Mo’Nique isn’t one to hold back. Take her ongoing clash with Lee Daniels, who directed her Oscar-winning performance in 2009’s Precious. Daniels said the 47-year-old’s behavior got her “blackballed;” she, on the other hand, says Hollywood isn’t “playing fairly.”
The actress’ latest film, Blackbird, rolled into theaters earlier this spring, but she remains a draw onstage — she’ll be performing at at Arlington Improv July 10 and 11. Prior to her appearance, our Chris Azzopardi sat down with Mo’Nique to discuss how the back-and-forth feud wouldn’t stop her from working with Daniels again; her belief that if she doesn’t have to come out as straight, nor should LGBT people; and the childhood mantra that brings her comfort when the media is on her back.
Dallas Voice: Blackbird tells the story of someone who’s looking for acceptance from the outside world but also from within. Have you been there? Do you know what it feels like to be an outsider? Mo’Nique: I think every human alive understands what it means to be an outsider. We’ve all been outsiders in one situation or another, so of course I’ve felt like an outsider before. But it’s OK to be an outsider.
What situation did you find yourself in that made you feel like an outsider? Baby, when I wanted to be a high school cheerleader and they didn’t think I could wear the little small skirts and do the kick.
As an LGBT ally, where do you go internally to play someone like Claire, the homophobic mother in this film? I go to honesty, because I know those mothers and I know those fathers that have and are having a really difficult time accepting the babies that they brought into the world. They can’t understand, “How can my baby be born that way?”
What do you hope Blackbird conveys to those parents? That it’s OK to love your baby through it. That it’s OK to love your baby because your baby has done absolutely nothing wrong. It’s OK to let your baby be who they were born to be and who they were made to be with no apology. Claire really feels like this is a sin, and we’re hoping that for our brothers and sisters who are really having a rough time because of their religion, that they walk away and see the devastation it can do to human beings, because you have no control over that.
It’s a message that says it’s OK to walk in your truth. It’s OK when it’s not popular or no one understands. It’s OK. To have the chance to play with a fearless director [Patrik-Ian Polk] that’s so willing to tell the truth in its rare form — I really thought I would never get that opportunity again.
Why do you say that you never thought you’d have that chance again? Because I think oftentimes we can be afraid to tell the real story. When I was so fortunate to do a movie called Precious, it was such a raw story — those people truly exist and truly get treated in that manner — and I just never thought I would get the opportunity again to be able to play with someone who was so fearless, so that’s what I mean when I say that.
You mention Precious, which you worked on with director Lee Daniels. You and he are currently entangled in a “he said, she said” back-and-forth, and I’m wondering: Do you feel like the media is taking sides? Well, do you feel like the media is taking sides?
I’ll say this: I read a story that claims your Precious co-star Gabourey Sidibe “slammed” you with a tweet that said, “It’s sad to see a project like Precious, that was made with such love, be dragged through the mud by selfishness and lies.” How do you process stories that make you out to be the problem? You know, I really don’t. When you know the truth, you don’t have the energy to process that kind of media. And this is coming from Mo’Nique’s mouth — there is absolutely nothing the media could write or say that would stop me from loving that beautiful young lady the way that I love her, because I was there on that set with that baby and I watched her do things that were just breathtaking and mind-blowing. I watched that young lady be fearless. I watched her do it with no judgment of herself. I watched that woman shine. So, regardless of what people write and what people say, I love that sweet, beautiful baby.
So you don’t find it difficult to brush off media slams? Remember when we were kids and parents would say, “Sticks and stones, they break your bones but names…” — I mean, we’re nothing but kids with grown-up faces. If you can still hold onto those things, then you don’t get affected by it.
Would you ever work with Lee Daniels again? I’m gonna say of course I would, because Lee Daniels is a brilliant director, a brilliant writer, and he is absolutely fearless when it comes to telling that story on the screen.
You had said that the scripts never stopped coming after Precious, but aside from 2009’s Steppin: The Movie and now Blackbird you haven’t appeared in a movie since Precious. Were you just passing on them? I passed on most of them because the offers didn’t make sense. When you speak to Tyler Perry and he says to you, “If you get nominated, your next film is gonna be between $3 and $5 million, and if you win it, it’s between that and $8 million” — well, I appreciated the information he gave to my husband [Sidney Hicks] and I. We appreciated that. But there have been no offers that have come in from the studios that have appeared that way. The offers that were actually coming in were lower than what I made before I won an Oscar.
