Capone is dazzled by a real-life Disney princess--THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG's Anika Noni Rose!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Before actress and singer Anika Noni Rose exploded onto the screening opposite Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Hudson in DREAMGIRLS, she's already won a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in the Broadway show "Caroline, or Change." If you want to get technical, before that happened a couple hundred people saw her first as one of Kelly Clarkson's best friends in FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY. I spared her questions about that film. After DREAMGIRLS, she did two TV series, a recurring role on the first four episodes of "The Starter Wife," and as the buttoned-up secretary Grace in the spectacular HBO series "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" with another R&B singer, Jill Scott.
But last year, Anika fulfilled a lifelong dream to play a princess character in a Disney movie when she gave voice and song to Tiana in Disney's return to hand-drawn animation in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, which was just released on DVD last week. I love the new kind of attitude Anika brought to Tiana, as both an independent woman attempting to start up her own business and as a woman who believes she doesn't need a man to complete her dreams. I got to sit down for about a half hour with Anika, truly one of the most stunning women I've ever met. She's so beautiful, it actually hurt my eyes a little to look her straight on. But she was lovely to talk to, and it becomes clear early on that she was born to play Tiana, because in many ways, they both have the same dreams and determination to make them come true. Enjoy Anika Noni Rose…
Anika Noni Rose: [She pulls out what appears to be a broadcast microphone with a Radio Disney logo on it. For a second I thought it was real, but then I realized it was a foam toy. She attempt to interview me.] So, why do you call yourself Capone?
Capone: Is that thing working, or is it just foam? That’s hilarious! Why do I call myself that?
ANR: Yes. Is it because you killed someone on Valentine’s Day?
Capone: No. That had nothing to do with it. I actually put no thought into choosing the name whatsoever. I used to travel a bit for the job I had before this one, and when I told people I was from Chicago, people knew two things about Chicago, especially in Asia. They knew Michael Jordan and Al Capone. Michael Jordan didn’t quite have that cinematic ring.
ANR: [Laughs] I think you should have called yourself Jordan. Maybe MJ.
Capone: To geeks, MJ stand for Mary Jane from Spider-Man, so that wouldn’t work either!
ANR: That’s even better! [laughs]
Capone: That’s right. I was able to bring some friends of mine to the press screening of THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, and they have a six-year-old daughter who is crazy for Disney princesses in general, but to actually come and see a new one. This is her generation’s first new Disney princess. That’s a responsibility for you, then you add on to the fact that it's a return to hand-drawn animation, a new musical and a princess. Did those things even enter your mind early on, or does that sort of happen later?
ANR: I think those are things that sort of happen as you go along. You have degrees of realization. [Laughs] I really love her. I really like her a whole lot, and that makes it easy and I feel that she’s one of the roles that I’ve played who is the closest to who I am, so I don’t have to step far from myself to be true to her, which is really lovely.
Capone: Do you ever think at all about the role-model aspect of this particular role? It’s there too.
ANR: It is. I think that if somebody wants to think of the way I have handled my career and think, “Wow, that’s something I want to take and model myself behind,” or if they want to take Tiana, because she’s finite, and have her be a role model. I think she’s a wonderful role model. I think it’s dangerous when you take people and call them role models, because it puts us in a position where one day I’m going to take a role you don’t like, and then what? You have to realize that I’m human, and I will one day play some nefarious creature.
Capone: If we're lucky.
ANR: I hope. And people have to then be open to accept that as part of what I do. Then it can’t be, “Oh Gosh, well she played this awful person who beat her puppy, she’s no longer a role model!” That’s the thing that’s dangerous about it. I’m an actor, I play many different things. I’m honored if people want to look at my career the way I handle myself, and if it spurs somebody on, if it inspires a child to reach for their dreams and to work as hard as they can, because certainly that’s the only thing that got me where I am, a lot of hard work and a support network behind me to say “I believe in you.” “I want to do…” “Okay,” “I want to…” “Of course you can. Why not?”
