I don't think they are unique. There are family members that are attracted to each other. Betty was just courageous enough to say it. All he did was have to ask her, and she was his. We weren't really cousins. Clyde was born into the family because his parents died. Mama and Papa Jenkins raised him as their own. But they weren't really blood related."
In the film, Mo'Nique demonstrates some less than lady like behavior. In one scene, Betty gets into a fistfight with her blood cousin Roscoe Jenkins, played by Martin Lawrence. Mo'Nique knows how to throw a pretty mean punch. The first one out of the gate actually seems to hit Lawrence in the jaw, "Yeah, I came close a couple of times. Whoo! Martin would say, 'Mo'Nique, you are too damn close!' I'd tell him, 'Okay, sugar. Let's do it again.' We went at it all day." Did Martin enjoy it? "Oh, yes! We had a ball." But where does such a strong throw come from? Has she had to throw down in real life? "Have I ever had to fight like that for real? No. But would I? If I had to. I was having a lot of fun. I am an actress. I am pretending."
Lawrence gets beat up a lot in the film. There is a very competitive edge to all of the characters on screen. I asked Mo'Nique if this was reflective of the nature on set. Did the comedians ever act like they were in a competition to see how funny they could be? "Roscoe and Clyde competed. But Cedric and Martin didn't compete. If you know what I am saying. There was no competition. Everyone did their own thing. Everyone shined in their own light. Martin being the leader, being the head, he allowed everyone to do that."
With so many great comedians on set, who was the hardest person to keep up with? Everyone always has the same answer, and Mo'Nique agrees, "Mike Epps. He is brilliant. He is a genius as a comic. Mike was just so damn funny whenever he opened his mouth. They'd let him come in when he came in. He had the jokes. We knew if it had to be punched up or picked up, Mike Epps was going to deliver. Yeah." Did the improv ever get in the way of the script? Mo'Nique says, "Malcolm Lee was brilliant in that we respected his words. We respected what he wrote. Him being brilliant himself, he'd say, 'Now do it your way. Now put your spin on it.' When his words didn't come off the way he wanted, he'd say, 'This is why I hired all of you! Now you all do your thing!' He knew that balance. He knew how to get what was one the page, and how to capture the energy that wasn't."
The comedian seems in awe of the director's process, "It excites me to see someone take something off a piece of paper and bring it to life. I enjoy seeing their vision. Two people can do the same movie, but shoot it totally in two different ways. I enjoy watching the vision come to life." Would she ever consider directing a film herself? Maybe, "Down the road, I can see myself doing something like that. But life is so busy right now, I am not able to say, 'Next year!' I have a lot of stuff going on. Maybe sometime in the future."
Malcolm challenged Mo'Nique to some pretty funny yet unflattering sequences in the film. In one scene, the comedian is seen taking a shower with shaving cream around her face. It is an act that would have any other actress throwing her vanity out the window, But not Mo'Nique. She laughs when I bring this scene up, "No, I keep my God damned vanity! Wasn't that beautiful? To see this thick chocolate woman bust open those shower curtains with shaving cream on her face. It was beautiful. You've never seen that before, have you?" She loves the art of making herself look silly on screen. But she never takes it home with her, "The moment they say cut, it's cut."
This was true of the way she treated on-screen villain Bianca Kittles, played by Joy Bryant, off set, "We are professionals. I am not still mad at her. Shit, they said cut. It was Mo'Nique and Joy. We aren't Betty and Bianca. 'Girl, what are you having for lunch? I had some of that chicken earlier.' We'd go back to that. I don't want to walk around pretending all day, 'Don't talk to me!' That is too much."
When I ask the actress about her feelings towards the current evolution of black cinema, she seems openly enthusiastic about it, "Black films are becoming very successful. Do you know Tyler Perry's numbers when one of his movies comes out. He has been very successful. Extremely successful. I see it becoming the new wave of movies. Because it makes money." Does she think that an all -black cast will become open to more genres? "Of course. But we go to see what we like. We go to see what is relatable to us. Can we do a science fiction movie? Of course. It is called I Am Legend. I think you know Will Smith. You might now him. And that is the highest grossing movie in history."
She continued, saying, "I see it evolving in the sense that we, as black people, can do whatever the Hell we want to do. If we want to do science fiction, we will. If we want to do dramedy, we will. If we want to do comedy, we will. We are in a space where we don't know how excepting Hollywood will be towards a science fiction movie that has an all black cast. To ask a black person how I see it evolving, I see it in the upward move. You have to ask white Hollywood how they see it evolving. How do they see that panning out. How do they see an all black cast doing science fiction, or horror, or anything else. They want excitement. They want something new. They want to see it change."
What is up next for Mo'Nique? She is determined to conquer more dramatic roles, "I just wrapped a movie with Lee Daniels called Push. It focuses on illiteracy, molestation, AIDs, abuse, mental illness. It is all dealt with straight. I play the villain. I am not funny at all." She will also be continuing her stand-up, "I am getting ready to do a tour with Steve Harvey. The Kind and Queen. My next comedy special is called The Gospel According to Mo'Nique. And then, I will just stay on the road. I love the stage. That is my first love. That is my baby. There are no writers, there are no directors. I am up there in my world and my space. I am inviting you into my world, and I am playing Mo'Nique. Yeah."
You can catch Mo'Nique in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins when it opens nation wide February 8th, 2008.