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Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys

The Secret Life Of Bees

Total Film

December 2008

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Having already stacked up multi-platinum albums, native New Yorker Alicia Keys is elbowing her way into movies too: from a lesbian sniper in Smokin’ Aces to sharing space with Queen Latifah in the ’60s-set Deep South drama The Secret Life Of Bees. She even spared Bond’s blushes after Amy Winehouse’s summer implosion by knocking out that spiky duet with Jack White for Quantum Of Solace.

Is it cool to be guesting on a Bond theme?
I love it! And you should see how it fits into the movie. Crazy. It comes at the right, right time. [starts crooning] “It’s just… ‘Another Way To Die…’”

Was the green-screen video boring to shoot?

Nah, it was very involved but it didn’t take that long. Shot and done in a day. But it’s off the chain.

So, The Secret Life Of Bees: you tracked the project for years. Why were you so keen?
I was a big fan of the book. I love the story, I thought it was unique. I just felt like it was going to be special so I was very determined to be a part of it.

In a film full of nice women, your character June is basically the bitchy one.
That’s what I love about her, though, she’s a human being. We all have different layers to us and there’s pieces that you try to cover with a false sense of strength, but it comes off a little angry and disengaged or distrustful. On the surface she’s mean and cold but in truth she’s very loving and protective of her family.

Can you relate to those barriers?
I related to so many sides of it, dealing with my own issues of being very private, wanting to put up barriers between myself and others, just to protect myself from people – which I think we all do, especially when you’re in the public eye.

How did you, Queen Latifah and Sophie Okonedo find playing sisters?
Myself and Latifah, we already knew each other. But this really brought all of us closer. Once we were on set, it was just like a forum of fun and bonding. We were in North Carolina in the winter – playing summer – and being freezing and trying to act warm and sucking on ice so there wasn’t any air coming out of your mouth. We had a lot of laughs on set.

You learned to play the cello for the film. Did it come naturally?

When I first started playing, I had this teacher who was ethereal and kind of hippy. She put little coloured dots on my cello and she’d go, “Now play the blue string and then the green string and then the yellow string…” When I went to North Carolina, they couldn’t bring her, which I was nervous about because I’d just started getting a flow. My new teacher comes in and she’s all [stiffens up and purses lips] and I go, “Here’s the blue string and the green string and the yellow string…” She was like, “What?! Aren’t you supposed to be a musician?” I was like, “Yes.” She’s like, “Take those colours off of there – can’t you just listen?”

Did you learn anything about your own ethnic history making this film?
I definitely was aware of that era but I really learned the way that people came together, that everybody wasn’t just an evil, hating person at that time, and the determination people had to move on to more freedom and more rights. You forget that, because everything’s very open and possible now. To remind myself of that was good.

Will racism ever be fully erased?
No, because there are still silly, stupid people in the world that teach people to hate. So it’s never gonna fully be erased. When people continuously talk about the war on terrorism, they show a certain face to the point where you’re forced to believe that a face looking like this is a terrorist. Does that mean every face that looks like that is a terrorist? No. But that’s the kind of silly teachings of hate that we’re taught. I don’t think that racism has ever really gone, I think it’s just hidden a little better.

Maybe Obama will change all that – if he gets elected.
I don’t see it being a possibility that he won’t be the president. He’s so incredibly inspiring. I don’t see how anybody could possibly think that the other side’s a good idea. I just don’t see it!

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