3/23/2011

An unabridged interview with Mo'Nique

Because of the time difference, this interview (edited version here) was scheduled for 830a. I'm an early-riser, but generally don't look - let alone, speak - to another human being because (I pretend) I need my coffee. I need my scone. I need to zone out on my Google RSS Feed. Until noon. But for someone like Mo'Nique (Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire; Domino), I make an obvious exception. Let's just say by the time it was over, I didn't need that coffee anymore.



MATTHEW DEKNEEF: Hey, Mo'Nique.
MO'NIQUE: Hey, Matthew. How are you, sweetie?

I’m good, thanks. By the way, my goal is to get you to call me “sweetie,” “sugar,” or “baby" at least six more times during this interview.
(Laughs) I’m gonna do my best, baby. That’s two now. Mark it down.

Marked. So, where are you right now?
I’m in Atlanta.
Cool. And what're you wearing right now?
What am I…? (Pause) Wearing?

I’m kidding! I just read that you used to be a phone sex operator, so I had to ask!
Sugar! Okay, I was like, um, this is going to be a different kind of interview! (Laughs) I actually didn’t work the phones, I worked inside the office, so I did the listening. I had to make sure that the people who called were doing and saying the right things.

Interesting. Based on that experience, how similar is phone sex to stand-up? Can you draw any comparisons?
You know, I’ll say this. For me in stand up, it’s the one place where I am totally free. There’s no editing, no cut, no retakes. It’s just me and that microphone and your bosses sitting in front of you.

And what makes for good sex? I mean, er, “show”? I meant “show”!
Matthew, you little filthy! (Laughs) To me, a great show is when everyone is unguarded, including me and the people in front of me, because when everyone is unguarded, there’s no judgment.

Sounds like everyday life should be more like stand-up.
I believe so, baby.

Women of all sizes have really responded to your book [“Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small Minded World”] calling it an honest, inspiring guide to living life, no apologies. Because people in Hawai‘i love to eat, what's the best food-to-life analogy you have?
Food-to-life analogy?

You know, like the saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it to.”
Okay, wait. I want you to listen to that statement. It makes no sense. It’s my cake! Why can’t I have my cake and eat it too? I never understood that because I’m not asking for your piece of cake, sugar.

That’s four!
Keep counting, Matthew!

(Laughs) While we’re talking numbers, you’re one of twelve African-Americans to win an Oscar for acting. The first African-American woman to host her own late night show. Add those up and you’re a bit of a trailblazer in the industry. I’m curious: Who are your earliest icons?
Quite a few, which go back historically. Harriet Tubman, Hattie McDaniel of course, Madam C.J. Walker, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg – the list goes on because there’s so many whose shoulders I stand on. The ones who made a path, so mine wouldn’t be as difficult.

Speaking of Oprah, she steps down in September. There room to add Queen of Talk to your Queen of Comedy throne?
You know what? I like to enjoy the moments that I’m in. I can go down one way, but the universe might say, “Come here, you moving too fast!” But I’ll say this: my dream has always been to be a talk show host. When I saw Oprah Winfrey on her TV show in Baltimore, People Are Talking, she looked like me. She was this big, black woman who wasn’t apologetic. I said, “Oh my God, I want to do that.” I had the opportunity to meet her once and she, “You have to work really hard to be here,” and that stays with me. I’m in my dream.

I have to ask you about “Precious”...
Yes.

I loved the intensity you brought to Mary [Lee Johnston]. Honestly, watching that movie, it got to the point where I thought you were going to reach through the screen and throw me across my living room. Has the way you accept roles changed since you won the Oscar?
No. I like doing what’s exciting for me. I like doing things, that when it’s all said and done, excite me. And here’s the real kicker, Matthew, I’ve never considered myself an actress, I’m a stand-up comedian.

Were things as heated off-set as they were on-camera?
No. And I will give the credit to Lee Daniels, the director, for that. What people don’t know is that as soon as we stopped shooting, there was house music playing because baby, we had to get out of that place. So the moment he said "cut," we’d be singing, “I’ve been lifted!” and just partied.

I think it was the fearlessness in embracing that role that people really responded to. Which is present in all of your work actually. I’m curious: Does anything intimidate Mo’Nique?
Um… (Thinking) Hm... (Thinking) No.

Being a mom to twin boys?
Nothing in the industry. (Laughs)

Sounds like you do a good job separating your personal from your professional life.
Oh my goodness, yes. When I’m home, I’m mommy, I’m a wife, and all that other stuff is out there. That Oscar doesn’t mean anything to my kids. They want to play with it. (Laughs)

There are big things ahead for you. I read your next project is with Leonardo DiCaprio. Can you talk about that?
Well, whoever told you hasn’t told me. I haven’t heard anything about it. That’s a first one, Matthew!

What?! Sorry, the internet told me. (Laughs) My bad. Well, I would love to see you in a movie with Leo, so I’ll text him later today and have you two connect.
(Laughs) Well, I’ll say this. I am excited to come to Honolulu, get up on stage, be as free as a bird, and have all my bosses fly with me.

Hope you have a great show and time in Hawaii.
Thank you! Have a beautiful day, baby.

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