Capone: Who was that support network for you?
ANR: My family. When I wanted to be a superhero, they were behind that too. They never said to me “Don’t you want to do something else?” “Are you sure?” “Don’t you want to fall back on something?” “We want you to major in…” It’s me. It’s my life. It’s who I am, and I think this is in the movie as well. Amazingly, she has a family who is extraordinarily supportive of her and tells her “Dream and reach and work for it.” My grandmother always said to me “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Meaning, there is nothing to turn you around but you. There’s nothing. There are no naysayers. There’s no defeat, unless you concede. I’ve held onto that and I think it’s a wonderful thing, so if I can be someone’s light, I think it’s wonderful. I just think that we have to remember that we're human beings.
Capone: What do you remember about auditioning for this? I assume you had to audition in some way for this role.
ANR: Three times actually!
Capone: Wow. What do you remember about that process?
Capone: Each time they brought you back in, it probably felt pretty good.
ANR: The first time I went in and I went through the Disney offices and I saw all of the animation from years and years past on the walls as I walked through. I got so teary. I was so moved to even be in there. This has been my lifelong dream to be a Disney voice, not necessarily a princess. I had a meeting with Disney two years prior to this and I didn’t know what the meeting was for, it was just a general meeting. And at that time I had prepared to be a tick. I knew what this tick was going to sound like and what he was going to do when he bit somebody and I knew that was going to be it. I had that waiting in case they needed to hear something other than my voice. So to walk through those halls and see those gels from things I grew up watching. I was so overwhelmed that I was that close to my dream and I just did the best I could.
Capone: Was it singing? Was it talking?
ANR: It was everything. I had about four scenes that I had to read through. There was no one in the room with me, everyone was on the other side of the glass, and it was dark over there and you would hear, “So Anika, that was lovely, can you do it again from… Let’s try page…” And they said it was going to be jazz era, so I must have brought in like eight songs and I think I sang about five of them, because I was not leaving that room without convincing them that “You’ve got your person. It’s me!”
I sang something from AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’. I sang “Miss Celie's Blues” from THE COLOR PURPLE. I sang… I can’t remember what else I sang, but I sang several other songs. I might have done two things from AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, but I just wanted them to hear different voices. I didn’t know what voice they wanted, and my voice can sound many different ways, so I wanted them to hear “Look, this is me in this place…” “This is me somewhere else.” And they wanted to hear it, which was lucky, because sometimes you know you don’t have that time to be able to do that.
Capone: After you got the job, how closely did you work with the directors on developing Tiana’s personality? Or was it pretty much there on the page initially?
ANR: There was a lot of it that was there, and only from being with them in interviews I know that they were influenced a little bit by my person. But she’s so very close to me. Her journey is so similar to my own journey. I understood her so clearly, and there were times when I would be like “Guys, I actually was a 19-year-old girl and maybe this line… Maybe we want to change that to something else. What do you think about…?” They were always open to any suggestion that I had. They didn’t always do whatever it was, but they were always open to hear it, and that’s a wonderful work environment, when you know that you can be heard. There were a couple of things in the movie that I asked for, and that’s nice. She’s left-handed. [Anika is also left-handed.]
Capone: I heard about that. That’s hilarious. That’s a great touch.
ANR: I wanted her to be left-handed. You know, it’s so crazy, because as a left-handed child, you are in school and nobody can even teach you to write. [Laughs] Do you know how many people are still, as adults, smudging paper across a page ad writing with a crook in their arm, because there was no one there to teach them to write, or they were in gym class and there was no glove for them when they played baseball? It’s not something that’s a big deal, but any child who is left-handed will notice that she is left-handed like they are. That’s a little thing, but it made a difference to me. I wanted her to have some body on her. I didn’t want her to be a waify little thing that looked like she was going to blow away. The woman is making beignets; I would assume she’s tasted a couple. You know what I mean?
