When Essence asked Jada Pinkett Smith, star of the just-released film The Matrix Reloaded and its upcoming sequel The Matrix Revolutions, whom she would most like to interview her, she named Sister Souljah. They both grew up in hard-core ’hoods. Now both are wives and mothers who homeschool their children and enjoy traveling together, watching films and playing Scrabble. Their families are close. Jada says of Souljah, “I love her point of view and admire her strength.” While Souljah says of Jada, “In most of my relationships, I am the giver. Jada is one of the few people with whom I experience give and take.” And now, their story...
Speaking of female warriors, let’s talk about your upcoming role in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Tell us about your character.
Niobe is her name. She was based on a woman in Greek mythology who had given birth to 12 children and then mocked one of the Greek goddesses, Leto, who had had only two children, Apollo and Artemis. Niobe’s punishment for her arrogance was to have all her children killed by Leto’s. In the movie Niobe is challenged to find her faith.
What are the similarities between you and your Matrix character?
This role really challenged me to find my faith as well. When September 11 occurred, I was in complete hysteria. I was paralyzed with fear and afraid to fly, yet I was obligated by The Matrix sequels to be in Australia for filming on September 15, four days later. I was afraid to leave my husband, so much so that he was gonna shut down the set of Men in Black II, where he was filming. Never mind the fact that it was going to cost him a fortune. He was going to fly with the kids and me and remain until I was comfortable. Somewhere in all of my emotions, a wave of calm came over me, and I realized that I had to find faith in a higher power. I had to let go of my fear and learn to trust.
Describe the physical training you were involved in for your role.
When I landed the part I was nine months pregnant. Luckily, I was doing yoga throughout that entire time. I gave birth to Willow on October 31, 2000. One month later, I was in intense training, every single day from nine to five. I trained for one month in Santa Monica. Then I trained for four months in Oakland. I also had to put in hours of running daily in preparation for the Enter the Matrix video game. My training included horse stances, which are squat positions that you remain in for two to three minutes straight. I had four kung fu trainers who taught me “movie kung fu.” I was trained to fly on the wire. My character, Niobe, has no weapons but she is nice with her feet. Therefore I had to do hours of kicks, as well as kick strengthening exercises. I put on 15 pounds of muscle. I bench-pressed 170 pounds. I was cut up top. I was pressing nine plates on my legs. I wanted Niobe to look like a soldier, someone who lives and dies for Zion. She was conditioned for the life that she chose. Niobe’s love interest and everything else took a backseat.
Tell us what you are working on now.
Promotion for The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions and the Enter the Matrix video game. I have a television sitcom that Will and I are executive-producing on UPN, tentatively titled All of Us. I also have the movie The Coldest Winter Ever that is being executive-produced by our company, Overbrook Entertainment, Souljah Story, Inc., and HBO. I’ve opened a publishing company called Pretty Smart Books, which I believe will bring a host of untold but necessary stories into print. Last but not least, my album will drop later this year. So this is a busy time for me.
Most of us have seen the video 1,000 Kisses and heard the duet you performed with your husband on his album Born to Reign. What led you to want to enter a new arena—writing, producing and performing songs?
I love to write songs. It all comes from my heart. I’m not going pop, don’t want to spend a lot of money on this project. I’ll probably be independent. I believe I have something to say, and there’s no pressure. If you want to hear it, buy it. If not, it’s okay.