Mo’Nique’s star turn in the film Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, was a re-birth for the comedic actress, into a bold new world of soul-baring dramatic performance that left Hollywood’s mouth agape. We all hope Mo’Nique doesn’t take it the wrong way as we collectively exclaim, “Where did that come from?!” Who knew the little girl from Baltimore, Maryland who dreamed of movie stardom, had it in her? The truth is we didn’t know Mo’Nique all that well.
With one conversation, it was clear that there is more to this funny woman than meets the eye. During my interview with Mo’Nique I saw someone who was waiting in the wings for the moment where she could open up and unleash that which she had been carrying in her heart for decades. Playing the role of the tortured and abusive Mary Jones in Precious was a coming-of-age for Mo’Nique, a Saturn Return. As I got to know her over the course of our interview, I began to connect the dots of her life, and realized that she needed this role. It goes beyond critical acclaim, onslaughts of new scripts and a larger paycheck. Mo’Nique needed this role in order to come full circle spiritually, emotionally and physically.
In a warm and familiar manner, Mo’Nique spoke with me about her lifelong career aspirations, surviving childhood sexual abuse, resolving to get healthier for her family, and enjoying this new era as a recognized multi-dimensional artist.
I found Mo’Nique’s personality to be a beautiful blend of humility and self-assurance, of child-like enthusiasm and world-weary wisdom. How refreshing to find that the darling of this year’s awards season wasn’t jaded and self-congratulatory, but truly grateful.
FYI, Mo’Nique’s favorite word is “love.” She says it often, wherever applicable, and whenever she can squeeze it into the conversation.
We also talked about how success can awaken the journalistic vultures that seem to congregate out of nowhere to manufacture self-serving, tabloid-like news stories. Mo’Nique seems unfazed, because the upside of her fame is too great to dwell on the rantings of sensationalist reporters.
In the midst of our conversation, Precious director and good friend Lee Daniels called and I could tell there is already a second collaboration in the works for these two. Mo’Nique got off the phone so we could resume our chat and then exclaimed, “I’ve got to call him back and see what’s going on!”
PR.com (Allison Kugel): I just saw Precious, and besides your performance being brilliant, yours was one of the bravest performances I’ve ever seen on film. Where did you go within yourself to connect with this character?
Mo’Nique: I knew [the character] Mary Jones. I’ve spoken publically about this, but being molested by my oldest brother Gerald, I was very aware of who this character was. We wanted to make her very honest. We didn’t want to sugarcoat her. So when Mr. Daniels (Lee Daniels, the director of “Precious”) said, “Action,” that’s where I would go to.
PR.com: In order to portray Mary the way you did, you would have to feel safe. What did director Lee Daniels do to make you and the rest of the cast feel safe enough to be able tackle such tough material?
Mo’Nique: It is such a trust, and a love, and no rehearsals. You don’t rehearse with Mr. Daniels. He comes and tells you what it is that he wants, he says, “Action,” and you go.
PR.com: Were there moments when you were disturbed by the character, where some of the things you had to do and say as Mary would personally disturb you, and make you uncomfortable?
Mo’Nique: Yes. The scene that Mary Jones has with [her Down Syndrome granddaughter], Mongo. And she throws her on the sofa and says, “Get this animal off of me!” That was a little difficult. And when [the director] said “Cut,” we all had to have a group hug, and I had to go hug her mom, and that one was a little difficult.
PR.com: It was difficult to watch. You’ve always been known as a comedienne. Everything I’ve ever seen you in up until Precious has been extremely light. How did you get cast in this role, and did you feel confident to accept it at first?
Mo’Nique: I got a phone call from Lee Daniels at about ten o’clock on a Sunday night. And he said, “I got something that’s going to mess up your career!” I said, “Sign me up!” When he told me what it was, I said, “Oh my God. You’re going to be courageous enough to tell this story?” Once he sent me the book and I understood how courageous Sapphire had to be to write that, I was so honored to be a part of that.
PR.com: Did Lee Daniels ever tell you why he thought of you for the role of Mary Jones?
Mo’Nique: We’ve never really had that conversation. I just think that there was a trust. It was, “I trust you to direct me,” and he trusted me to perform.
PR.com: During the time that you were filming Precious, how did you live with this dark and dysfunctional character? Did you take her home with you at the end of the day?
Mo’Nique: The moment he said, “Cut,” she stayed right there. The moment he said, “Cut,” Mary Jones never, ever left that studio.
PR.com: That’s rare. How did you manage that?
Mo’Nique: My husband gave me the best advice. He said, “Mama, don’t judge it. Just be it, and leave it on the floor.”
PR.com: Your Golden Globes speech, although you said you didn’t prepare it, was a great speech. What was going through your mind when they announced your name, and you were making your way up to the stage?