That was important to me, and we really talked about that. I said, “Tiana needs to have a little booty on her. I need to see somebody who looks like she takes part in her profession and is true to her background.” I think that’s wonderful. Her hair has curl to it, it’s not some hair that’s straight and blowing in the wind that kids have to work for come Halloween. She doesn’t look like they took another princess and dunked her in chocolate, and that’s nice.
Capone: The Charlotte character is set up as a sillier version of what we think of is the typical Disney princess look.
ANR: She's a nut.
Capone: I remember seeing the dolls on her shelves of the other princesses from Disney. But the racial aspect had to be one of the most significant things to you about being a part of this and as you were saying, you didn't just want them to color her differently. She needed to be a fully formed person.
ANR: She’s her own person and she looks like herself. We all thought that was important. They thought that was important, which was good. Past that, I don’t think that her color informs the movie at all. It just happens to be a story about a young black woman in New Orleans, but it’s not a black story. It’s not a story that’s exclusive. It’s a story that’s very American. It’s the American Dream story with a little bit of romance thrown in and some adventure, which I think is sort of fun, because princesses don’t usually get to have adventure.
Capone: It’s also one of the funniest of the princess films. Actually, it might be the funniest princess movie yet.
ANR: They are so funny, aren’t they? I’m the princess, so I didn’t get to be particularly funny, but the people around me were a laugh riot. I was just like “Are you kidding? Ya’ll are hysterical!” I cannot think of the last time I sat in a cartoon and laughed the way I laughed in this movie between the firefly and the alligator and Charlotte and Bruno Campos who played Naveen, just funny.
It’s really nice, and I think that what’s really wonderful is that it opens up the world of fantasy for children. For children who are brown, it includes them in a way they haven’t been included before. For children who may not be brown, it includes their siblings, their next-door neighbors, their friends. And 20 years later, it changes the school play, because they don’t have inside of them “You can’t be so and so or such and such,” because their first princess was Tiana, and they are not thinking at four years old “Tiana’s brown.” They are thinking, “Tiana’s beautiful. Tiana’s smart. Tiana’s a princess. I want to be like Tiana,” because of who she is, which I think is magnificent.
Capone: How physical were you in the recording session?
ANR: [laughs] Very. You have to be. You have to be all in. You must bounce up and down. You must jump up and down. Sometimes I was running across the room, and that was really interesting because sometimes you would forget “Oh, I’m running in the swamp, that’s right, but you don’t have any water here.” You know “Oh, I just fell in some water, let me make sure I sound [deep inhaling sound like she's just emerged from under water] like that’s what just happened.
It’s very interesting, because I think that you really have to access the part of you that school and work drilled out of you. Do you know what I mean? For me as an actor, I can be whatever. If I decide to be childish, bobbing down the street, nobody has anything to say about that. But you as a reporter, if you walk into the office singing at the top of your lungs and twirling all stretched out on a desk singing to somebody, people are going to call someone to get you, because there are boxes that we are supposed to fit in as adults. You can’t acknowledge that box when you are in that room, there’s no place for the box. You must be who you were when you were three, when you made up everything, when this [points to a flower in a vase on the table] was a tree to you, or this was a lake [point to glass of water] and then you had a volcanoes and rocks and lava and everybody was coming at you. You have to be that person and it’s fun to go back to that person.
Capone: I know that you typically record alone, but did you get to meet any other actors that you were in scenes with?
ANR: Bruno! I met Bruno and we did one or two sessions together, just little pieces of sessions, because they wanted some ad-libs and us bouncing off of each other. But it’s funny, because I knew Jenifer Lewis beforehand, I knew Keith [David]. Jennifer [Cody] and I knew of each other, but had never seen each other. Michael-Leon Wooley and I were in DREAMGIRLS together. Terrence [Howard] and I had just finished doing CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF on Broadway in 2008. It’s so random that I did actually know a lot of these people. Did I see them? No.
Capone: Talk about Tiana as a modern woman.
ANR: She’s a modern classic.
