Mo’Nique: ‘Listen, Honey, I Hung Out With The Gay Babies…’
Mo’Nique in ‘Blackbird’
In her first movie since her Oscar-winning turn in Precious (2009), the ferocious Mo’Nique is playing another mother, this one convinced that her son’s gayness is God’s punishment and responsible for the disappearance of her young daughter.
It’s Blackbird, a personal and affecting movie directed by Patrik-Ian Polk (Punks, Noah’s Arc), based on the 1986 novel by California-based Larry Duplechan. Set in a small Mississippi town, the film starts with burgeoning teen Randy Rousseau (played by the winning Julian Walker) having a wet dream about gay sex happening in the middle of a choir performance. In a sweat, he wakes up and prays to Jesus.
Randy is having trouble accepting his sexuality—as does mom—though it seems like everyone else is OK with it, including his friends and his dad (Isaiah Washington). Inching out of the closet, Randy performs in an all-male Romeo and Juliet, then a short film with an openly gay cohort who falls for him and tries to bring him out into openness. How he—and mom—evolve is for you to find out by checking out this film.
I talked to actor/comedian/producer Mo’Nique about Blackbird—and other things—and here’s what went down.
Musto: Hi, Mo’Nique. Was there any trepidation in playing another misguided mother afterPrecious?
Mo’Nique: I don’t know if she’s so much misguided. I think she doesn’t understand how to love her baby through who he is.
Is her feeling a common point of view?
Yes. When people see this film, you hear them saying, “That’s my story. That’s how my mother or father treated me.” It’s not unique to one situation or to a color. I see all kinds: My Asian, Latin, white, black brothers say the same thing, that, “I am Randy Rousseau.”
And it might not just be about sexuality, right?
We’re dealing with the sexuality issue in the movie, but it can be different things. We have people working careers not what they wanted, but what their parents wanted.
Did you like the film because it’s basically sweet and personal, not a sledgehammer Hollywood-style effort?
It’s very real. Not a whole lot of bells and whistles. You’re getting a chance to see behind the door of what happens when someone says, “I don’t know what’s happening with me, but I know the feelings I’m having. So what do I do?” You have a mother who wants to love her baby, but can’t understand it. How does a family cope when one child is abducted and the mother and father can’t be together because she can’t cope and no longer knows how it feels to be a wife? You get to see how it’s accepted or not.
This is your first movie since Precious. Why would some people say there are problems with you and the business when you probably were voted the Oscar by a landslide?
We don’t understand why someone puts on a cartoon suit and goes into a movie theater and shoots people — that’s something difficult to swallow. So someone saying things that are untrue or nasty or mean — if someone can do that [the shooting], then don’t you think someone can do that?
Lee Daniels suggested that you were blackballed from the industry, partly because of demands he claimed you’d made. You refuted that and replied that you were originally offered the female lead on Daniels’ Empire. But aside from that, you did get more solid offers — they just weren’t up to snuff, right?
Is that a result of racism in the business?
I don’t know if you’d call it racism in reference to color. You’d call it racism in reference to just the human race finding ways to mistreat and take advantage of one another. The issue with Mr. Daniels — we’re two black people.
Would you call him an adversary?
It makes me smile when I get asked that question. What have we come to that it would even be asked? By no means is Mr. Daniels my enemy. By no means do I wish that man any ill will. However, I have empathy because there are some statements that are not true.
You’ve long wanted to film the story of Hattie McDaniel, another Supporting Actress Oscar winner (for Gone with The Wind). Do you still want to do that?
Hattie and I had a conversation. She said, “My story’s been told over and over again. It’s time to tell a different story.”
But there’s never been a movie about her, has there?
At the end of the journey, she was by herself. Her finances were very difficult. We know that story. We’ve seen it over and over. So she said, “It’s time to tell a different story.” All of our stories don’t end that way.
You’re such an open person, speaking honestly about your background and views, whereas most celebrities play it safe. Is there a price to pay for being an open book?
