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Q&A: Queen Latifah Talks Adding Twists to Her Talkshow

The second season of “The Queen Latifah Show” premieres on Monday with not only a new look, but with twists in store for guests and viewers. Queen Latifah talked to Variety about her motivations for hosting a talkshow, what audiences can expect from the new season, being a hip-hop kid at heart and her HBO biopic on Bessie Smith.

What originally inspired you to do a talkshow?

Honestly, a lot of people had come to me about doing a talkshow since everyone found out that Oprah was going off the air. Everybody was kind of rushing to fill that vacuum and we saw a lot of people have come and gone and tried, and I think you have to take your time. No one else is Oprah, there is only one Oprah and there is no such thing as the next Oprah. Oprah is still busy being Oprah. So I don’t want to try to fill Oprah’s shoes.

But I did feel when Overbrook came to me, the idea of doing it with them and the idea of doing it with Sony, which is known for high-quality material, I felt was intriguing. I’m telling you, people threw money at me, but it was not interesting to me at all because I enjoy doing the things I like to do. So if I’m acting in a project, I’m doing that project because I enjoy doing it and think it challenges me in a way that I feel is fulfilling. Money does not do it for me. I think you do great things and money comes. That’s how it’s always been since I was a young kid.

The idea of doing it with these partners was a great thing to me. I felt this is my generation. We all kind of started from the bottom and made it to the top and built our careers, and we’ve been all around the world, we’re hip-hop kids at heart, and we wanted to bring that journey to the show and build a show around me.

It feels like home. I walked back into that studio a week and ago and it felt good, like “this is my house.” In a way of “I’m home, I’m comfortable.” This is where I’m going to come to work every day and work with my crew to present a great show.

What’s been the biggest challenge in keeping things fresh every day?

For us it’s trying to be original and reflect who I really am, and that’s the challenge. I’m a music lover and I have an extremely varied taste in music, in art and culture, and appreciation of everything I’ve seen in my journey on this planet. And it’s trying to bring those things to people’s attention. For me it’s about making sure that we offer information that people may want to use in their daily lives that could be helpful to people. Continuing to do that is always a challenge and it’s something that we desire to do so we’re always trying to make that happen and keep it fresh and as high quality as we can.

How did it feel finishing your first year?

It felt like I had pledged a sorority and it was that sort of hell week for nine months. It started off like that and it had its ups and downs and its challenges. It’s one of the toughest things I’ve done, but I already knew it would be tough. But where it might have been tough for other people, it wasn’t for me because I had done another talkshow years and years ago, so I know how tough the schedule is, but I also know how rewarding it is. I knew what it felt like to walk out of there after having done a great show or having changed someone’s life. I knew what the power of this show could be, so I never lost the light at the end of the tunnel, and I knew if we could just get a rhythm and get everything flowing on the set and book great guests and have great execution then I would be very comfortable being just me, just La. And that’s what’s happened. It’s worked its way toward being great, not just good, so I’m excited. I’m still as passionate as I was when it all came together.

Has any interview gone in a completely different direction than you planned?

That would be Cloris Leachman. And guess what, I’d have Cloris Leachman back tomorrow. I just remember it was so funny, because I was still green and everyone was freaking out, like “What the hell is Cloris gonna do?” but I just laughed my ass off. It was actually a day off for me! It was just, “Listen, camera’s – go wide! Mics – stay on! Let her do whatever the hell she wants to do!” Because it’s Cloris Leachman, we’ll get a question in here and there but just let her go! So for me, as a performer, that was no problem but it was probably hell for the producers.

What new elements do you have coming up in season 2?

Well, there’s going to be a lot of spontaneity, I can tell you that! Some of the things we have for this year are really taking things one step further. We were able to do a lot of great things last year and make a lot of cool things happen for people. There are so many people out there doing extraordinary things every day. We were just hoping to take their lives one step further, and that’s one of the things that helps us walk out of the building feeling good about ourselves.

Also, this cool thing we have called the “Queen Screen” where we’re popping up all across America, showing up live, people won’t expect us, and we’re going to play some fun games to see if they can win some prizes. The cool thing about just kind of popping up on people is that you never know what’s going to come out of their mouth, so I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of fun we can have.

And one of the things we’re going to do is take you out on a high note. Having this hour a day is a privilege, for so many people it’s a break from their day, a chance to step out of whatever is going on in their everyday lives, have a little fun and be inspired in some way. At the end of the day, we want to send you out the door feeling good. So we want to end our show on a high note, with whatever that may be. It may be a performance, something funny, a game, anyway it’s going to be something that makes you feel “Man, that felt good, that was a good hour.”

“Bessie” is coming up on HBO, what can you share about that?

“Bessie” is done, we shot “Bessie” this summer, which tells the life of Bessie Smith, who was a great blues singer, one of the greatest of her time. The first to play in front of an integrated audience, the highest paid entertainer of her time. She took down so many barriers and really brought blues to a national and international level, initially in the 1930s. She was an incredible woman and I wanted to tell her story. This is a project that’s been 22 years in the making and we finally found the right script and the right team and HBO, and I’m excited for people to see it.

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