One of the busiest and most recognized celebrities in the business– the Missouri native has carved a niche as a “go to” character actor– always bringing the funny along with trademark, brow-raising quips.
With some 40 film credits and counting, among them: Think Like A Man, Cars 2, The Princess and the Frog, Madea’s Family Reunion, The Preacher’s Wife and Beaches, Lewis is also passionate about her quest to live a full life despite bi-polar disorder, the latter she does not shy away from.
Ever engaging, the Think Like A Man Too costar was no less so when we spoke during press interviews for the new romantic comedy, BAGGAGE CLAIM. Lewis shared her views on the movie’s director, playwright/filmmaker David E. Talbert and why she thinks he’s one of her favorite directors of all, hands down.
Talk2SV: What is it you love about David E. Talbert?
Lewis: His sweetness. He is just about as sweet and thorough as he needs to be, very intelligent, knows exactly what he wants and he gets it from you because he’s professional and loving. This man brings love to the table; I had a blast on the set, the time of my life.
Talk2SV: You surrendered yourself to Talbert’s latest film, delivering what you are most celebrated for, that of a no-nonsense diva with a comic’s DNA.
Lewis: Thank you so much. I have to tell you, I give; I’ve always given my all. I’ve been very fortunate to have been so gifted then to have the
wherewithal and the courage to honor it. My journey has been an amazing one coming from having bi-polar disorder, raised up in poverty and all of that but girl, I did some work. I did the work baby.
I’m so happy I find myself skipping around. Sometimes people ask, ‘What the hell is she skipping about?’ I’m like, ‘no baby I ain’t running, I ain’t flying, I ain’t crawling…I’m skipping.’ How many people you know skip? And my boobies are too big to be skipping but I skip anyway. Come on now!
Talk2SV: Consistently, you bring a level of cachet to any project you are attached to; without question, often anchoring a film whether for a novice director or a veteran executive. Do you also view this as “your truth” in this business?
Lewis: Absolutely. I know it, I see it, I feel it, I am humbled by it and I am grateful for it. I sang my first solo in church when I was five years old. I saw the reaction of the congregation, instantly I knew what I was going to do with my life, it was to truly entertain.
When people ask how I became a star coming from great poverty, I humbly say, ‘success is inside of me.’ The fame and money are beautiful but I also say that money doesn’t make life easy, it makes it easier. When probed further I tell them I never knew I wasn’t one. I believed myself to be a star; as a result, I could only become one. Who was to tell me, ‘no.’ I wouldn’t have listened. I knew who I was…this (acting) is a love, it is a passion and I was gifted. I’ve tried to honor that gift all my life.
Talk2SV: Last Fall, we talked about your involvement in journalist and author Mike Turner’s photographic tome, journey to the woman i’ve come to love: affirmations from women who have fallen in love–with themselves, an introspective work.
Lewis: Central to all the interviews in that book is the question, ‘When did you begin to love yourself?’ And that response came very quickly, it was when I took responsibility for every choice I had made, every choice I was going to make, and the choice I was making at that very second. You have to take responsibility; the minute you start pointing the finger at
anything, at the motherf**ker that just cut you off in the street, at a rude waitress or anything, the minute you go off the beat and blame somebody else, you’re f**ked. Even if you did this, it’s coming back at you.
So here’s the thing. When I found this out for myself, I really sat up and listened from within. Love yourself so that love will not be a stranger when it comes. That awareness applies to every relationship; I can’t have anybody who’s ignorant and evil in front of me. I can’t. Negativity, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to feel it.
Talk2SV: Is “this” Jenifer Lewis antithetical to the characters you often portray?
Lewis: You can only bring what you are to your characters; you are who you are.
Talk2SV: Talbert gave your character, Catherine Moore, mother of Montana (Paula Patton) a unique arc– she’s married five times, clearly unsuccessfully, yet insists that her daughters wed at all costs to justify their value and identity as women. How much did you contribute to the development of your character?
Lewis: A great deal. I always bring it off the page (movie script) in most films. I don’t say anything that’s on the f**king page and directors love it! You read it; you develop the character and then its there. And you have to trust it. You have to trust that you’re there in the moment. Fortunately, I have learned to live in the moment in my life so now it’s very easy for me to get there within the character especially after you do the homework. Who is this person? Where are they going? What’s the weather like? All the little details of the character’s back story go into the preparation for the role.
Talk2SV: Regarding the tenor of BAGGAGE CLAIM, a cute romantic comedy, you’ve expressed your pleasure over this movie, one that we can laugh at and not take ourselves so seriously. In the lexicon of such films that are characterized as “black movies” where do you think this one will fall?
Lewis: People will love it because we (humans) have to have our time to just enjoy life. I mean, there is the other side of life: head chopping, guns, violence, rape…movies that open to a dead body, cutting up dead bodies, the classic American Horror Story, I can’t even watch them.
I would simply love to watch Jessica Lange, she’s my favorite. I’m not going to watch people hacking up each other and evil sh*t, people’s heads going around fifteen f**king times, although The Exorcist is still one of my favorites. Now that I know it’s full of sh*t and my bed is not going to rise up in the air with f**kin Satan under it I can watch it just for fun. But, no, I don’t watch television. I watch movies that I love and maybe a few of the HBO series.