What would you do if Jay-Z approached you and said, “How does it feel to be everyone’s crush?” Chances are I’d faint. But not Queen Bee, Nia Long whom we’ve seen catching the eye of then goofy cutie Will Smith, giving Larenz Tate a love jones so wicked; he wrote a book about it and making Chris Tucker and Ice Cube unblinkingly drool as she sauntered by them. With a face like hers, who could blame casting directors for wanting to consistently make her the love interest? However, Nia’s got the acting chops that have her career spanning two decades and she has no desire to slow down yet. She’s just getting started. Nia—who’s name means “purpose”—has been redefining hers over the last year and is in a positive place in her life right now. She’s not only bearing her soul in front of the lens, but Nia has also been able to position herself behind the camera. She’s directed videos for Ashanti (Baby) and Yolanda Adams (This Too Shall Pass) and is currently working on her own documentary. In the midst of a shopping trip for her son, Massai, Nia graciously took time to talk to Honey (despite her son’s dramatic impatience) about a possible Love Jones sequel, how she gives back, her Hollywood image, being a mother and her current projects.
Honeymag: Love Jones is my all time favorite movie! Any chance we die-hard fans can get a sequel to Nina and Darius?
Nia Long: They’ve talked about doing a sequel several times, but it always seemed like the script didn’t do the first Love Jones justice. It’s such a classic movie. I get people on a daily basis that stop me about Love Jones. Unless the script was really excellent and serviced the first movie, I don’t think Larenz or I would want to do it. Sequels are great because the audience is familiar with the characters, but if you mess up a movie by doing a sequel that is not even up to par, then it can be damaging. Some things are better left alone unless you can find something to support what’s already happened.
Speaking of Love Jones, is there someone you have one with these days?
Oh, you know that’s my personal life. I don’t really discuss that. But just put it like this, I am a very happy girl. [laughs]
You were once featured in the print version of Honey a couple years ago and in it you said you were the type that disappears and when you come back, you’re stronger and better. Are you currently gaining strength in a hiatus or are you working on projects right now?
Right now, the business has changed tremendously in the last couple of years. I recently got rid of my entire team and took about six months to rehire everyone. Every now and then, that is something so necessary to do. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but when you’re working, it’s hard to do that. . It was such a stimulating thing for me to do because it really made me refocus my agenda. Now, it’s just all about nurturing the new relationship and finding that next project that makes me feel good about the next phase in my career. I try to be selective because there is a lot of garbage out there. The business is starting to get back on its feet again. I’m always working on my own personal projects.
What type of personal projects?
I have a documentary that I’m working on right now. That’s all I can say about that at this point. It has to do with fashion. That’s a big area of interest for me and why is there such a lack of black models. How does having a First Lady that’s a black woman in the White House change the fashion world’s take on black beauty? That’s a work in progress; it’s going to take some time because we’re covering a large span of time, but it’s my pet project—my little baby, so we’ll see what happens.
You’ve always had a strong opinion on how Hollywood portrays beauty, so what do you think beauty is?
To me, beauty is about feeling comfortable in your skin and being able to wake up, be you, do you, not worry about what the rest of the world is doing and stay true to your authentic self. That’s a hard thing to do because Hollywood isn’t really set up that way.
You’re really big on your role as a mother. What would you say is the biggest thing motherhood has taught you thus far?
Patience, patience, patience and more patience. [laughs] It takes patience to raise a child, but it also takes patience to be a mother because you have to be patient with yourself. It’s not like there is a book that explains everything to do or how to do it; you have to trust your instincts. You have to know that you’re going to make mistakes. You have to know that as long as your intentions are good and you’re being responsible—things may not go exactly how you plan them—but if your heart is in the right place and you are there for your child, it all comes out in the wash. There is not right or wrong way of being a good mother. As long as you listen, are present, love and discipline them; it kind of works itself out.
As an incredibly sexy woman, have you been able to defy being cast as a sexy role?
I think that there is a part of me that is type cast as the “girl” or “pretty woman,” those things are very real and present in my career. Michelle Pfieffer said in an interview, “Beauty is a blessing and a curse.” I never wake up in the morning and say, “Oh my God! I am just the most gorgeous woman on the planet!” I feel that I’m attractive, but I don’t go around feeling myself on some glamour, beautiful perfect woman thing. What I would like for myself is to get roles that are more dramatic because that’s where I started. The dramatic roles that I have auditioned for, that I have tried to fight for, I’ll always get told that I’m too pretty or that a woman struggling wouldn’t look like me. That’s unfortunate because any tragedy that’s going to happen, doesn’t happen because you’re pretty or not pretty. It happens because that’s just part of life. I also know what my own life has been like. It hasn’t always been easy. So, when I get these scripts, the characters are so interesting, dark and gritty and I’m like, “Wow, I would love to play a role like that.” Every single time, I just get shut down, but I think that it’s a matter of me trying to persevere in that area. I try to keep moving because it will eventually happen.
