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Mo’Nique: HBO Paid Me More Money For ‘Bessie’ Than I've Made in My Career

Also, the Oscar winner says she won’t speak privately with Lee Daniels and has "nothing but love for Taraji P. Henson and the cast of "Empire."
Mo’Nique: HBO Paid Me More Money For ‘Bessie’ Than I’ve Made in My Career
Splash News

Mo’Nique’s return to the spotlight has been marred by controversy and accusations: she says Empire director Lee Daniels told her she was “blackballed” in Hollywood; he says it was her own doing for being “difficult.” She says he offered her the part of Cookie in Empire, his co-writer Danny Strong disagrees. Even her Precious co-star Gabourey Sidibe has spoken out, tweeting that that it’s sad to see the movie “be dragged through the mud by selfishness and lies.”

Meanwhile, the Oscar winner—who is promoting her latest film Blackbird and will star in HBO’s Bessie Smith biopic in May—says the lack of major roles on the big screen had nothing to do with her being “blackballed.” Her decision to slow down was by choice to be present for her children. Besides, the roles offered in her five-year absence weren’t suitable.

Five years gone. We’ve missed you, Mo’Nique.
I appreciate that. It’s totally been by choice. I’m extremely grateful because I have an older son that’s in his 20’s. I remember first coming to Hollywood and chasing fame, and trying to do everything that I thought you’re supposed to do—being at every party, every function, every everything. Now that my son is in his 20’s we have a strained relationship because there’s a lot we don’t’ know about each other. When he was a little boy, I was out chasing and trying to be successful and make money. I have regrets about that to this day. But when I prayed and asked the universe to please give me a chance to be a mommy again, I was given three more beautiful babies. Michael’s 11, David and Jonathan are 9. And I asked the universe to give me another chance at marriage because in my first two marriages I had not a clue what a wife was. And the universe put this wonderful man [Mo’Nique married longtime friend Sidney Hicks in 2006] who’s been around most of my life and said there he goes right there.

When I do leave my family to go out and have to work it has to make sense. And in these last five years it’s not that I haven’t been working. I’ve been doing stand up comedy the whole time. You’re getting ready to see this movie Blackbird coming to theaters. There’s another movie in the can, and I’ve done a comedy special. So it’s not that I haven’t been working. It’s just you haven’t seen me doing what people think I should normally be doing. And that’s TV and movies. Well when it makes sense you’ll see me doing it.

And it made sense to do Blackbird, another indie.
Yes, because we have real ownership in that movie. We’re proud to say that the film is under our production company, Hicks Media Production. We have real ownership in this film. It also made sense for me to do Bessie [Mo’Nique plays blues singer Ma Rainey in the upcoming biopic] with the icon and legend of our time Queen Latifah. HBO said we’re going to pay this woman fairly. For the eight days that I was with HBO, they paid me more money than I’ve made in my career with a studio. So when people ask ‘Mo, where have you been?’ I say I’ve been grateful with my prayers being answered. And when I do leave my family it has to be worthwhile.

You recently said that you were paid $50,000 for Precious, which was shocking. And now you’re talking about Bessie paying you more than any other project. How did that happen? Was that HBO’s doing or was that you and your husband/manager Sidney’s negotiating?
When I did Precious, I signed up with that movie because Lee Daniels was my friend. I didn’t have on my business hat. And that’s my fault. So when my friend called and said it’s an independent, it’s a small film and I’ve got $50,000 for you, there were no questions asked. That’s my friend. And it was two fold. When he called me with Shadowboxer, there was no money, but he was a director who was saying I want to give you a chance. And it was me saying I appreciate that brother because I don’t know how many directors would have given me that chance. When he called for Precious, again it’s the friendship hat. So it was $50,000. I’m not complaining—despite all the money that movie went on to make, millions and millions and millions of dollars. I can’t complain because I signed up for the 50.

So you had on your business hat for Bessie?
When they called for Bessie, Sidney and the businessperson over at HBO … It was such a pleasant conversation. And they called with a fair number. See, when you call and you’re fair from the beginning; we can have a great time. They just called and said this is what we’re offering. We looked at each other and said that’s fair. I’m not the person that says give me so much more. But I’m not the person that says I’ll accept so much less either.

