Queen Latifah stars as blues singer Bessie Smith in an HBO biopic also starring Michael Kenneth Williams
By Martin Chilton, Culture Editor online
Queen Latifah said the experience of playing blues singer Bessie Smith was like driving with the seat belt off.
Queen Latifah, 45, the singer, rapper, actress and comedian and talk show host, plays the celebrated blues singer in Bessie, an HBO biopic that has been 22 years in the making.
Latifah, who first auditioned for the part in 1992, told the New York Times that the turbulent life of Smith was “hard to watch” on screen but said the experience of playing her was unparallelled. “You have to take the seat belt off,” she said. “With this role, I have to be free. It was every emotion I probably could have asked for. She was a very busy woman and it's always been important to play strong female characters."
“She was not afraid to be wrong or afraid to fight or afraid to tell someone just like it is, and that’s a gift,” Queen Latifah added. “She gave me all the work I could handle. This is Bessie’s story, and it needed to be told.”
In Bessie, blues singer Ma Rainey is played by Mo’Nique and Smith's husband, Jack Gee, is played by Michael Kenneth Williams, a star of HBO show The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. Queen Latifah says she worked with a singing coach who trained her to sing in Smith's register.
Smith's death in a car crash is not depicted in Bessie. Asked why they had chosen not to end the film, which will premiere on HBO in America on May 16, that way, director Dee Rees said: "I wanted to leave her with a win. People that don’t know Bessie, the one thing they do know is that she died in a car accident. I didn’t want to play into the sensation of that because to me, if you cover the car accident, you’ve got to tear down all that she’s accomplished in the last five minutes. I really wanted it to end on Bessie not as a tragic figure, but as a heroic figure. Her song Long Old Road shows her relentless optimism in the face of impossibility." (Source: The Telegraph)
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