Queen Latifah has become a major force in Hollywood with a resume that includes singer, actress, producer, CoverGirl model and successful businesswoman.
She was born Dana Owens and raised in the Newark, N.J., area. At age 8, her cousin gave her the nickname “Latifah,” an Arabic word meaning delicate and sensitive.
As a teen, the hip-hop pioneer performed in her high school musical “The Wiz” and started rapping with the group Ladies Fresh. She also became one of the members of the original Flavor Unit, signing with Tommy Boy Records and releasing her first album, “All Hail the Queen,” in 1989.
The 39-year-old star’s career has been on a near-stratospheric rise. She showed her comedic talents alongside Steve Martin in the box-office hit “Bringing Down the House” and hit dramatic high notes in “The Bone Collector” and “The Secret Life of Bees.” Then there was the musical film “Chicago,” which brought her an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Matron “Mama” Morton.
In addition to singing and acting, Latifah has produced several films, including “Beauty Shop” and “Life Support.”
Over her career, Latifah has won a Golden Globe, two Screen Actor Guild awards, two Image Awards, a Grammy Award and an Emmy nomination.
This year, you’ll see her in “Valentine’s Day” and “Hairspray 2.” Bankrate caught up with Latifah recently as she moved from project to project:
Bankrate: You are a veteran CoverGirl spokeswoman. Now you have joined the brand’s “CoverGirl Clean Makeup for Clean Water Campaign.” Can you talk about this a bit?
Queen Latifah: It’s a partnership with Children’s Safe Drinking Water, and we’re addressing the need for clean drinking water around the world. Dania (Ramirez) just joined our family and went back to her native Dominican Republic to deliver a year’s supply of clean drinking water. It’s sad seeing how this contaminated water can affect families and children. I don’t know what life is like not having clean drinking water because it has always been provided for me.
Bankrate: You are so busy right now. You just hosted the People’s Choice Awards on top of everything else you’re doing. How do you relax and chill out?
Queen Latifah: I do need a break right now. I like hanging out and doing regular things like going to the movies. I can go to the movies by myself. I can definitely do an 11 o’clock show. I like bowling. So, normal, everyday things are great.
Bankrate: Is it easier at your production company having a partner?
Queen Latifah: Sure. I’m not doing it all by myself. I can’t take the credit for being the only producer. I like to have team efforts on my films. I do everything I can up to the time we start shooting, and if I’m also in the movie, then I can take a step back a little bit and let them take the reins more.
Bankrate: Director Adam Shankman said with the previous success of “Bringing Down the House,” that you and Steve Martin priced yourselves out of a sequel. Is this true?
Queen Latifah: A movie is so successful that you can’t make another one? What’s up with that? But you ain’t lying. I mean we are not going to be able to make that movie because of possible finances? I would love to do a sequel. I don’t know where we would go with it exactly. I’d love to work with Steve and Eugene (Levy) and Adam again; we had a blast doing that film.
Bankrate: Being so popular, you’re probably recognized everywhere you go. Is that a problem?
Queen Latifah: It can sometimes be because people, for some reason, find me very approachable. Everyone feels like they can talk to me, which I must say, they pretty much can, but sometimes it wears you out. It becomes difficult for the people around me, the ones I’m trying to have a conversation with, and sometimes it’s an important (conversation).
Bankrate: But you still go out there and don’t live in a cocoon.
Queen Latifah: I just can’t do that. I’d rather get disturbed a thousand times than have to roll with eight bodyguards and not let people within 15 feet to 20 feet of me. … I mean it’s a give-and-take unfortunately, you know. We can’t have it all, and it’s one of the tough parts of the gig, but what are you going to do? Bodyguards just attract more attention.
Bankrate: It seems you enjoy giving back.
Queen Latifah: Sure, like I said, it’s a very positive thing to give back and not always be the one on the receiving end. That’s why I joined up with this Clean Makeup program. … I’m actively involved in the initiative. It’s almost silly to think that we can actually stop children and families from drinking contaminated water just as it is that we can prevent AIDS or HIV, but we have to try.