Conversation with . . . Jill Scott

31 03 2009

Fresh off receiving rave reviews for her lead role in the new HBO series, “The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency,” actress Jill Scott is poised to breakout. The Grammy-award winning singer sat down with Wilson Morales to talk about her show and the changes in her life.

Who knew that when she won praise for her performance in Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?” she’d follow up by working with an Oscar-winning director? On Sunday, March 29, Scott will be playing the role of Precious Ramotswe in “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” when the series premieres on HBO. The pilot episode is directed by the late Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient”).

Based on a series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith, Scott plays a Botswanan woman who starts up the country’s first female-owned detective agency. In the series, she is paired with a cast of talented actors, including Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose, Idris Elba, Colin Salmon, David Oyelowo and Lucien Msamati.

On route to Africa to shoot the series, Scott learned she was pregnant. This came as a shock, because doctors told the Grammy Award-winning singer that she wasn’t able to bear children. Scott and her partner, drummer Lil’ John Roberts, are expecting a baby next month.

The celebrated singer and actress spoke with Morales about landing the role, working with Minghella, who died before the film had its BBC premiere last year, and working with Tyler Perry on a sequel to “Why Did I Get Married?”

How did the project come about for you?

Jill Scott: Well, I had heard through the grapevine. My agent called me and told me that Anthony Minghella was auditioning for a role, and I am a huge, huge fan of his work. I had seen “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and thought that was amazing. The acting was fantastic, and I knew the director had to be the bomb based on what he pulled out of those actors. I was told about the audition, and I went and auditioned once by video. I went back to audition in New York by video. Then I got a call a couple of days later saying that Anthony Minghella was flying in from London to Philadelphia to meet me, which was a huge deal. He came, and we auditioned for about five hours. Every time I saw him after that, I think I auditioned two more times, and it was five hours each time. He had been looking for his Precious Ramotswe for two years at this time.

Did you do anything special to help nail the part?

JS: No. I wish I could have thought of something to do, but I just did whatever he had asked me to do, like play the character with a cold or play the character with one leg. I’m a director’s actor in my opinion, and when a director does their part, it thrills me to have that kind of guidance. I love it.

On your way to Botswana you get the news of your pregnancy. How did that work out?

JS: Well, it stopped things for a moment absolutely. I was told I was pregnant on Friday, and I was supposed to be leaving that day at noon. I found out at 10 a.m. It sort of throws you for a huge loop, especially since I was told could never be pregnant. This was a shock, a complete and utter shock to me. I just had to hold things for a day. I called my doctors and, of course, I called my family to let everyone know and to find out if it was okay to travel for that long distance during my first trimester of pregnancy. I wanted to know that I was all right because I hadn’t had any shots. What were the possibilities? I wanted to know them all. Once I got the go-ahead from my doctors, I left the following day.

How was filming in Botswana?

JS: It was a challenge this time. The first time we shot there was in the summer of 2007. Our summer is their winter. When we got off the plane, we were surprised to find out how cold it was. You needed hats, scarves, gloves and all of that. It was cold. Nobody told me that Africa could be cold. I had no clue. This time around, we went in our fall, which is their summer, and it was the exact opposite. It was 110, 112, 115 degrees for no reason, just because it’s Wednesday or Thursday. That was a challenge. Being pregnant and the heat were very difficult for me, but I had great doctors around me. The crew really paid attention. They didn’t seem to mind it so much. There was a deadline, and I’m the lead. As far as I know, I’m the first African American woman to be the lead of an HBO series, so there was a lot of pressure to get the job done, even between morning sickness.

After you did the pilot episode, did you read the books?

JS: No, I read the books before I left for Botswana. By the third audition, I had all the books. I was busy touring, and I had finished shooting “Why Did I Get Married?” I didn’t know anything about the books. Once I read them, I thought this character is so sweet and so powerful and so endearing, and I wanted to be a part of that.

Did you get a chance to talk to author Alexander McCall Smith about the character he created?

JS: Quite frankly, he stayed out of the way. Being a writer myself, sometimes you have that urge to direct, but he had full faith in Anthony and in the production itself. When he met me, I remember him saying, “Oh my God, Precious, it’s really you. You’re exactly what I thought you would be.” That was a wonderful feeling. It also made Anthony very happy as well.

To read the rest of the interview, click here.




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