Well we’ve seen Halle do it in Losing Isaiah and Charlize Thereon in Monster…
How many black women have done it? Halle’s done it and Taraji did it. That’s it. There’s a couple others, but it is so interesting to me that we get attention for playing these damaged women, but we don’t get the glory for playing heroic, beautiful women. It’s like, the level of attention that Halle got and the level of attention that Taraji got, it’s warranted in the performance. Mainstream Hollywood doesn’t really celebrate us if we do a huge romantic comedy that makes millions of dollars. There’s such a division in terms of how we are appreciated in the industry. I don’t think it will always be that way, but right now, it is what it is.
How are you able to keep good people around you as a celebrity?
I’m not in the pocket with my friends all the time. We don’t talk everyday, but the same people that are in my life now, were in my life 15 years ago. It’s not a friendship based on Nia Long the actress, it’s a friendship based on genuinely appreciating one another. I don’t really need to make any new friends to be honest. I have a lot of associates, but as far as the people that know me—those are the people that have been in my life for a very long time. I don’t have very many friends that are actually other actresses. I may hang out on a social tip, but for the most part, my friends are not in the business. I like it that way because it keeps the friendship genuine. Not to say that there are not wonderful women in this industry; the nature of the business is to be competitive and (at the end of the day, we are out own business) you have to acknowledge that. If everyone is comfortable with that, then it’s cool. My best friendships are those with people that have been in my life forever.
Out of all that you have been given, how do you give back?
I work The Innocence Project, which is a nonprofit. The mission is to get wrongly accused victims out of the prison system. Also, I work with an organization and I am on the board of the Hershe Group. It’s a program that caters to young women coming out of the foster care system. We help them make their transition into the real world, once they turn 18. We do mentoring, we give them Christmas parties, art projects, a big ball at the end of the year—which is our biggest fundraiser. A lot of those girls don’t have parents that are involved. We help them get jobs, scholarships for college, we help prepare them and talk about anything and everything that will empower them to have a successful life in the transition from young girl, to grown woman. I am very passionate about it. There is a lot of information online about them.
If I weren’t acting, I would be…
I’d probably be an attorney because I definitely know how to get my point across. I’m assertive. Or I would do something with children because I love little ones. I’d either be very wealthy or not paid enough. That is so unfortunate that our school system is set up that way. It’s ridiculous that teachers are regarded in the way that they are because they are the ones teaching our futures everything. They get paid the least when you compare it to other professions.
When I am on set and preparing for a scene, I…
Listen to my director and follow my instincts. I think listening to your instincts is all about trusting yourself. That’s the heart of acting—trusting your first response to a situation and being open emotionally when you’re working; that is the key.
My son is…
The shit! [laughs] My son is awesome. He is just beautiful, independent, a little man, he’s got the greatest sense of humor, he’s a man’s man. He’s the greatest. He’s my greatest teacher.
I’ve been able to keep a positive image in Hollywood because…
I mind my own business. [laughs] I like being under the radar. I do my work and I love what I do, but it’s a job. Acting is my creative way of expression, but being a Hollywood actress is not who I am, but it’s the title I get in this business. I am far from that.
I pride myself on…
Honesty. The truth.
Before I’m 40, I’d like to…
Have another baby and get married! [laughs]
I feel like that might be coming soon!
I do too.
I’ve always loved Honeymag because…
You guys know how to make a woman look and sound smart and beautiful.
New York or California?
California because of the weather! I have a beautiful home. My momma is in Cali! [laughs]
Movies or TV?
Iced Coffee or Milkshakes?
Blue Jeans or Sweats?
Twitter or Facebook?
Behind the camera or in front?
In front, for now. [laughs]
Veggies or Cheeseburger?
IPhone or Blackberry?
[sings] Blackberry! It is my life and I hate that sometimes. Sometimes I will just refuse to even be on the phone at all. I don’t even know what we did before these things! We do everything via text or email and all that.
Make sure to check out Nia’s blog on GlobalGrind.com!