Queen Latifah recently opened up about her lead role in the new HBO film “Bessie,” a musical biopic about the rise and fall of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, whose nickname was “The Empress of the Blues.” According to Deadline.com, Latifah was initially offered the role over two decades ago when she was 22 years old, but declined because she didn’t feel like she was old enough or had enough life experience to do the role justice. At a recent winter meeting of the Television Critics Association, Latifah revealed that she was far more prepared to tackle the role of Smith today than she was back then during the height of her rap career. “I had no idea who Bessie Smith was, to be honest with you â€¦ I had to become familiar with who she was in particular,” said Latifah. “I was just blown away. I could hear her voice in so many people who came after her â€¦ If there was a Bessie Smith alive today, she’d blow everyone else out of the water. I could never match her true ability.” “If anything, I came to have a little more story,” she told television critics at the TCA Winter TV Press Tour 2015 in Pasadena, California. “When the project came my way, I don’t think I had the life journey that went along with it. I got to live more of the blues.” The former talk show host also stated that she’s developed a profound love of blues music.
Written and directed by Dee Rees, the ambitious project depicts the tumultuous true life story of Smith, who became the most popular (and highest paid) blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. Tragically, she passed away in 1937 at the age of 43, due to extensive injuries sustained from a car crash. The film will also star Mo’Nique as Ma “Mother of the Blues” Rainey, Khandi Alexander as Bessie’s older sister, Viola, Michael K. Williams as Bessie’s first husband Jack Gee, Charles S. Dutton as William ‘Pa’ Rainey, Bryan Greenberg as John Hammond, Oliver Platt as Carl Van Vechten, Mike Epps as ‘Richard,’ and Tika Sumpter as â€˜Lucille.’ The film is produced by HBO Films in association with Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere’s Flavor Unit Entertainment and Lili and the late Richard Zanuck’s The Zanuck Co., with Lili Fini Zanuck, Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere, Shelby Stone and Randi Michel serving as executive producers and Richard Zanuck also receiving a posthumous executive producer credit.