Let’s talk about your friendship with Lee Daniels. There’s been a lot of back and forth in the media. Have there been any private conversations? Is anyone picking up the phone and saying hey, let’s talk?
No, that has not happened. Lee Daniels has not reached out to me. Or if he has, I’m not aware of it. But no, I have not reached out to Mr. Daniels. I don’t even believe I have the number anymore. 

Would you like to speak with him? Is this friendship savable?
I would love to talk to Mr. Daniels, but only publicly because unfortunately what has happened is that in the conversations that we’ve had in private he’s not been forthright. [Lee Daniels has not yet responded to requests for comment.] And he’s been telling some very inaccurate statements. And when I say to you guys, the one thing that I don’t or I can’t allow is when you start putting things out there that could question my character. And when Mr. Daniels says I was ridiculously demanding and difficult… Mr. Daniels and I have never one time had an issue on any set I’ve ever been on with him—Shadowboxer or Precious. We’ve never had a difficult moment. And when Mr. [Danny] Strong [Empire’s co-creator] says Mo’Nique was never offered The Butler nor was she ever offered Cookie… I understand why Mr. Strong would say that because that’s what he may really believe because none of the communication that ever happened was with Mr. Strong. This is the first time I’m hearing that there’s a Mr. Strong. And when I saw him send out that tweet I responded. I said I understand why you would say that. However, will you speak as loudly when you find out it’s not true? Because the one thing I am not is a liar. And the one thing I have are the emails of the communication with me being offered Gloria [in The Butler] and me being offered Cookie. So when Mr. Daniels says [Mo’Nique] was demanding and difficult. And then someone else says she was never offered those things, it could make me look like I’m a whole lot to work with. And that’s just something that I can’t sit down and be silent about when I know that it is not true.

What I say to those who say, ‘Mo’Nique why are you saying something? Why are you speaking out? Why don’t you just be quiet and move on?’ Well, if we continue to be quiet and move on, things never get changed. And what happens is it sends a subliminal message out to us as women of color in this entertainment field. If you speak out, watch what can happen. Well, I believe when you speak out watch what can happen.

There’s been so much back-and-forth accusations, tweets, etc. I’m curious, who is supporting you right now?
I have an amazing family. I have a beautiful husband and these beautiful babies. And when I’m home I’m a wife and a mommy. It’s like, you know when you’ve done nothing wrong and somebody says, ‘Oh, you’ve done this and this and this.’ But you know eventually the truth is going to come out. So when you know that you have that on your side, you might have to take some bumps and bruises and kicks and slaps of people’s opinions. And they are entitled to them. All I’m sayings is will you still tweet and speak loudly when you see these emails with the communication on them?

And for my baby Gabby [Mo’Nique’s Precious co-star recently sent out this tweet], for my sister Taraji, it ain’t nothing but love from over here. I’m so happy and proud of Taraji. And nobody could have been Cookie like Taraji. No one. Gabby Sidibe, I’m so happy for that baby because I got a chance to work next to that special sister. And this little small movie called Precious that Mr. Daniels said initially the studio was saying who’s going to want to see two fat, Black woman on the big screen? All the excitement didn’t come until after Sundance. So for those two sisters and that whole cast, people can print what they want to print. They can say what they want to say. I will never have not one harsh feeling or one harsh thing to say about my sisters or my brothers. They are doing this amazing piece of work called Empire.

What would you do differently, if anything, when it comes to Hollywood?
In my Hollywood Reporter article I said that I could understand why there could be some folks that say I’m difficult. Or that Sidney and I can be difficult. And what I said is the people that say that are one of three things or either all three things: They’re either heartless or ruthless or they want to treat people like they’re worthless. People like that will have a difficult time with us. So I’m not denying that. People have a difficult time when they are having conversations with Sidney and they’ll make an offer and he’ll say oh well, no thank you. We respectfully decline. And they’ll say well, that’s the norm. And he’ll say but when you called here you told me how unique Mo’Nique was… But then you want to give her the norm. So we’re going to have to respectfully decline. I see why people would think that’s difficult because that’s not the normal conversation.

So that’s what I meant in that article was no one could ever tell you I spoke with Mo’Nique’s husband and he cussed me out and he raised his voice. The people that have worked with my husband will tell you he is one of the most polite people you’ll ever meet. Now me, I can use some colorful words at times. That’s why I’m so thankful for Sidney.

Blackbird opens in theaters on April 24.