Nona Gaye as Charlene Frank
(photo by Guy D'alema)
MD = Michael Dequina; Q = Other press; NG = Nona Gaye
Q: How close is the character that you play to your own personal life?
NG: In what aspect?
Q: The aspect of... trying to get to church, to the sense where you're growing spiritually... [pause] God, I'm getting old now. [laughs]
NG: No, you're not; it's OK. [laughs]
Q: How close are you to the sense to where she's growing spiritually in the movie?
NG: Oh, I got you. I'm always growing spiritually. I think that you really don't stop growing spiritually unless you stop yourself. So I'm always searching and striving for more of a connection with God and letting His will be in control rather than me not listening and doing what I want to do. So I'm always working on that; I don't always succeed, but I am trying very much to let the Lord's will guide me. And if it isn't His will, whether it makes me happy or not, is what I've got to understand and keep understanding. I think as human beings we all stray, but I continue to strive to get to that point.
Q: You've played some very interesting roles recently in Crash and Ali, and how would this one rate among roles that you've played?
NG: I loved doing this film. I was very, very happy to do it because it was quite a challenge, something very different for me--not foreign because I am Christian, but I wasn't raised in the church. My father, of course, was raised Pentecostal. But after my father died, and my mother raised my brother and I, we weren't avid churchgoers. So I'm not an avid churchgoer. I pray all the time. I love God. But I don't go to church probably as much as I should. I'm going get in trouble for that. [laughs] But I think one of the things that drew me in and why I think that it's definitely on an equal level as anything else that I've done is because the message from the film is that you shouldn't really judge people because when you judge other people, you judge yourself. There's a lot of that in the film; a lot of those little pieces where you see people looking at people and saying things under their breath, and there shouldn't be that. For instance, when David comes back, he's not quite as embraced as you would think the church should embrace him. He gets instead, “You've been out singing the devil's music, and now you're back.” I think another thing that drew me to the role was my father went through the same thing. He sang gospel growing up in his father's church, and then he left and did his own thing and came back; he got the same thing. It kind of interested me, that part of it.
Q: Can you talk about working with Boris?
NG: Oh, man. He is so silly. [laughs] He's a great actor and a great friend and a goofball. [laughs] He is goofy. There were so many times we're inside the church, and we forgot that we were in the church. We're acting; we're on film; there's cameras--it's just like a regular set. And we had to kind of censor ourselves every now and then. We'd be like, “Hey, aw dam--darn it!” or “Holy--macaroni.” [laughs] It was rough. Every now and then we had to make sure that we weren't disrespectful inside the church. It was very nice working with him. He's a great guy and a great actor.
Q: Can you talk about your character? Rob had mentioned that he purposely didn't want to tell some of the story between your and Idris's character until the very end. What did you make of the character? I guess from the audience's perspective there wasn't enough development for us to understand there was a strain in their marriage.
NG: Yes, I think it definitely was left at more to your interpretation until the end. I'm not quite sure why [Rob] felt that he needed to go that way, but he's the director. I think that it worked. I think that you get an inkling that there is a very strong and serious reason why they have such a strain on their marriage, that there's a strain on their sex life. The reason is because she can't give him what he wants. I feel that she backlashes and retaliates by avoiding and restricting sex. But you could interpret it as her being frigid, or she may have had problems in the past, and maybe she's apprehensive about trying again. But what it really is is that she's so hurt and so brokenhearted that she can't give him what he wants that she internalizes that and decides that she won't have sex with him at all because it hurts too much that she can't give him a child. I think that's really what it's about, what their strain is about. And it takes him quite a long time to figure out how much pain she's actually in. With the scene on the balcony, he finally realizes what she's going through. After that, things are a little bit different. He realizes that it's not just about him or his ego or what he wants, and he begins to pay more attention to his wife and the fact that she is in quite a significant amount of pain and feeling very inadequate as a wife.
Q: So many things are in the movie where she's not that vocal all the time.
NG: Very true.
Q: Is that her being passive, is she a victim?
NG: I think it's more damage. I think she's damaged. I think she loves her husband very much. She loves the church. Even though she is quite damaged about what's going on at home, she still is beaming when she sees her husband give a sermon. She's still madly in love with him. Her being quiet and passive I think is really just kind of a reflection of how sad she is about the fact that she can't seem to be this wife that he needs her to be. But like I said, she still loves God with all her heart, and she loves to watch her husband energize the congregation. So I think her being quiet is more of, “I really want to listen to what he has to say. I really want to listen to him worship. I really want to listen to him give a beautiful sermon and energize the entire congregation. Look at my husband; look what he does--look how he energizes the congregation and how much they appreciate him.”