Capone: Yeah. She's ahead of the time that they set this in--a business owner and someone who is, at least for the time being, putting this dream of hers ahead of finding a man. I love that aspect, because we never see that.
ANR: You don’t and there were a lot of women I have to say in that time who were doing things like that. Think about Madam CJ Walker, she was a millionaire. She was a black woman who created a line of hair care products on her own. So women were doing things, particularly in the jazz era, because it was an era of newness, of shedding. You were shedding corsets. Our dresses were freer, because we were freer, music had changed. It was a different way of being. We still weren’t voting, but we were making strides, and I think Tiana is someone who was, she’s very forward thinking. She’s very clear about who she is and who she wants to be and what she wants to do and she’s a planner, but she’s also a dreamer, which I think is wonderful, because I don’t think that we should have to separate our dreams from the building of our realities. I think that they often go hand in hand if we let them.
I like her. I think she’s very close to me. I came from a very small town. I came from somewhere where there was nobody around me who was acting in films. I didn’t know anybody who was really an actor. I remember I was sitting with one of my school counselors, and she told me I should look into a trade and I was “What? That’s great, but that’s not what I just said that I wanted to do.” My dad is a lawyer. There’s no reason I should be sitting here talking to you right now, except for perseverance. I think she’s a very interesting young woman and she had things to learn. She wasn’t prefect you know, because you can’t be all work. You can’t be all dedication and one track about things. You can’t move forward in life without remembering to live it.
Capone: Tell me about singing Randy Newman's songs, about hearing those songs for the first time and actually getting to belt them out.
ANR: I had a really great time doing Randy’s music, and it was really wonderful, because most of the time we were in the room together. So he was right there to say “I don’t like that, let me change that” or “Maybe that will work better if we do this” or “Hmm, that’s really nice.” So we were really there, and sometimes I would be like “Randy, at this point in the film, she’s doing this, what do you think about…” It was really wonderful to be in that room in a collaborative way and also to have the orchestra there when we were recording. I loved singing with a live orchestra!
Capone: It wasn’t like a prerecorded track. It was all done live?
ANR: Not all of it, but every song at one point was done live, and then there were prerecorded tracks if we wanted to go in and change something, because you can’t have an orchestra there to change bar 7. But the live orchestra was there and that was fantastic, just wonderful. I loved it.
Capone: I was lucky enough a few years ago to get to interview Loretta Devine and we talked about her coming on the DREAMGIRLS set, and obviously she originated on Broadway the character you played in the film. Had you met her before that, or was that the first time? Did you get to meet her when she was on set that day?
ANR: I did see her on set. We were not ever working really at the same time. I met her in New York, because she did a one-day revival of [the play] THE COLORED MUSUEM, and so I saw that and she almost gave me a cramp, I was laughing so hard. Gosh, she made me laugh, but I like her a lot, so I’ve met her a couple of times, and she’s a perfect example of perseverance. She’s been around a long time. She’s done many different mediums and she does them well and that’s nice.
Capone: I don’t remember what movie it was she was promoting at the time. But if I hear she’s on a TV show, I will watch it, because I know we are likely going to get to hear her sing on that show.
ANR: She can sing. Did she tell you that they purposefully put that song up that high?
Capone: In DREAMGIRLS?
ANR: Yes. Her song in DREAMGIRLS, where she sings “Ain’t No Party,” which is not in the movie, it’s really high, because she can sing that high and most people can’t. So they put their stamps on those songs knowing no one was going to come in and take over a role that they couldn’t sing.
Capone: She was telling me that was a pretty emotional day for her to step back into that story. Changing gears here, I was a huge, huge fan of "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," and I’m guessing that it’s not coming back as a series.
ANR: I don’t think it’s coming back as a series. We haven’t heard anything.
Capone: But there are still so many books and stories. Is there a chance that they will do a one off film or something? Is there any talk about that?
ANR: You know, there have been loads of rumors floating around, and I really don’t know what’s going to be the case. I loved it, though.