Mo’Nique: That little girl was talking to me.
PR.com: You mean you?
Mo’Nique: That little girl inside of me was talking to me. She was like, “They called us. That’s us. Are you ready?”
PR.com: With the situation of molestation from your older brother, how did you handle that? When you were young and being molested by him, did you tell someone, and did you get help?
Mo’Nique: I didn’t tell ‘till I was fifteen. And at the time I didn’t get any help. I didn’t understand all that. I didn’t actually go to therapy until a few years ago. But to deal with it, I think my situation wasn’t unique, and I did what most kids do. You put it in the back of your head and you don’t tell anybody. You just keep it going.
PR.com: How long did it go on?
Mo’Nique: For a few years.
PR.com: Are you still in contact with this brother? Is there any relationship there?
Mo’Nique: No. No relationship.
PR.com: How has this shaped you as a parent? What do you tell your children, or how has it made you a better parent?
Mo’Nique: Children don’t lie like that. They don’t make it up. So it allowed me to listen and pay attention.
PR.com: Ten years ago, if someone had told you that you would be having this career moment, that you would be able to play the role of Mary and be an Oscar nominated actress, would that have seemed possible and plausible to you at the time?
Mo’Nique: Yes, if someone would have told me when I was five years old, yes. This is what I have always dreamed of. People say, “Did you ever expect this?” I’d say, “Not to sound vain, but why would you get in the game and not expect it?”
PR.com: It was something that you dreamed about and visualized…
Mo’Nique: Of course. You, as a journalist, do you want to just be a journalist that nobody knows about or do you dream of getting that Pulitzer Prize, and the world knowing who you are because of your work?
PR.com: I dream about the world knowing my work, not so much me.
Mo’Nique: But knowing your work…
PR.com: Knowing my work, yes.
(Yes, I do have visions of Pulitzers dancing in my head :-))
Mo’Nique: So when the world knows your work and you get that interview and they say, “Did you ever think it?” You would tell them a lie if you said, “No, I never thought it,” because we’re having the conversation right now. For all of us that are in the business if you don’t get into it to aim to be the best that you can be, why bother?
PR.com: About Oscar night, what are you most looking forward to, and what are you most nervous or apprehensive about?
Mo’Nique: I’m most looking forward to being at the prom with my husband.
Mo’Nique: Those red carpets, baby, that’s the prom. That is the prom! It is like, “Oh my God!” I think I’m looking forward to being a part of history. I think that the night that I walk down that red carpet I’ll think of Hattie McDaniel (the first black actress to win an Academy Award). And I’ll try to think about the night she walked down that carpet, being the first one, you know? I’m excited about those types of things.
PR.com: Is there anything that you’re apprehensive about at all?
PR.com: Can you tell me what your dress looks like?
Mo’Nique: Ugh! Damn it (Laughs)! I can’t hold a secret! It’s gold. That’s all I can say.
PR.com: In a Los Angeles Times blog posting, and on The Orlando Sentinel Blog, two different writers had commented on the fact that you are not attending the Oscar Nominee’s Luncheon, and they pondered what that could mean for you politically. What are your thoughts on that?
Mo’Nique: Well, I understand why people write those types of things because they’re not equipped with all of the information. What people don’t, or do understand [is] I am a talk show host. I tape six shows a week. That luncheon happens to fall in when I’m taping. So unfortunately my schedule won’t allow me to be there. Now, if that has something to do with politics, well I’m not a politician. So I don’t understand how politics and Oscar goes together. Who are the politicians in this race?
PR.com: You hear things like, “Oscar campaign.” And all that encompasses an Oscar campaign. And are you playing the game or are you not playing the game; those kinds of things that make me nauseous, personally. So I just wanted to know what your thoughts were. I knew it was because you had to work. So I don’t understand why they don’t know it’s because you have to work.
Mo’Nique: Here’s the thing, I understand why people print those things. People want to eat. And if they print the truth, they may not feel like that’s exciting to read. They don’t want to print, “We understand why Mo’Nique can’t attend, because she’s also a talk show host and she tapes six shows a week.” Well, that doesn’t sell. That’s not juicy. The juicy news is, “Mo’Nique’s being a diva. She’s not gonna show up.” Well what happens is, when you begin to write things like that and then when people find out the truth, who gets dealt with? So, again, people are going to talk, they’re always going to have things to say. I am a big believer in, “You know what stands on my side? It’s called truth.” You can’t fool with that.
PR.com: It’s funny because it’s so opposite of being a diva. It’s because you’re working hard.
Mo’Nique: Right. I’m very appreciative that BET gave me the opportunity to be a late night talk show host, my dream. I then get it, and then I think, “I’ve got to take off and now do this?” They’re paying me for this. I’ve got to follow through with my obligation.
