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Mo’Nique’s New Chance

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Positioned center stage, Mo’Nique Imes is holding court as the curvy revolution is being televised—literally. July 15, the size 18, self-adoring actress, comedian, author, newlywed and mother of three sons (including 9-month-old twins) will crown Miss F.A.T. 2006—that’s Fabulous And Thick—on the second two-hour special of Mo’Nique’s F.A.T. Chance on cable television’s Oxygen Network. Part beauty pageant, part self-esteem booster, the celebrity-judged competition, which shattered the channel’s all-time ratings record last year, is the latest coup for the Baltimore-born Queen of Comedy, but not the last. Mo’Nique will star in next month’s Beerfest, a comedy about a secret beer-drinking Olympics within Oktoberfest, and next will lend her voice to Farce of the Penguins, a spoof of March of the Penguins, the Oscar-winning documentary. She’s also adding finishing touches to her carb-loving cookbook, Skinny Cooks Can’t Be Trusted, due this fall (Amistad/HarperCollins), and to her yet-untitled Judy Blume–esque tween literature series.

For now, though, the thrice-wed 38-year-old is rediscovering love with her best friend, now husband, Sidney Hicks. Mo’Nique and Grammy Award–winning songstress–poet Jill Scott—each an admirer of the other and both fiercely secure in their own beings—recently sat down over lunch at Mo’Nique’s San Fernando Valley home. Amid tears, high fives and contagious belly laughs, the two compared notes on the trials and triumphs of success, the delicate state of our community and how they’ve each learned to love life.

Jill Scott: Mo’Nique, I’m astounded by how you’ve been doing your royal thing out here in the Valley. You’re unabashed about your beauty, your creativity and your talent, and you’re unafraid. Are you enjoying the ride?

Mo’Nique: Every second. I’ve wanted to be famous since I was 3 years old. I’ve been on this path for a long time, even before the money came. I remember stepping onstage and thinking, I’m about to tell these jokes and everybody’s watching me. That’s my high. I’d do this for free.

Jill: I envy that. When I released my first album, I wasn’t expecting anything and was freaked out when the world paid so much attention to me. I knew I was blessed, but I didn’t understand why people were passing notes to me through bathroom stalls and showing up at my house. I’m better about getting that kind of attention now, but I wish I’d met you sooner because I really needed a hand.

Mo’Nique: Often we need our own private person for inspiration, and you are that person for me. I’ve played your song “Golden” over and over again, and I promised myself that I’d live my life without apologies or regrets. When I look at you, I see myself and I’m proud. You come from such a beautiful place. Even before I saw you the first time, I knew you were a chunky girl. I could hear it in your voice. And then I saw you wearing that bush! {Laughs}

Jill: You must admit that our industry is culturally biased. Now that you’ve become a brand, how do you maintain and protect yourself from giving in to the pressure?

Mo’Nique: I’m just not buying into what’s being sold. I believe that I’m a sex symbol, a movie star and an author. There’s no special formula—I just simply believe that I am. And I love us, till the end. When I got the part in Domino with Keira Knightley, I had an agent say, “Congratulations. And no more junk!” Translation: no more Black movies. She thought she was validating me, but I take pride in every project I’ve done. I let her know that she was off the team and that she could send back my 10 percent of “junk” money.

I understand how the industry works, so my pressure doesn’t come from Hollywood. For me the hardest part is dealing with family, especially when four out of eight calls are about money. I’ve wondered, How many times do I have to say yes before it’s okay to say no? There’s been a lot of resentment and pain because I didn’t want people to say, “Umph, she’s got that show, and now we can’t call her!” I didn’t want anyone to think I had changed. But I did. I had to.

Jill: Sometimes we, as Black people, don’t want to grow with our lives. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more for yourself, but you have to change your mentality, or you won’t understand or appreciate what you have. Change is mandatory.

Mo’Nique: Yes, and if you embrace the good-byes, the great hellos will follow.

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