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Queen Latifah Talks Love & Basketball in 'Just Wright'

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"Just Wright," opening today, is a fresh romantic comedy starring a few of our favorite actors and actresses, like new mom Paula Patton, sexy Common, mother extraordinaire Phylicia Rashad, blast-from-the-past Pam Grier, and the ultimate chameleon, Queen Latifah. The film stars Latifah as a physical therapist named Leslie Wright who, on a whim, meets New Jersey Nets basketball star Scott McKnight, played by Common. Though Leslie likes him, Scott is taken with her godsister, played by Patton, until life gives Leslie and Scott a shot at love. We're not telling you what happens, because it was too much fun to watch... The "Just Wright" star sat down with ESSENCE.com to chat about her chemistry with Common, why she isn't Leslie Wright, and touring with Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. ESSENCE.com: You recently attended the premiere of "Just Wright." Was that your first time seeing the entire film? QUEEN LATIFAH: It was, and I fell in love with it! It was great, people seem to really enjoy it. ESSENCE.com: As the producer and lead actress, how much of Queen Latifah was portrayed in your character? LATIFAH: My Flava Unit partner Shakim and I conceived the character from the beginning. It might look like a little bit of me in there because I am a basketball lover and I am very nurturing. I think I'm very determined and successful in my own right, as Leslie is. I have a great relationship with my father and my mom as Leslie does, and I wanted to show that, but she is not me. ESSENCE.com: So, like Leslie, are you waiting for Mr. Right? LATIFAH: I'm way different. I've had four or five Mr. Rights, but always turned into the runaway bride. ESSENCE.com: As a well-known Jersey girl, was it a no-brainer to make Common's character, Scott McKnight, a Net? LATIFAH: We are from Jersey so we tend to gravitate towards there, we try to show the state in a different way. A lot of people make it look very superficial and that's not Jersey. We're very dynamic. I grew up on the Nets. I lived near a barbershop where [former NBA player] Darryl Dawkins used to get his haircuts. I had his poster on the wall and he signed one for me. We are a fan of local teams but we would have taken the Nets, or the [New York] Knicks, or whatever team felt the most comfortable. This film had moved quite a bit before we settled in New Jersey -- from Chicago, then Miami and then New Jersey. The business side of things was the reason for it moving around. ESSENCE.com: How was the chemistry between you and Common? LATIFAH: I'm glad that we knew each other already. Paula Patton, who plays my godsister Morgan, and I are great friends and so is Common. Working together was like working with an old friend. We didn't have to create the chemistry, I hate having to do that. Most of the time, I have a say as to who's in the film, but not always. When you get to work with someone you know, and Common and I are both Pisces, we just clicked. ESSENCE.com: What made you cast Common instead of another actor that looked more like a baller? LATIFAH: Allen Iverson is not 6'5", and he's one of the strongest players that ever played in the league. It's not about having some tall player to compliment us. It's about having the right person to play Scott McKnight, the character. He's a basketball player but, more importantly, a human being looking for love and having to navigate the same playing field as us all. But he has women throwing themselves at him all the time. I thought Common could relate to that guy's quest to decide which woman is real, and bring some real life experience to the role. Not to mention, he's gorgeous. Ladies love him, guys respect him, and he can ball. ESSENCE.com: Describe working with Pam Grier, who was cast as your mother? LATIFAH: It's like working with a God. That's Foxy Brown! That's Coffy! It was pretty awesome. It was hard to concentrate with Pam Grier or Phylicia Rashad being on set. ESSENCE.com: What else do you have coming up? LATIFAH: I have a book coming out called "Put on Your Crown." I also have a jazz album due out in about a month. It will be recorded live because I want to capture the same energy I get when I'm performing on stage. It always goes to another level on stage, and I want to get that energy on the record. ESSENCE.com: Tell us about the new project you're working on called "Welfare Queen," about the con-artist Dorothy Woods. LATIFAH: It's in the works. It's a biopic, a "Catch Me If You Can" with welfare. There will be more costume changes than "Sex and the City," and believe me, I'm not happy about it. But it's a great role because Dorothy Woods is slick and smart. Tracey Edmonds' company, Edmonds Entertainment Group, brought that script to me and we, Flava Unit, partnered with them on it. ESSENCE.com: Would you ever consider Broadway? LATIFAH: I really respect the people that work on Broadway, but it's a grueling schedule. I'd really have to love the project. You perform almost every day and multiple times a day. So, until I am sure that I could do that schedule and give a performance that's fresh and new every show, I'll keep doing movies. ESSENCE.com: Erykah Badu recently mentioned the SugarWater tour while on "The Mo'Nique Show." Any plans to revive it? LATIFAH: I'm all for it. I had so much fun on that tour. She, Jill Scott and I own it, which is what I wanted, for us to create a Black Lilith Fair, if you will. Now Jill has a new son, and Erykah has three beautiful children, so we're all busy, but we can figure it out. Erykah knows all she has to do is call me. Read ESSENCE.com's interview with Common on "Just Wright" here.
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