Nobody can deny that Jenifer Lewis is a venerable expert at playing somebody's mama. Whether she's playing the neglectful mother who cares more about herself than her child or the overcompensating matriarch who spoils her children rotten, she always connects with her audience. In "Not Easily Broken," the new film based on Bishop T.D. Jakes's best-selling novel of the same name, Lewis plays a mother who is not only meddlesome but a woman who has experienced a lifetime of pain and displaced her emotions toward her daughter Clarice (Taraji P. Henson) and her husband's (Morris Chestnut) marriage. ESSENCE.com spoke with Lewis about overbearing mothers, her public apologies to Serita Jakes, and making magic on screen with Henson.
ESSENCE.COM: What attracted you to playing the character of Mary 'Mama' Clark?
LEWIS: Well, we certainly see enough angry African-American mothers being disappointed with the way things have turned out for them in life. In this particular role, I wanted people to see where the anger was coming from, including the patterns of abuse that were never resolved. When that happens, they simply continue to damage relationships. For me, it was good to be able to show where Mama Clark's anger and disappoint came from. Characters aren't always well-developed in a lot of films. Usually you just have these people running around with all these emotions not knowing where they originated.
ESSENCE.COM: Why do you think this story will resonate with Black couples?
LEWIS: In all relationships, if people would just stop talking at each other and start talking to each other, we would all fare much better. It's all about communication. As we grow older and become wiser, you have to be able to look people in the eyes, say what's on your mind and then maybe go forward from there. If not, you're going to be left guessing.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you think you'll be like Mama Clark in any way when your own daughter gets married?
LEWIS: Oh no! I allow my daughter to do what she wants to do with her life and respect her journey even as difficult as that may be. The best thing for me to do as her parent is allow her to have her journey and trust that she will make good choices.
ESSENCE.COM: Did you have any opportunity to work with Bishop Jakes on the film?
LEWIS: No I didn't get a chance to actually work with him but his wife was on the set and you know me and my mouth. Every time I would mess up a scene, I would scream out something that was usually inappropriate. I would always turn away from the camera and shout out, "Sorry, Mrs. Jakes!" It sort of became my mantra.
ESSENCE.COM: As mother and daughter, you and Taraji P. Henson had so much chemistry on-screen. How does she rate as Hollywood's next rising star?
LEWIS: Now that was an experience! Let's put it like this, I think she's absolutely brilliant. She's professional, focused and just a lot of fun. She and I acted a big fool together. [Laughs.] I was very proud to meet a young actress who had studied, done the work and came out ready with those gloves on. We went to the ropes and did our jobs. There is a pivotal scene for our characters, and boy, we hit it that night! We just went right to that place where, as an artist, when you finish, you know you've made a difference.