Whether singing or acting (in her new movie, Joyful Noise), producing or designing (she just launched a clothing line), the whirlwind who is Latifah has learned to move on from tragedy and relish success while still embracing imperfection.
I'm standing at a window of the Four Seasons hotel on the edge of Beverly Hills, waiting not for Godot but for someone who is starting to seem equally elusive: Queen Latifah. The rap star turned Oscar-nominated actress turned fashion and beauty icon is one of the busiest women on the planet, with a new movie (Joyful Noise, costarring Dolly Parton), a new clothing line (the Queen Collection on HSN), a TV series to produce (Single Ladies), another album in the works and those elegant, hair-tossing ads for CoverGirl.
But just when—after three canceled dates—I'm beginning to wonder if this shape-shifting phenomenon called Queen Latifah actually exists, a black luxury SUV squeals up, and here is the Queen, who has driven herself, apparently quite quickly. In a black V-neck T-shirt and jeans, hair tucked up and away under a camouflage combat cap, the almost-six-foot former high school basketball power forward is dressed less like a celebrity than like the gun-brandishing bank robber she played in her 1996 film, Set It Off. I admit my mental RAM is by now in overdrive: I've been hearing about her reading Maya Angelou's poem at Michael Jackson's memorial … her Curvation lingerie line … her America's Got Talent duet with 85-year-old Tony Bennett. There are so many Latifahs (a name she adopted at age eight, from the Arabic for “delicate” and “kind”; she added the “Queen” on her debut album at 19), how do you even start a conversation?
Easily, it turns out. Her hand extends, the famous cheekbones lift in a ready smile, and out comes her surprisingly gentle, beguiling voice, which—forget Barbra Streisand—is like buttah. “I'm sorry I'm late. You've been so, so patient. How about if we sit outside? Is that cool?”
Read the rest of our interview with Queen Latifah in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of More, on newsstands now.
Sandra Tsing Loh is the author of Mother on Fire and a contributing editor of the Atlantic.