There can’t be a story on Biggie Smalls without his fiery homey-lover-friend Lil’ Kim. Former 3LW member and actress Naturi Naughton was more than up for the challenge of playing hip-hop’s sex kitten on the big screen. With the days of girl-drama with her former 3LW group members long behind her, Naughton sizzles in her film debut. All grown up, she talks woman to woman with ESSENCE.com on the pressure of playing Lil’ Kim, walking the fine line of being sexy and reinventing herself before the world.
ESSENCE.COM: You definitely aren’t the same girl we met in 3LW! How did you end up from little woman to Lil ‘Kim?
NATURI NAUGHTON: It’s finally hit me that I’m in a major movie. I can’t believe it’s really happening. When I first heard about the film, I thought it was about time. I thought, If they do this right, it can go down in history, and I really wanted to be a part of something historic for the hip-hop community and all people. It crosses over and shares his story with the rest of the world. My brother would worship the Lil' Kim poster with the legs spread. And here I am playing the character, so it’s great. It’s crazy.
ESSENCE.COM: This film is special because many of the characters are portraying people who are still living. Were you nervous during filming of what Lil’ Kim’s reaction would be?
NAUGHTON: Naturally, I was nervous with what people would say. When you are playing a real person, they will be criticizing or expecting you to be exactly what they think, especially fans. I didn’t want to play an exact replica. I didn’t have to look exactly like her or have her complexion. People get caught up in so many other things, except for the acting, and that’s what was important. I wanted to show I could bring out the vulnerability of this person. She’s not just Lil' Kim. She’s Kimberly Jones. She has a human side and I wanted to make sure I brought that human side to life. As long as people feel they see Lil' Kim when they look on the screen, I’ve done my job.
ESSENCE.COM: We first met you when you were singing and dancing in a girl group. Has it been hard to break out of that mode and be taken seriously for adult roles?
NAUGHTON: Coming out of a young girl’s group, people still relate to me being 16, as if time stopped and I stayed a teenager. And then I played a little girl in “Hairspray,” so people are like, Awww, that’s little Naturi and I’m like, No, it’s Lil’ Kim in big ways. It took a lot for people to understand that transition happened and I’m not a little girl anymore. I’m a young woman now and I’m embracing that.
ESSENCE.COM: That you are. There’s sex and a little nudity in the film. Were you apprehensive about baring it all?
NAUGHTON: It’s right for the character, and it’s okay to kind of go there. People are going to see I went there. It’s okay to be sexy, as long as it’s classy. As a woman, sometimes I feel a little Lil' Kim-ish, and I want to wear a bikini top and show a little stomach. It was sexy and Lil' Kim, but I also made sure my integrity as Naturi was protected.
ESSENCE.COM: Well, you made your debut in a big way. What does this film mean to you?
NAUGHTON: I know! I’m like, Maybe I should have taken baby steps. I took a full leap. It’s a big role and huge shoes to fill—not just shoes, stilettos, and it took a lot of courage, and I had to go for it and be strong. This movie represents so many of us and represents so many dreamers and those wanting more out of life. He overcame the streets and selling drugs to turn his life around and grew into a man and became successful. If we can show that your dreams are attainable, we’ve done our jobs.