Capone: And it was weird that you and Jill Scott, these two wonderful singers, are playing doing this very serious acting. I’m a huge fan of hers, too.
ANR: Yeah, but I trained classically as an actor.
Capone: It’s a terrific show, and I think it was right after he directed the first the episode, I got to talk to Anthony Minghella before he passed away, and he was just giddy about people seeing it. It was shot I think the pilot. That has to be an experience, working on that show, that just changes you forever.
ANR: It was wonderful. It is what you look for as an actor, that kind of work, the things that allow you to transform yourself. If you see it and you recognize it for what it is, in anything that you do, it can be transformative even if and maybe particularly if it’s frightening, you should grab it. I loved doing that. I loved going to that continent and being on that land. I had never been to Africa.
Capone: How long were you there?
ANR: For the pilot, we were there for two months, and then the series we were there for four months. So I really got to take in the environment and be with the people. I went to a wedding in the bush. I hung out. I had friends and I was of the land when I was there and I really listened and listened and listened, and I would tape people. Sometimes I asked people if I could tape them. Sometimes I would sit in my room and the place I was staying was so open, I could hear the maids coming through, and I would just tape them for sound, even exclamatory sounds, I’d hear "Huh" or "Mmm," and there they will say [makes more guttural version of the same sounds]. It’s just a different way of expressing, you know? I loved hearing those little sounds. Those are the things that inform the language in a different way and allow you to take it into yourself and sort of own it in a different way. That was fun to me. I loved that.
Capone: The look of Grace was so specific, the hair, the glasses, just so perfectly put together every time she walked into the office. Was that all in the book, or did you take time out to really pull her together as a look?
ANR: The glasses were in the book. The shoes, she had a shoe thing, the heels, and that was in the book. And the rest of that, the costumer and I came to together. It was really important to me that she be this office woman, but she couldn’t be in a three-piece suit. She had never really been an office woman before, so it was what she thought of, so we always had her in a tie which was usually some huge bow. That was her tie. She was often in three pieces, like a three-piece suit. Those are things that we did purposefully. I usually had the skirt at a length that was not as attractive as a different length would be, because that’s not what I wanted people to be focusing on. The makeup was minimal, because you know it’s easy to slip into something glamorous, and that’s not what I wanted her to be at all. I think sometimes when things are made, they are made with the best intentions, but the look has changed from what it’s supposed to be and I wanted to be as true to that as possible.
We tried out a lot of different hair, and when we came to that little hairpiece on the top, I almost choked. I said, “This is it.” They were like “What about…” “No, this is it!” Anthony came in and he just started laughing about this hair. It’s a cute little hair piece, and it just fit her so clearly, and a lot of the women in Africa wear those hair pieces or they wear a big puff if their own hair isn’t long enough. But they are very hair conscious and fashion-y about their hair, so it was fun to be able to explore that, and for me it was really important too, because DREAMGIRLS had been so glamorous. I was like glammed out and I wanted to do something so different after that. I remember I was like “Well, I just want to do something different,” and this came along and I had read the books before--I hadn’t read all of them, I had read about two or three of them--so I was familiar with it, and I read the script and I was like “Oh, this is it!”
Capone: And the pilot was co-written by Richard Curtis?
ANR: Richard and Anthony together, right.
Capone: Yeah, which is mind-blowing in and of itself to have a new screenplay from Richard Curtis to work from. When that show was over, I genuinely was like “I’m going to miss that show and watching those people.”
ANR: It was joyous.
Capone: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk. It’s great to meet you.
ANR: Thank you. It’s nice to meet you, MJ.
Capone: Maybe for you I might have to change my name.
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March 19, 2010, 12:59 a.m. CST
March 19, 2010, 1 a.m. CST
is not always what you think it'll be
March 19, 2010, 1:31 a.m. CST
by Kal Reeve
Nice and rare combination for someone from the entertainment industry.
