7 Questions with... Queen Latifah: ‘Black women have been equalising for years… from Stacey Abrams to Kamala Harris’

The actor and musician discusses her starring role in the new reboot of The Equalizer, and how important it is to be a Black female lead.

By Becky Gamester-Newton Published: 23 July 2021 - 1.38pm
Queen Latifah stars in The Equalizer

Watch The Equalizer on Sky Witness with a NOW Entertainment Membership from August 3.

The Equalizer is back - as you’ve never seen it before.

This thrilling reboot of the classic 1980s crime drama sees Queen Latifah star as Robyn McCall, a former CIA operative who is also the ‘The Equalizer’ – a guardian angel and defender of the downtrodden who’s also dogged in her pursuit of personal redemption.

Queen Latifah speaks about her character, high-action scenes and filming in her home state…

1. What is it about the role of The Equalizer that was interesting for you?

It was the idea that you could equalize in a world that seemed so unbalanced, that you could get some justice for everyday people, from someone who has the highest level of expertise. The thought that the everyday person would get justice and that the stories would be ripped from the headlines and relatable to everyone. In such a polarised and a challenging time in our history, I think we need to see the good guys win for a change.

2. How would you describe Robyn? 

Queen Latifah stars as Robyn McCall in The Equalizer

Complicated. I think she is extremely intelligent, deeply committed, passionate about those who she really cares for. She has a true north star in her father. Her moral code is pretty much unbreakable, and she might be loyal even to a fault. But when she loves, she loves hard.

I think she’s based on a lot of the things that I've learned in my life. From fighting for those who can't fight for themselves, to sticking up for oneself. To even being the daughter of a SWAT officer and having a brother who was a police officer.

When it comes to handling weapons or being in emergency situations where many people would panic, I normally handle them with calmness and thoughtfulness and action. I think it's because I've seen my parents do that my whole life. I remember being a kid going to Times Square to watch the ball drop, you would always have to watch out for pickpockets. So, my father was training me for these kinds of things at five and six years old, the kind of things that McCall would be observant of. Being used to traveling around the world and being comfortable in my surroundings. My father taught me “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

I wanted her to have a different sort of swagger. I didn't want her to be just in a dark place all the time, I want to see her humour. I wanted her to not like bullies. That was one of the most important things to me because I was bullied a little bit as a kid. And so, I got a particular thing about bullies - I don't like bullies.

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3. How important is it to have a Black female lead who’s a crusader on TV?

Everyone has to see that we are here, we're powerful, we are the backbone of this society as far as I'm concerned. Two million Black-owned female businesses were created [in the US] when the market dropped during the housing bubble in 2008 and I don't think people know that. I think people need to understand the power of the Black woman and how much we support this country and this society.

And to see that weekly, brings it home. It just makes it more what life is really like. And I think to see her do her thing, but also be a mom at the same time is something that is going to be highly relatable to our audience.

I think Black women have been equalising for years and years and years, and that's from Stacey Abrams, to Kamala Harris, to my mother, to my grandmother. So, for me seeing a Black woman Equalizer, is not a new thing to me. I've watched Black women be strong, caring, sensitive, handle their business, be entrepreneurs all my life. 

Laya DeLeon Hayes as Delilah and Lorraine Toussaint as Viola 'Vi' Marsette in The Equalizer

Black women have been doing what we to have to do, carrying a lot of things on our back. Unfortunately, sometimes we're not lifted up in the way we should be, when it comes to how much we actually carry. Showcasing how much grit we have, how much determination we have, how powerful we are, and how magical we are.

These things I think come naturally and it’s time for the world to see it on a normal basis, told through the lens of a Black woman. Also seeing Lorraine Toussaint, Laya DeLeon Hayes who plays my daughter, we see three generations of Black women. And so I think the world needs to see what life is like for us. I think you're going to enjoy the ride, everybody will.

4. What is it like to be in a full-on action series? 

Queen Latifah stars as Robyn McCall in The Equalizer

I love doing all of the action sequences where we get to really kick some butt. I have a great amount of respect for stunt people and what they have to do to accomplish making people like me look really good. I'm able to do a lot of intimate, close contact fighting and things like that, but I'm not getting crashed on a table or doing tricks on a bike at this point. I would have done it in my twenties maybe, but not now.

Our coordinators work hard at creating these intricate scenes that don't look like things that you've seen before. They look cool and they happen in a blink of an eye. I think that's the most important thing. Just making sure everything looks sharp and crisp because there's a dance to it. It's like choreography where you learn things by bit. And I think being a rapper/singer/artiste has helped me in terms of rhythm. When it was Living Single, everything is timing in a sitcom. Your joke has to come off of that joke. So it helped me then and that rhythm is helping me now with the choreography. It’s just beep beep beep beep beep, then this blah, blah, blah, blah and I then turn around and break glass; it basically is like a song in my mind.

5. As an executive producer, was it difficult getting the show to the screen?

Queen Latifah stars as Robyn McCall in The Equalizer

It wasn't that difficult of a process, actually. It seemed like the companies that we went to were very excited about it and we didn't have to go far. Once we were able to come up with a concept that we felt comfortable with, we took it out and the studio said, "Listen, this is where this show needs to be. This is what we do. We do it great. We love you in this role. We love this idea. We think you're a star. Let's go." Literally, practically in those words.

So we were off to shoot the series in March (2020) and we were two days away when we had shut down because of Covid. I think the fact that they greenlit the entire series speaks to their belief in what we're doing and what we've managed to make happen over here. It has not been easy, but we're doing it.

6. Are there any references to previous incarnations of The Equalizer?

Queen Latifah stars as Robyn McCall in The Equalizer

Well, I do have a Jaguar. Just like Edward Woodward has a Jaguar. We aren’t referencing Denzel Washington's version because that world is a very special world that Denzel has created in film. We don't want to tread on anyone's toes in that respect. I love D and I want to make sure that I kind of stay in my lane over here and create my own lane.

7. What does it mean to you to be able to film The Equalizer in your home state of New Jersey?

I think the Jersey influence is the backbone of the show. There are a lot of people who work here that are from New Jersey. Jersey has this thing, if you can grow up here, you can go anywhere in the world. I'm hoping that translates and come across in how we shoot, and feel, and how I'm able to play this role. I'm also hoping that it rubs off on those who aren't from here, but they get a little bit of Jersey sensibility.

It means a lot to me, to be able to employ New Jerseyans. When I get too tired, I'm always inspired by the fact that I got to get up and go to work. If I don't get to work, 200 to 300 people don't go to work. We have been hit pretty hard this year because of the pandemic and it's been nice to bring some business right back home where it all started for me.

Hopefully with the success of the show, we can expand, and life will get better. And we won't have to shoot so much with masks all the time. And then we won't be quite in a Covid situation, which is very challenging. But we're making it happen.

Watch The Equalizer on Sky Witness with a NOW Entertainment Membership from August 3.

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