Q: Being a Christian, this is a very important story for you. Are there any other stories from the Bible that should be out there [in film] as well, do you think?
NG: I do.
Q: For example? What do you think, story wise besides this one?
NG: What do I think they should go to? It would be interesting, I think, to just seek out different religions and what they're about, and the inner workings of those. Just because I'm a Christian, and I firmly believe what I believe as a Christian does, does not mean that I don't respect and wouldn't be interested in seeing more information and an account of personal relationships about a different religion and what happens. For instance, there was one film, Little Buddha, with Keanu Reeves, that kind of touched on that. But they're very scarce, spiritual films or religious films. I think that there needs to be a lot more, definitely.
Q: Each of your films, it seems, you have characters that are richly textured; there seems to be a progression with each of your characters. I'm curious what you'd like to do next and what's next for you, what you have coming on the horizon.
NG: Well, you know what? To be perfectly honest with you, it's one of two things. I'd either like to do something very gritty and maybe a bit dark; something to sink my teeth into and go somewhere that really isn't me that might be difficult, that might test my acting skills to the very limit. I think that actors always want to do that; they always want to push themselves. So I would either like to go somewhere like that, or I would like to do a comedy. I've never done a comedy. When you see me, if you know my work, I'm usually either the doting wife, or I am a heartbroken warrior in a futuristic world who goes and gets her man, or I am another doting wife who gets cheated on in Africa by Muhammad Ali, you know? [laughs] So I would like to expand and see what else happens, see where else I could go. The only thing I got to do that was quite different, and I must say I enjoyed it very much because in all of my films up 'til then I had been that character--
Q: xXx [State of the Union].
NG: Exactly. I finally got to get sexy. [laughs] I finally got to wear some Gucci; I had some six-inch stilettos on--you know, they glammed me up. So it was fun; I got to do some fun stuff; I drove that car--it was a lot of fun. Action films--that was the other one I was going to say. Something dramatic, to be specific, maybe something like Requiem for a Dream--I would like to go there. I love action films; I really do, if they're good. I would like to do something like a Matrix and be able to have a lead Black female. That would be really incredible. I think that the Black community would love to see that, and I would love to; I really would. There is something that I've always thought that would be nice to do. Gosh, her name is... she's a comic book character, and I really would love to play her. [snaps fingers] You guys probably all know who she is.
Q: Aeon Flux?
NG: No, I missed that one. [laughs] Aeon Flux--see, that's a perfect example. I would love to do something like that. That would be great. Or something like Trinity [in The Matrix]. It would be nice for a Black female to have a lead in a role like that. It's hard for Black actresses to make that happen.
Q: It's been almost twelve, thirteen years since your last album, Love for the Future. Are there any plans to return to music?
NG: Yes. There. Are.
Q: You were signed to Epic, weren't you, recently?
NG: Yes, I was. I worked for quite a while with Bobby K.--I call Robert Kelly “Bobby K.” [laughs] It's just my little nickname for him. [laughs] We did some tracks that were absolutely fabulous, and I did a few other tracks. So I've got a really great body of music; I'm just ready to shop it. Soon as I do that and get some product out, hopefully you'll like it because I really think it's something different. It's actually me rather than me being pushed to sound like my father.
Q: What new projects do you have outside of projects film wise?
NG: Well, right now I'm not shooting anything. I'm focusing on [The Gospel] and letting the premiere go smoothly and all that. But I have two or three different things that I'm interested in doing--maybe a few books that I'd like to adapt into screenplays and see if I can make that happen.
Q: Do you write?
NG: I do write, yes.
Q: You seem to be very... I wouldn't say "intense," but very--yeah, very intense--
Q: --very articulate, very intelligent woman.
NG: Thank you. [laughs] Thank you so much.
Q: Being that you have this music legacy--you were on the cover of Essence with Natalie Cole--you would think that immediately people would be after you for the musicality, the biopics. But then your roles have been completely different from anything like that. You're not doing the musicals or anything like that. Was that something you worked toward, or does it go either way?
NG: I would be interested [in doing a musical], definitely.