Why do you think that is? That’s the big question. I can’t answer why that is, but when you hear our beautiful sisters Patricia Arquette and Gwyneth Paltrow say we need wage equality and they’re our white sisters, well, what do you think we’re getting being women of color?
What I will say is, while there are those people out there who just believe [they] can play unfair, there are also those people out there who say we are going to play fair – it’s a company called HBO. I did a movie with HBO called Bessie and it’s amazing. Queen Latifah plays Bessie Smith and she is, hands down, absolutely brilliant in her performance [Mo’Nique plays the openly bisexual Ma Rainey].
When HBO called, they played fair. The offer that they gave was more money than I’ve ever been offered before and after this Oscar, so I say that everybody that buys into the game of “let’s just see if we can get them for whatever we can get them for,” there are those that do play fair, so I have to applaud HBO for playing fairly when they called for me to do the movie Bessie.
Are black women treated unfairly in Hollywood? Let me ask you this, Chris: When have black women ever been on the totem pole to be paid the highest? When has that time happened? Never. So do you think it’s happening right now? It’s not something that’s happening. Our [white] sisters say we want wage equality — and they’re absolutely right, and it got applause that night [at this year’s Oscars] as it should have. But if they’re saying it, once again, what do you think we’re getting?
What the gay community has always appreciated about you, Mo’Nique, is the ease with which you speak your mind. That’s what Blackbird is about, because even though we’re discussing this situation — and there are people who are saying, “Mo’Nique, aren’t you afraid to say it out loud?” — that’s the same thing that people are telling our babies who were born the way they are, and they’re saying, “Aren’t you afraid to say you’re gay out loud?”
We’re hoping this movie stops the coming-out announcement. I never had to come out to say, “I’m a heterosexual.” Never had to go on anybody’s show. Never had to write a book. Never had to apologize. Never had to say, “Guess what, Chris, I’m a heterosexual!” Let people be.
Isaiah Washington is a close friend of yours, and actually brought the role of Claire to you. He also stars as your husband in the film. Though he’s since apologized, Isaiah upset many people in the LGBT community after calling his Grey’s Anatomy co-star T.R. Knight a “faggot.” Considering his controversial past with the gay community, did it surprise you to know he was involved with a film about the same community he once offended? Because I know Mr. Washington personally, it was an honor when he called to say, “Please do this,” because, again, I know him personally and that’s a good brother. So I don’t believe there was a problem that he had with the gay community — I don’t believe that. Because again, I know him and he’s good in his heart.
He plays the father, and the father that he plays, that’s who Isaiah is when it comes to people having equality and being who they are. As executive producers of this piece of work, [my husband and I] truly believe it will change people’s hearts and minds and will open us up to loving each other.
From your experience with black gay culture, do you think it’s more difficult for black gay men to be out? I think that it’s hard for any man to be out. See, there was a time I did feel that way until I started doing the festivals for Blackbird, and at those festivals we were being approached by white men, Asian men, black men. They were all saying the same thing — that’s my story. So there was a time I did feel that way, and the reason I felt that way was because that was the only community I was in to see it.
I think it’d also be beautiful if [there’s not] just a white gay pride and a black gay Pride — it’ll be beautiful when it’s just pride and it’s not separate. Again, what this movie says is equality, but what this movie also says is love is so powerful and so beautiful. You don’t get caught up in, “Oh my goodness, it’s two men;” you get caught up in, “Oh my goodness, they’re so in love.”
You have Blackbird out soon, and then HBO’s Bessie. But do you see yourself ever taking on a role in a big-screen film for a major studio You know what, I am in a big major screen film and it’s called Blackbird. If you accept the perception people put out there, then you buy into it. For us, for my husband and I, to see this movie make it to the big screen – you’re talking about friendship since we were 14 years old, in the 10th grade — so for us, baby, we have a big motion picture film, and it’s called Blackbird.
— Chris Azzopardi