For more than 30 years, Queen Latifah has thrived in the entertainment industry, from music to movies and television to the beauty industry and beyond. However, the Grammy and Emmy winner, as well as an Oscar nominee, does not pause to reflect on her accomplishments.
“I’m always looking forward to the next thing,” Latifah says. “I don’t really rest on my laurels. I rarely stop to say, ‘Oh, damn, you did this; you were the first to get that.’ I only realize that when people introduce me for something. And I’m like, ‘Gosh, how long is this intro?’”
This afternoon, however, it’s not about accolades; instead, she’s running errands around town. She recently finished Season 2 of “The Equalizer,” a CBS reboot in which she plays vigilante Robyn McCall. But, as an executive producer on the show (through her Flavor Unit Entertainment banner), she has a lot of work to do before her annual vacation to an undisclosed beach. The entertainer has been known to take a month off in the summer to recharge and live the life that a superstar salary can afford, but her hectic schedule doesn’t always allow.
“You have to keep your eye on the prize, but I do definitely try to take that month off, and more if I can have it,” Latifah explains. “I have to fight for it, because everyone wants me to work and they’re always trying to book things. I’m very fortunate to be in that position, but, at the same time, I know that it will take a toll on me.”
The to-do list is nearly as long as the “20-minute introductions” that frequently precede her public appearances.
She was up late the night before this interview streamlining her studio, paring down the equipment so it could travel with her. Her favorite way to unwind is to make or listen to music. “I can work 14 hours a day and then go to the studio and that will be my peace,” she says. “I just have to figure out how to do the things that bring me peace while I’m doing all this work.”
Latifah enjoys experimenting in the studio with various musical styles, voices, and characters. Some of the songs are about love, while others are about the state of the world.
“I am such an interesting brain,” she laughs, describing her songwriting process. “I’m more of a ‘persona.’ You see Queen Latifah the way you see Queen Latifah, but in my mind, I can be anybody I want to be.” Asked to define her current persona: “Winning!“ she exclaims.
“I must say I’m just very, very blessed,” she continues, pausing to take stock of all that’s come and is to come. “I’m in a blessed place. Family’s okay. I’m okay. Work is going fine. I don’t have anything to complain about.”
As a result, Latifah has learned to be extremely selective about what she says “Yes” to. “There’s always something cooking, but I’m still working on my ‘Nos,'” she admits, laughing. Even this Variety interview took some thought, but she eventually accepted the attention because it aligns with one of her most important values: celebrating women.
“This is important. We’re not often celebrated and affirmed in the way we should be,” she explains. “We need to not only be affirmed, but to support one another, and to show that we support one another.”
Empowering others, particularly women, has been a hallmark of Latifah’s career since her debut album, “All Hail the Queen,” debuted in the late 1980s. She is regarded as the first lady of hip-hop, and she quickly established herself as a long-lasting force, with a few standout moments planned for the coming year.
In 2023, Queen Latifah’s hit TV show “Living Single” will celebrate its 30th anniversary. For five seasons, Latifah portrayed urban-lifestyle magazine entrepreneur Khadijah James in a storyline that mirrored her and business partner Shakim Compere launching Flavor Unit in their mid-20s. The show has gained a new audience through cable and streaming, cementing its legacy as one of the most influential shows of the 1990s.
“’Living Single’ spoke to our generation. It showed the hustle that we had, the desire to achieve, and entrepreneurship,” she says. “It showed hip-hop being validated, as not this passing fad, but an actual culture that involve many facets.”
Similarly, this December marks the 20th anniversary of her Oscar-nominated performance as Mama Morton in “Chicago.” She cemented her movie-star status as she sat in the Dolby Theatre as a supporting actress nominee, thanks to “Bringing Down the House” opening as the No. 1 movie in the country that weekend.
“What was exciting was the power that comes from being nominated for an Oscar,” Latifah says. “The power wasn’t to become an actor to go do more movies. It was to produce movies. It was now to be able to control movies. So that’s why you saw ‘Just Wright,’ ‘Beauty Shop’ and all the movies that we were able to do.”
Latifah is now focused on a possible third season of “The Equalizer.” “We’re digesting what worked and what didn’t work because we have some serious fans who love the show,” she says. “We want to make sure we keep them and grow our audience.”
Her top priority is to please one of the show’s most devoted fans, her grandmother, NaNa: “I’m still at work making sure she’s right in front of that television watching every Sunday.”
Dolly Parton, her “Joyful Noise” co-star, is also a big fan of “Equalizer.” “Dolly wrote me a letter that said, ‘You are a badass on that show!'” Latifah explains. “I might have to call her and see if she wants to come on.”
Latifah continues to make an impression with “The Equalizer,” which tackles difficult topics like racism, sexual harassment, and police use of excessive force.
“We’re representing people who really need to see some justice met,” she says. “They need to see their stories told, and they need to see the good guys win — and in this case, the good gal.”
Following “The Equalizer,” Latifah has two films releasing on Netflix: “Hustle,” starring Adam Sandler, and “End of the Road,” her first thriller. Signing on to “Hustle,” which follows a basketball scout (Sandler) who takes a chance on a streetball player, was a “no-brainer” for Latifah, and not just because she’s had a crush on her leading man for a long time. (“Come on, who doesn’t?” she exclaims.) Sandler and Latifah have known each other for years, and when she was filming her eponymous talk show from 2013 to 2015, his Happy Madison production company was also based on the Sony lot, where Sandler and Latifah’s longtime business partner Shakim Compere would play basketball together.
“He is the nicest person in the world. He’s such a sweetheart,” she says of Sandler. “His family’s cool. He rolls with his crew, which I love, which is like me. You roll with the same people, and you’re able to do really cool stuff over and over again with your friends.”
She plays Brenda in “End of the Road,” a woman who has lost her husband and her job and decides to start over in her hometown of Houston. However, as she sets out with her two children and brother (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), the family road trip goes horribly wrong. The animated film “The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear” is also in the works, and is based on a children’s book that Latifah brought to the streamer. She collaborated on the project with Lisa Henson of the Henson Company, and it will be directed by David P. Smith (“Trolls 2: World Tour”).
As much as Latifah has enjoyed expanding her filmography into new genres, she would be willing to return to her rom-com roots. There have long been talks about making a sequel to 2010’s “Just Wright” with Common, though due to their busy schedules, the two multi-hyphenates will “probably be 80 when we make the movie again.”
“I love doing rom-coms; They’re fun and sweet and I’ve enjoyed them,” she says, adding that “’Last Holiday’ is one of my favorite movies out of all the movies I’ve made for many reasons. It reminded me to just live life to the fullest.”
The Dana Owens story, on the other hand, has yet to be made, and Latifah is interested in working on that personal project soon.
“I actually have some things I’m cooking up,” she says slyly. “But when you get back to that introduction again, that 20-minute introduction of Queen Latifah, I’ve got to break some of that up [into different projects]. There’s so many stories to tell.”
Behind the scenes, Latifah is directing the fourth installment of her Queen Collective filmmaking program with P&G and Tribeca Studios, and she plans to narrate the Audible series “Unity in the Community” as part of Flavor Unit’s deal with the company, which is also based in her hometown of Newark, N.J., where she recently broke ground on a multimillion-dollar housing development project.
She has also advocated for the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a tuition-free, open-enrollment public charter high school in Northwest Detroit. “I’m just very inspired by people, by kids and their innocence and their eyes on the world, that they can conquer and they can do anything,” Latifah says of her desire to give back to the community.