PR.com: How are you going to reconcile, from this point on, being now known as a critically acclaimed and possibly Oscar winning dramatic film actress. Yet, you also have this late night talk show on BET and you are about to embark on a stand-up comedy tour. How do all of those things work together? Where do you see your career going? Are you going to put a lot more time into dramatic acting?
Mo’Nique: I’m an entertainer. What falls under that umbrella? I don’t know what’s in tomorrow. I enjoy entertaining. That’s it. (She pauses for a beat and re-enters the conversation with an animated affectation) I think I wanna be a superhero. I feel that. I want to flyyy!
Mo’Nique: Damn it! I think I’m gonna do it! I’m a do it, I’m a do it (laughs).
PR.com: What’s your overall life philosophy? Are you a religious person, a spiritual person?
Mo’Nique: I’m a true believer in treating people how you want to be treated. I’m a true believer in, “Don’t judge, because you don’t want to be judged.” I’m a true believer in, “Love unconditionally, because if you’re on the other end wouldn’t you want somebody to love you?” Can I quote you any bible scriptures? No ma’am. Do I go to church on Sunday? No ma’am. Me and God deal every day.
PR.com: Just privately…
Mo’Nique: Privately, publicly. I never leave it out.
PR.com: I know you didn’t write a Golden Globes speech, but are you writing an Oscar speech?
Mo’Nique: I don’t like getting into that, because that gets tricky with the Universe. It just gets tricky in the sense of, I don’t want to write anything knowing I’m [going to] win something. I have conversations in my head, but I don’t want to start saying, “Ok, I know I’m going win…” because then the Universe says, “Let me show you something. Oh, you think you’re something special.” I don’t want to have that conversation.
PR.com: You sound like me. I’m very much the same way. You believe in the wisdom of the Universe.
Mo’Nique: You see it every day. If you do something shitty, guess what’s going to come back to you, something shitty. It’s just the law of the Universe. You don’t do good for something good to come back, but it’s just the law of the Universe.
PR.com: Are your kids old enough to know what’s going on right now in your life?
Mo’Nique: Well, my nineteen year old is, but the twins, no. They don’t get it baby. When The Mo’Nique Show comes on they’ll call it The Mo’Nique Show. They won’t say, “Mommy.” It’s just The Mo’Nique Show (laughs).
PR.com: What do you like most about doing your talk show?
Mo’Nique: It’s love, just spreading love.
PR.com: Do you like hearing people’s stories, or helping people to share their story with your audience?
Mo’Nique: The stories are inspirational, they’re uplifting, they’re people who have been to the bottom of the barrel but they would overcome. I so enjoy people inspiring each other around the world.
PR.com: It’s obvious that you’ve lost a lot of weight recently, and you look fabulous.
Mo’Nique: Thank you.
PR.com: For a very long time, when you were heavier, you were a huge proponent of, “I love my size. I don’t want to be thinner. I love my weight.” Was that a defense mechanism, or did you just change your opinion over time and want to get healthier?
Mo’Nique: That’s it. The moment I knew better I had to do better and change. Here’s the thing, I’m still not trying to be a skinny woman. I will never be that. Right now I’m 220 lbs. By American standards I am considered obese. So when people say, “I thought you said…” It’s like, guys, since when is 220 lbs. considered skinny? [People are saying], “Oh, well now she’s trying to be a thin woman.” I was 262 lbs., and now I’m 220 lbs. The goal is for me to get to 200 lbs. and then even out. That’s still a big woman. If I was a boxer I would be considered a heavyweight.
PR.com: I find it to be a strange argument when somebody says, “I’m proud to be very big.” In my mind what that means is, you’re saying, “I’m proud to be unhealthy.”
Mo’Nique: At the time I was not unhealthy. I was borderline high blood pressure. But when my husband says to me, “I want you for a lifetime, and if right now you are 262 lbs. and you’re forty, if you gain ten pounds in the next ten years then you’re 272 lbs. Do you see how you just keep going up? And I want you for a lifetime.” Well, that right there, I want my husband for a lifetime.
PR.com: That hit a button.
Mo’Nique: I want to see my grandchildren. So, yeah, my mind did change. Am I trying to be skinny? I can never be that. Do I want to be healthy? Yes.
PR.com: How do you go about tackling obstacles in your life, whether they are professional, personal or any kind of challenge that comes up where you feel like you’re hitting a wall? What do you do to overcome that?
Mo’Nique: I keep doing it for what I believe to be the right way, and I let the Universe handle the rest. If I know I’m doing it the right way and that door still closes, it’s like, you know what? It’s out of my hands. I can’t stress about it, I can’t whine. This is out of my hands. And it always seems to work out when you get out of the way.