If you haven’t seen Oscar winner Mo’Nique’s new indy film Blackbird, you should run, not walk, to the nearest theater. With Blackbird, Mo’Nique and co-stars Isaiah Washington (patriarch Lance Rousseau) and newcomer Gary LeRoi Gray (son Efrem) are changing the world.
I caught up with the actress/comedian, executive producer and businesswoman to hear about her new project, check on her weight-loss progress and ask how she is faring after the now infamous rift with filmmaker Lee Daniels (Precious, The Butler, “Empire”) since our Fierce interview with her last spring.
Warm, open and surprisingly soft-spoken (have you caught her comedy show?), Mo’Nique is enthusiastic about both present and future. I asked if the stress of making the film had prompted any sort of setback for which she’d have to make a comeback to her fitness goals.
Her answer? “No.”
Then, as though she had been caught with both hands in the cookie jar, she quipped: “OK, Dr. Ro. I admit I had lost over 100 pounds in five years, but I found a few of them.”
And just like two old girlfriends having a reunion, we both laughed heartily.
She goes on to explain. “Much like the first year of marriage, during the honeymoon phase” she and husband Sidney Hicks recently started indulging in late-night snack fests that often involve diving into a carton of ice cream with reckless abandon.
Mo’Nique knows her diet demons, but she’s committed to turning the ship around to get back on course. “You know, you’re in love, then after marriage, you’re good with food, drinking your water and [doing] your workouts during the day, but later you say, ‘Hey babe, you want some ice cream?’”
Still, she is resolute in her clarity and understanding of the food and fitness choices she must make to be well. Believe it or not, neither her concern for her public image, nor the court of public opinion influence her lifestyle decisions. She chooses to eat healthy foods and keep up a vigorous workout schedule for her family. “I want to be there for them,” Mo’Nique says.
Understanding that she’s not the only sister struggling to keep off the pounds, she also has words of encouragement for her fans.
First, she wants you to know that the process of weight loss and healthy living “is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Second, she advises, “know your limitations.
And third, should you ever lose focus and get off track, “know when it’s time to pack it up, and get back on the bus.”
After the Oscar, Make Your Own Path to Success
But there’s a lot more going on in Mo’Nique’s world right now than keeping up with calories. Receiving the Oscar for the film Precious did not produce the flood of coveted movie offers that actors expect to follow such an achievement. When Mo’Nique experienced her own version of what some actors, including Halle Berry, have called the Oscar curse, she refused to give up or give in. Through their family-owned production company, she and Sidney created the work that she loves on screen. Their most recent project, Blackbird, has been praised by critics and moviegoers alike.
The new film is an unflinching look at homophobia in the black community, accomplished with heart and respect for family values. Portraying a heartbroken wife and mom, Mo’Nique shows a much softer side than in Precious. Her character, Claire Rousseau, is determined to save her family, protect her children and stay true to her faith.
Mo’Nique explains why she chose to take on the sensitive topic. “My husband and I both have always appreciated the underdog,” she says. “Love isn’t controversial. Blackbird is an amazing love story that will open the conversation about important hot button topics. Yes! But there should be nothing controversial about love, no matter how difficult it may be presented.”
The film involves a Christian mother who is rigid in her religious beliefs. I asked if she thought Christians would see the film by the busload. And in true spirit, her comedic instinct took over. After a warm belly laugh, she said, “If I could put flyers on every car of the parking lot on the church lot I would, but I fear I would be locked up!”
Dealing With Daniels
Daniels and Mo’Nique have been locked in a very public debate about whether she had been blackballed in Hollywood and whether he cut her from his projects after she “failed to play” the Oscar promotion game according to his rules.
On not getting suitable roles, Mo’Nique puts it this way: “I remembered what I was taught as a child. I believed in myself then, and I believe in myself now. If somebody called you a bitch on the playground, you had a choice to agree or disagree. I never answered to the words because that wasn’t me.”
Mo’Nique listens to her own heart, hears the beat of her own drum and, as my mama used to say, lets all other matters fall to the ground to let “the rain settle it.”
What’s next for the leading lady, besides her latest role as big-hearted blues legend Ma Rainey in HBO’s upcoming biopic Bessie?
“I hope tomorrow,” Mo’Nique says.
There, another life lesson. She believes in “living in the moment and enjoying and riding the tide of today. Anything else is counterproductive.”
Rovenia Brock, Ph.D., a Fierce adviser, is a medical advisory board member and contributor to the Dr. Oz Show and the author of “Dr. Ro’s Ten Secrets To Livin’ Healthy (Bantam). Join Dr. Ro and her social media community and get a free download of her new eBook of super-easy tips, “You Healthy and Happy,” at http://www.everythingro.com
Blackbird opened April 24 in theaters in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco. The film will be offered on the Urban Movie Channel, through a partnership with BET founder Robert L. Johnson, who also distributed Blackbird through RLJ Entertainment.