Q: In a biopic even?
NG: Oh yeah, most definitely. There are a couple of people who I would actually love to portray.
NG: Billie Holiday. I would jump all over that. Also, who has a wonderful story is Sarah Vaughan. She has an incredible story.
Q: There was talk about Lena Horne too?
NG: That's going to Alicia Keys.
Q: Right. And Oprah [Winfrey]'s producing it I believe?
NG: Yeah. [snaps fingers in mock frustration and laughs]
Q: Did you read for Dreamgirls at all because everybody's talking about that project.
NG: I didn't get a chance. I was actually out of the country. I would have, most definitely.
Q: You're standing there, and I can see you in some aspect of that because it's been avidly anticipated.
NG: Yes, it has.
Q: If it sees the light of day.
NG: Right. I hope it does.
Q: Do you get approached, with the whole Ray thing, this whole new resurgence--they say Mekhi Phifer's playing Al Green; this one's playing Rick James--
NG: Now, they better be careful with my godfather, who they pick because I'll be mad if they pick the wrong person. I've known him since I was seven years old. So when he passed, that was very sad for me. So I do want whoever plays him to do him justice and not focus on just the sensationalism of what we all know he went through and the stigma that had been attached to him. He was a beautiful person; he really he was. He was a beautiful person, and he was very kind. People just don't know that side of him. So I hope that whoever plays him gets to show that about him rather than just focusing on what they know will bring people into the theatre. The same with my father; I feel the same way about my father, when [a biopic is] finally done. We're pretty much in control of that--without glazing over the truth because that's not what I want to do either. I think that's silly when people do that.
Q: Now, [actor] Daniel Sunjata was trying to develop something.
Q: Daniel Sunjata.
NG: Really. Hmm. [laughs]
Q: It might be some variation of some kind. But it's like so many people want to do so many different things with him.
NG: Yes. There are a lot of people I've heard that say, "Oh yeah, we're doing the Marvin Gaye story." I'm like, "No, you're not." [laughs]
Q: Maybe they're going to change the last name. [laughs]
NG: Right, you might be doing the Melvin Gray story.
Q: Who would you like to see portray your father?
NG: Denzel [Washington]. I would think Denzel for probably from 33 on, when he meets my mother, and from that point on. And I think we may need to find an unknown for when he was younger and in the Motown years. So when we finish that and get it into production, we want it to be right. That's why it's taking so long. I want my father's life to be portrayed honestly but without kid gloves. I don't want that. But I also don't want, like I said, people getting drawn into the theatre because they want to see the last scene where he's shot and killed. That's not what I want. I want people to know the man. I want them to know the good and the bad, and the illness and wellness, and the kindness and the meanness. He was a human being--and he was a genius, and most geniuses are a little off-tilt if you really think about it. I don't know a lot of geniuses who are per se normal. [laughs] I really don't. What is normal, anyway, you know?
Q: Have you ever thought about covering his music?
NG: I have covered a few. There was a tribute album called Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye. I did the title track; I did "Inner City Blues." I've covered "Got to Give It Up." And so has everybody else.
Q: Did you ever think about a whole album--
NG: Like Natalie [Cole]? You know, I had always been opposed to it until I went and did the [2004 NBA] All-Star Game with him, and he was behind me in the holigram, and we sang his very famous version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Jimmy Jam produced it, and I was so afraid. I kept saying to Jimmy Jam, "I can't do this. It's perfect already. What am I going to do? There's nothing I can do to make it any better." He just said, "Just harmonize with him. That's all you really got to do. You guys have a similar conviction in your voice, and that's really all you need. You don't have to change; you don't have to run all over the thing. Like you said, it's already gold." He said, "I'm sure that your dad would love to have you go ahead and do a little..."--background, is what I call it. When my father sings, it radiates as far as the ear can hear. So it was a beautiful experience. So now I think that it would be something that I would be interested in. But I would like to establish myself musically on my own before I do that because I don't want people ever thinking--and I've said this from the beginning of my career--that I'm riding my father's coatttails to further myself musically. So I would like to get my music out. Whether it succeeds or fails, I would like to at least let people know who I am musically before I do that.
Q: You touched on this new album that you're working on; you said it was a type of different sound. What could we expect from it?
NG: It's probably going to be a cross somewhere between maybe like Björk--
NG: --and Erykah Badu.
