NEW YORK — When you’re the Queen, you have a right to refer to yourself in the third person.
When she’s talking about her multi-Grammy-nominated recording career, her Oscar- and Emmy-nominated acting, her lucrative gigs as a commercial spokeswoman or her busy television-film-music production company, Queen Latifah understandably falls into a habit of calling herself “the Queen,” or “Latifah.” At the very least, she requires the plural, “we,” to encompass her wide-ranging entertainment activities, her frenetic public appearance schedule and her boisterous, larger-than-life personality.
The simple, first-person “I” seems too small to contain her.
Decked out in movie-star shades and sequined sweater and looking svelte and lustrous, as befits a spokesmodel for a well-known weight-loss company and a glam cosmetics giant, Queen Latifah strode regally into a Columbus Circle hotel suite recently for a round of press interviews. Fox Searchlight hosted the event preceding the release of “Just Wright,” starring Latifah and rapper-turned-actor Common.
The basketball-theme romantic comedy features Latifah as Leslie Wright, a New Jersey physical therapist who falls for a star NBA player she’s helping rehabilitate from a career-threatening knee injury.
As a Jersey girl (she was born Dana Elaine Owens in Newark) playing a Jersey girl who’s an ardent fan of the New Jersey Nets, Latifah laughed and said, “How’s that for typecasting?”
Following the working approach of her past movies, Latifah wore several hats in the making of “Just Wright,” produced by her company, Flavor Unit Entertainment.
“It is difficult both producing and starring, but it’s worth it,” she said. “I choose to produce as much as possible because we’re all about ownership. We like to own the things we do, not just be part of making other people a bunch of money, but creating a body of work that we can build on for our own catalog.
“The kind of things we like to do are varied,” she said. “‘Beauty Shop’ is different from ‘The Cookout,’ which is different from ‘Just Wright.’ But we do like to create things that are family-friendly, that everybody can go see.
“There are projects that my company might produce that the Queen would never be in, and there are things that will go straight to DVD,” she said. “There are different audiences, so it’s not like everything we produce Latifah is going to star in. There are certain things that are just for kids — I don’t have to be in them. I’m not going to be in every movie that we create. But we’ll create different types of content for different audiences, you know, black, white, young, old and everything in between.
“We’re young and growing, and we’re going to get better and hopefully get to the point where we’re making futuristic ‘Jaws’ movies, like Steven (Spielberg) and George Lucas. But right now we’re just doing the best we can to create good content.”
Once known as “hip hop’s first lady,” Latifah said she felt a special bond with co-star Common, who also is working to make the leap from rap stardom to the ranks of film acting.
“Common is my friend, and I knew he wanted to step up to another level of acting,” she said. “He took classes, and I knew his work ethic and that his heart was driven in that direction. He’s done great stuff in the movies that he’s been in, but this was a chance for him to show different levels and different abilities. And I told him, ‘This could be that career-changing moment for you, when people will look at you in a different way.’ But this guy, he’s an amazing person. He’s the kind of person that shows up to work with a hundred percent every day.
“His character required the cockiness and brashness and competitiveness of an NBA player, the cut physique and the sexiness of a professional athlete, and he pulled it off,” she said. “He’s very athletic. He had all the physicality. But then it required layers of, you know, a guy who wants love, he loves his mother, he likes a nice, clean, classy house, not having girls running around and a party every day. And who can pull that off? Who do you believe it from? You believe it from him.”
Having worked opposite another former rapper, LL Cool J, in a romantic part, Latifah said she could vouch that Common is no slouch in the romance department.
“The day we shot our little romantic scene was kinda like a day off for me,” she said. “I had been wearing my different hats the whole movie and doing my own role and handling the business. So on the day we had that scene, I came in and said, ‘You got me?’ And he said, ‘I got you.’ So I just relaxed. I was just a woman in the hands of a real gentleman. And I knew that he would take care of me.
“Between him and Sanaa (Hamri, the director), who’s not going to allow anything that doesn’t look right, and with my very cool, composed crew, I knew that I would be covered. It was fine. I got to lie around in bed all day for a change. I didn’t have to run anywhere, I didn’t have to do anything, I just got to lay up and look nice.”
Like a Queen for a day.