There hasn’t been a price for it. There’s been some rewards to opening up about parts of my life, because when an Asian brother comes up to you in Utah and says, “Monique, I am Mary Jones [herPrecious character]. I was that to my family,” that’s rewarding. They heal and are ready to make a change. But as a child, we’re told, “Don’t lie.” And then to be asked, “Is there a price you pay for things you did to make sure you’re living right, in principle?” The only price you pay is the right price, because one day I’m gonna get to the end of this journey. They’re gonna say, “Cut!” and “Action!” for the last time, and I don’t want to be questioning or having regrets of doing things that could have questioned my character and integrity.
When you grew up, did you have gay friends?
Listen, honey, I was hanging out with the gay babies when I was 16 years old. When I was 16, baby! We were all underdogs. But they made me feel so special. And they used to call me “mother” from time to time. I wasn’t this fat girl to them — they made me feel good, and I made them feel good. This movie is my love letter to the gay community. It is my way of saying, “Thank you for loving me!”
Did anyone make fun of you for hanging with the gays?
If they did, they would have gotten some colorful words. But really, no. I didn’t have that issue. They already knew things might not work out so well for them if they said them.
Oh, good. Thanks for the love, Mo‘Nique. Backatcha.
Steven Boyer (center) in a scene from ‘Hand to God’ on Broadway | Photo by Joan Marcus
PUPPETRY OF THE PENIS
Religion and homophobia are lampooned in Hand To God, Robert Askins’ dark comedy in which an awkward Texas teen named Jason, disturbed by the death of his dad, joins in his mom’s Christian Puppet Ministry, only to find that his puppet Tyrone has become his vicious half, showing signs of being aggressively possessed by Satan.
We’ve seen puppets saying and doing dirty things before (Avenue Q) and also puppets taking sinister control of their masters (Twilight Zone, Magic), but that’s not all that’s going on in this at times hilarious play. In all his devilish fury, the grey sock known as Tyrone happens to say a lot of true things, blurting harsh realities about Jason’s romantic attractions, his mood swings, and his mom’s sexual doings. (Fed up with being good and waiting for Jesus’s love to shower back on her, she has dirty sex with a minor who happens to be in her puppet group—the same one the cool girl in the group says is positioned “so back in the closet, you’re in Narnia.”) Tyrone can be mean and even violent, but he cuts through a lot of hypocrisies, telling us that the self-punishing “puppet show” surrounding Jesus needs to end. The resulting play gets too screechy and hysterical for its own good, but there are classic moments like the sight of the church’s rec room as redone by Tyrone to feature Satanic imagery, slogans (”God Listens—To Slayer”), and burned out toys; the first time I’ve ever seen a set get a sustained minute of laughter. The message is that a person only gets to have one voice, and he has to be responsible for that voice. And driving it home is Steven Boyer in a knockout performance as the troubled schizo who ends up biting the hand that feeds—but only after it bites the homophobe.
WOLF AT THE DOOR
A big hand to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s two-part epic Wolf Hall, which comprises approximately five-and-a-half hours of splendid pageantry and theatrics as it plumbs Tudor Court doings from the vantage point of power-titillated lawyer Thomas Cromwell.
As adapted by Mike Poulton from Hilary Mantel novels, this isn’t avant garde theater that reinvents the wheel; it’s presentational and mostly straightforward, spanning soap opera, history lesson, and even some dark comedy. Jeremy Herrin directed on a gray-and-black geometric set complete with hanging metal cages, where his strong cast works out their intricate historical hijinks. Headed byBen Miles as Cromwell and Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VIII, they’re giving Helen Mirren (playing Queen Elizabeth in The Audience a few blocks away) a run for her pound.