NG: Yeah. I'm quite--
NG: Yeah. [laughs] It's not quite what you expected to hear, I didn't think. Like I said, that's the thing about acting. I don't have the shadow behind me where people are expecting me to be my father, to make the music that he made, to be as talented as he was musically. Nobody can do that. I can't do that. I can't be my father. I can't do what he did musically. I can only do what I can do. And if I know my dad, I know that he would say, "Don't do that"--because that's not what he did. He was with Motown, and he sang the songs he was told to sing, and he did it until he couldn't do it anymore. And he needed to get out what he needed to get out whether there was people behind him or not. Berry [Gordy] was like, "No, people don't want to hear a socially conscious record. They want to hear [starts snapping fingers] good times and 'Let's Get It On' and all that stuff." But my father decided, "No. I'm going to do what I'm going to do, what I feel is important, what I feel is inside of me." So I feel he would want me to do the same thing.
Q: Sharing the company with all of those legends of Motown, your father, and subsequently with Prince and Rick James, your godfather--who perhaps made such a great influence on you personality wise or musically? Did they all have part and parcel in your choice of your musical tastes?
NG: You know what? My influences are so vast and so all over the place. I can go from Otis Redding to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Stevie Wonder to Billie Holiday to Paul Simon. It's really a vast amount of artists who I respect and who have had an influence on me. Paul Simon is one of them specifically because of Graceland. I had always wondered when I was going to get to Africa and how beautiful and how intriguing it sounded listening to Graceland. When we finally did Ali, I listened to Graceland the whole way over there. When we were landing, Graceland was playing in my ear. We landed the plane, and as soon as we all got out, we all kissed the ground. It's just instances like that that I think cause you to be influenced by different artists--certain particular places and moments, nostalgia, things that happen in your life, and a particular song matches that instance. But musically, to say who I would tend to pattern myself after is very difficult for me. I have three or four people that I go back and forth thinking that I want to sound like this, I want to sound like that. So what I want to try to do is mesh. Another influence is Madonna... and Donny Hathaway. [laughs] So, it's hard, but I'm working it out.
Q: Did you get a chance to talk to Omar at all about growing up the same way?
NG: No. Omar is a sweet guy when I got to speak to him. He's quite shy; he keeps to himself. When I did get to speak to him, he was very nice. We didn't really get a chance to talk about our lineage and the thing that we have in common. I think the longest that I've spoken to him is about--ten seconds? [laughs]
Q: You really didn't have any scenes with him.
NG: Yeah. But no, it didn't matter--we were in the same hotel. I think he's just a very private person, so I didn't really get much of a chance to speak with him. But he's very kind every time I talk to him.
Q: This is probably an unfair question, but what is your all-time favorite of your father's songs?
NG: I'm biased. It's "I Wanna Be Where You Are." I am ridiculously blessed with the fact that I am able to listen to my father 21 years later tell me that he loves me and good night. Every night. Or whatever night I need him to say good night, and I love you all, and I'll always be there. My father was a bit clairvoyant. He was enlightened, anointed in my opinion. So I think that he knew that he wasn't going to be around as long as he would have liked to have been. I think that he wrote that song with the intent to ease our pain once he was gone. My father lived a quite tumultuous life, and he wasn't a square at all. So I think that he knew that it was very possible that he would leave this earth early. Like I said, that would probably be my favorite because I know that he had us in mind for when he left, so that we always had a little piece of him saying "I love you," "Good night," "Don't worry--I'm not here physically, but I'm here in spirit."
Q: Did Atlanta treat you OK while you were here?
NG: OK? Oh please. [laughs] I had a wonderful time.
Q: What's one of your favorite meals in Atlanta?
NG: Oh my gosh. We had so many delicious meals. Bone's. Bone's was incredible, yeah.
Q: Is that a restaurant or a dish?
NG: It's a restaurant. [laughs] You're crazy! What is wrong with you?
Q: I thought I was in the dog pound with Snoop Dogg.
NG: No, no, no. They've got great barbecue, great steaks and chops and chicken--everything you could think of. Just yummy.
Next: Idris Elba
MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK CD!
Press Junket Roundtable Transcripts
The World Premiere
The Gospel: The Official Site
House of Tamyra
Boris Kodjoe Official Site
The Gospel @ The Internet Movie Database
The Gospel: Nona Gaye/© Michael Dequina
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