Mo'Nique is at the center of her biggest press blitz since winning Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars five years ago. But don't call it a comeback just yet: The attention rose out of her supposed feud with "Precious" director and "Empire" co-creator Lee Daniels.
Not that any controversy has turned Mo'Nique sour. During our interview, the 47-year-old was engaging and kind (she closed the phone call by saying, "Thank you, my sweet baby"), and insisted on clearing up the fracas that began three weeks ago when Mo'Nique said that Daniels informed her she was "blackballed" by Hollywood for "not play[ing] ball." (He was alluding to Mo'Nique's refusal to campaign for her 2010 Oscar and her not having thanked the "Precious" producers, or Daniels, during her acceptance speech.)
That remark ignited a firestorm that escalated with Daniels' response and Mo'Nique's claim that she'd been offered Taraji P. Henson's celebrated role on the Fox hit "Empire." Co-creator Danny Strong refuted Mo'Nique's claims, while others -- including "Moesha" co-star Sheryl Lee Ralph and "Precious" co-star Gabourey Sidibe -- have extended the alleged tiff's shelf life with additional comments.
But Mo'Nique wasn't the least bit rattled when we discussed the forthcoming "Blackbird," which she and husband Sidney Hicks produced. In it, she plays a devout mother who flies into a fit after discovering her teenage son is gay. Mo'Nique told HuffPost Entertainment about portraying bad moms, her precipitous media frenzy and her only regret about winning that Oscar.
This script, like "Precious," is heavy on social issues. Was that part of what attracted you?
Definitely. It’s a story that we know very well. When we received that script from Isaiah Washington, we said, "It’s time." To be able to be a part of something that could change people’s hearts and minds is an honor.
Your character struggles with her teenage son's sexuality. Would there have been a breaking point where you might say you'd rather not depict such prejudices?
No, because it’s hard to see yourself until you see it elsewhere. There are those parents that still exist that don’t ever accept it. Sometimes you don’t see yourself and it takes you watching it to say, “Oh, my God, that’s me. Am I damaging my child like that? Am I letting my baby go to bed every night feeling like she’s unloved?" Sometimes we have to see it to understand, “Is that what it is that I’m doing?” So when you say, “Would I have still done it?” Yes! And I would have tried to do it to the best of my ability to say to those people, “Look! Look at what’s happening when you act this way.”
As a mother yourself, is it hard to step into abusive roles like these?
As a mother myself, and when [director Patrik-Ian Polk] says "action,” I want to make sure I give that mother her just due. Even with “Precious,” people were like, “Did you have to be deprogrammed?” It’s like, when Lee said "cut," we were having a good time. It was only for that moment. When you know you’ve got to slap your child or spit on your child, it’s in that moment. You just do it.
Are you tired of answering questions about whether you were blackballed?
I think it’s a very important conversation that must be had. It is no different from this movie “Blackbird,” because you're telling people, "Shhhh, be quiet, you don’t want to speak out loud, because people might think differently of you. People might treat you differently." I will say this: If Sylvester, who I just think is one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived, had sat down and not been Sylvester, the world would never have seen that beautiful talent. When you say, "Am I tired of it?" By no means, because it has to be said. You have to ask yourself, “Do you walk around in fear? Or is it more fearful to be silent?”
Even if you weren't blackballed, we haven't see you on the big screen since "Precious." Why is that?
The offers that were coming in were lower than the offers I received before I won the Oscar award.
You mean financially?
Yes, financially lower. [Mo’Nique has said she earned $50,000 for "Precious."] And it just didn’t make sense. I want to be clear about something else, too: I didn’t come to Hollywood to be an actress. I came to Hollywood to be a talk-show host. Acting just fell into my lap, so though I appreciate it and I have a lot of fun, it just has to make sense for me to do it. I have to really like it. So I’m not that actress who says, “I studied acting.” I didn’t. I loved being a talk-show host and a stand-up comedian, and with the acting, for the parts that I’ve been given, I’m very appreciative of every last one of them because they didn’t have to pick me. However, it doesn’t mean that I would say, “Oh, I’ve just got to go do something to act.” My baby is a talk-show host. My baby is a stand-up comedian. So when you see me act, it just makes sense. When I did the piece with HBO coming out May 16, the movie "Bessie," which stars Queen Latifah, I didn’t believe I’m blackballed or blacklisted. HBO played the system fairly. For eight days with HBO, I made more doing a studio movie than I’ve made ever, and that’s after winning an Oscar. It’s interesting -- HBO said, “You know what, we want to act fairly.” I don’t believe everyone’s caught up in, “You’ve got to play the game, you’ve got to play the game.” It’s like, you know what, guys, we want to play a fair one. "When you accept the talent, this is what we believe we can offer." It was a fair offer and we had a great time, so you’ll see me on HBO on May 16.
Now there's speculation that Fox executives said you're difficult to work with. Does that disappoint you?
You know, it doesn’t disappoint me because I haven’t heard Fox say that. That came from Mr. Daniels. I can’t be disappointed in Fox for anything because it’s hearsay. It came from someone else; it’s just what it is. What I will say is, when you ask someone about things that they know are not true, I’m not the type of person that will just sit down and be quiet and allow you to do that. There are so many people that sit down and be quiet, and they will suffer in silence. I just refuse to be silent when you say that "Mo’Nique is demanding," "Mo’Nique is difficult." But you never say, “Well, what were her demands? And what was she difficult in?” Those questions have never been asked. We’ll just accept it and we’ll just put it out there. See, for me, you’ve got to explain what you’re saying. If you’re going to accuse me of something, you have to explain what it is that you’re accusing me of.
Do you maintain that you were indeed offered the role of Cookie on "Empire"? Danny Strong has questioned whether it's true.
My baby, Danny Strong didn’t question it -- he tweeted out a statement saying, “Mo’Nique was never offered it.” And as I said on “Access Hollywood,” "Guys, I have that email to show those communications." The one thing I am not, I am not a liar. I take pride in the character of who I am, and I take pride in my integrity. So I’m not pulling anything out of the air. People want to make this a competition. “Is it Taraji? Is it Mo'Nique?” Taraji is my girl, and I’m so happy and proud of my sister. She is the best and baddest Cookie that the world could ever see. However, it has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with, “Mr. Daniels, you’re putting my character in a place where people could question me, and you and I know, along with my husband Sidney, that those aren't the right conversations you’re putting out there." Now, for Mr. Strong, I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing, because he’s believing his friend. His friend, Mr. Daniels, says, "We didn’t offer Mo’Nique those things." Well, he’s going to be supportive of his friend and his business partner, and I respect people like that. Whereas I say to Mr. Strong, “Will you speak as loudly when you find out that you’re incorrect?”
After all of this, would you work with Lee Daniels again?
I could work with Lee Daniels tomorrow. I have no animosity toward my brother at all. I love that guy. I just can’t allow you to put things out there that could upset opportunities with things that you know aren’t true.
Do you have any regrets about your decisions before winning the Oscar, while giving your acceptance speech or what you did in regards to the Oscar after winning it?
You know, the only thing I would change is, the night that I won the Oscar, Sidney and I went to Uncle Andre’s BBQ. And I ate that barbecue before I went to bed. I went to bed with that barbecue on my chest and in my stomach, and, baby, I paid a price for that. The only thing I regret is when I ate that barbecue that night.
Was that your after-party?
That was our after-party. We went home to our baby. I’m a married woman with a family. And when my children say to me, “You’re the best mommy in the world,” amen. That’s the greatest trophy or award I could ever receive.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
"Blackbird" opens April 24.