March 19, 2010, 2:16 a.m. CST
March 19, 2010, 2:29 a.m. CST
stop being a racist douche. yea yea u will say you didnt say anything racist, but we all know R&B in this instance is a codeword for BLACK. <p> and obviously you cared enough to post on it, dickhead. <p> anyway yea she seems hella cool and down to earth. i always like with the guest turns the tables and interviews the interviewer for a question or two.
March 19, 2010, 3:41 a.m. CST
I'd have asked why the DVD release of Princess & the Frog was so bare-bones, though! Not all of us are up on this Blu Ray business yet!
March 19, 2010, 4:13 a.m. CST
... which was invented at about the time of the American civil War called photography? I even heard that the photographic process has been quite simplified due to digital technology, and that even such aparatus known as cellphones have photographic capabilities. Wouldn't it be nice if you could provide us with some photos from your intervewees? Specially if they are hot babe actresses? Give it a thought, will you?
March 19, 2010, 4:24 a.m. CST
by Anything But Tangerines
No offense to Anika but that was Keith David's movie
March 19, 2010, 5:38 a.m. CST
by The Dreaded Rear Admiral
Aww, you should've posted a pic or two. I'd love to see what you saw.
March 19, 2010, 8:16 a.m. CST
You brought up Spider-Man's girlfriend? When you end up working for a website that lets you meet attractive actresses, pretend you're not so geeky when interviewing them.
March 19, 2010, 8:37 a.m. CST
by Darth Thoth
thanks as usual Capone. great interview.
March 19, 2010, 9:27 a.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
Too bad she's a frog for most of the movie.
March 19, 2010, 9:51 a.m. CST
It was a good story with enough singing and eye candy to entertain my 3 year old....but strong performances that I could enjoy. I also feel that this Disney princess is the best "role model" for all the young girls who dream of being a princess.
March 19, 2010, 12:02 p.m. CST
Anika Noni Rose is adorable. I thought all the actors did a great job in the movie, especially Keith David.
March 19, 2010, 12:42 p.m. CST
Both my wife and I loved THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Both of us were so happy to see Disney return to beautiful cel animation, and they really couldn't have returned with a stronger film (no matter what Harry says). It's an absolute shame that it didn't receive the box office it deserved. All of the performances were top-notch, this princess was the best role model of that kind that Disney's ever produced, and the music and visuals were sublime. UP is still the better animated film this particular year (just because it's *so damn good*), but TP&TF should have gotten more love.
March 19, 2010, 6:37 p.m. CST
Ms. Rose is a beautiful woman, a talented singer, and a charming actress. Her voice work in The Princess and the Frog was stellar, and I loved her in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. And one more thing - GENE ERIC, GO TO HELL!!!
March 19, 2010, 7:50 p.m. CST
Yes this IS cool news, some of us who come to this site loves ALL aspects of film, so THANK YOU Capone! This was an amazing movie, totally loved it, and Ms. Rose was phenomenal.
March 19, 2010, 7:51 p.m. CST
where the hell is the obit for Fess Parker?!?!?!? Hmmmmm?
March 19, 2010, 8:35 p.m. CST
...Was one of the better films I saw this year actually. And it was AWESOME to see hand drawn animation again. She did a great job in the film. My wife and I are going to buy it on blu ray.
March 20, 2010, 4:50 p.m. CST
First, Anika is NOT an R & B singer, she's an actress and a damn fine one. She won a Tony for Caroline or Change, a profound musical. She's acted in plenty of non-musical plays, films and TV. I went to school with her (and I now do all the 'cool' geeky films you cream your jeans about) and I have the utmost respect for her and her craft. Your dismissal of her and her talents says more about your lack of taste than of her.
March 21, 2010, 10:14 p.m. CST
It honored the "true love/someday my prince will come" aspects of the classic Disney features but also showed the value of hard work and sacrifice without getting preachy or postmodern. And that bit with the firefly and "Evangeline" had Lasseter's fingerprints all over it.
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