Vanessa Hudgens and Corey Cott in ‘Gigi’ on Broadway | Photo by Margot Schulman
AH, YES, I REMEMBER IT WELL
Improbably enough, two 1950s Best Picture Oscar winners — both directed by Liza’s dad Vincente Minnelli, starring the great Leslie Caron, and set in Paris — have become Broadwayized in time to open last week. (What next—two musicals of The Wild Party? Oh, never mind.) First came Gigi, based on the 1958 movie adapted from Colette’s novella about a lovely, feisty girl advancing into turn-of-the-century adulthood, amidst the misty remembrances and attempted tutoring of some old folk. It was always a gossamer story—crepe-thin, as it were—that depended on the charm of the environs, the lilt of the Lerner and Loewe score, and the star quality of the key performers. Without the extra magic the movie provided, it could have just come off like the tale of Parisians who like to dance around and sing about their home town a lot. A 1973 Broadway version flopped, even though Endora from Bewitched (Agnes Moorehead) was in it! And now, director Eric Schaeffer tries again, serving a proficient (if tweaked for political correctness) production that’s nice enough, but unfortunately becomes a bit dullish because magnetically quirky personalities are supplanted by earnest professionalism.
Making her Broadway debut, ex-High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens can certainly sing, but she’s been directed to speak in a mannered sounding attempt at high class that doesn’t click. Meanwhile, “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” doesn’t soar as done by the two older women, and while “The Night They Invented Champagne” has a kick, the whole production doesn’t quite sustain it. Still, the songs, costumes, and sweeping stairway might keep your senses buzzed.
The other version of a Minnelli-directed Best Picture, An American in Paris, might also lack some of the movie’s star quality — what wouldn’t? — but in director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s hands, it’s a swirling adaptation that’s cleverly conceived instead of being either too revisionist or too slavish. Taking off from the 1951 movie set in post-war France, the Craig Lucas-scripted show juggles three men (an artist, played by Robert Fairchild, composer Brandon Uranowitz, and performer Max von Essen) as they vie for lilting ballerina Leanne Cope. Amid a whirl of sturdy Gershwin classics and exquisite explosions into dance, they play out their dramas flanked by Bob Crowley’s sets, which mix scrims, frames, and monuments for an effect that’s anything but banal or obvious. While effectively building a stairway to paradise, this show really earns its Eiffel Tower.
Let me add to the hosannahs for a British monument: David Hare’s 1995 play Skylight, being revived in a Stephen Daldry-directed production filled with crackling acting and repartee. In the play, Kyra, who’s become a teacher of underprivileged youth, gets a drop-in from her ex boss and lover, rich restaurateur Tom, who’s wife has passed. Their recombustion results in banter, debate, confrontation, and a lot of other talk, both personal and sociopolitical, which Carey Mulligan andBill Nighy infuse with skill and balance. She’s reserved but passionate and full of wisdom, while he struts around like a peacock, alternately braying and cooing. Their pas de deux (along with appearances by Tom’s son, played by Matthew Beard, who’s also terrific) makes for one of the season’s most sophisticated tickets.
Photo by Russ Rowland
BILLY, DON’T BE A HERO
As for American sociopolitics, Off-Broadway’s Clinton The Musical dredges up the various scandals ofBill Clinton’s administration for a romp that’s lively and goofy if not exactly trenchant. Interestingly, the show splits the President into his two halves. No, not Jason and Tyrone. (Clinton’s hand isn’t in any sock puppet, thank you.) It’s W.J., who’s a slick politician with brains, and Billy, his sleazy alter ego, who thinks with his private parts. They’re both targeted by Kenneth Starr, whom the talentedKevin Zak plays with a variety of vocal shrieks and squeaks, prancing about in Rocky Horror style undies at one point and lustily licking a cardboard cutout of a shirtless Clinton at another. “Is he gay?” wonders W.J. “Well, he’s definitely going to fuck us,” responds Billy. Out lesbian comic Judy Gold is also fun as both Linda Tripp and Eleanor Roosevelt. “I’m coming out!” threatens Gold’s Eleanor as she steps out of a framed painting.