by Ian Spelling
Lynn Whitfield is all about style and grace and, truth be told, shopping for bargains. Gorgeous and talented, Whitfield grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, eventually making it out to L.A., where she found work in such films as Dr. Detroit and Silverado. She then turned up the heat in HBO's The Josephine Baker Story. Whitfield has been busy ever since, acting in TV productions and, unforgettably, as Martin Lawrence's jilted lover in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate. SMOKE tracked down the vacationing Whitfield in the South of France to chat with her about her past, present, and future, as well as women with stogies, her newest film and the best thing she's bought lately.
What's with women and cigars?
It's an irreverence that's opposed to what women are supposed to be doing. It's hard to explain why it's so popular right now. It probably has to do with the fact that you don't have to inhale and, you know, there's something very sexy about a woman smoking a cigar.
You scared the hell out of me in THIN LINE. How do men react to you these days?
Let's just say I don't have a steady date. (Laughs). Men would say, "I hope you're not REALLY like that." They STILL say that! I think a woman scorned and taking revenge is a man's greatest fear in life. Don't you? (Laughs, evilly). And how men react to me now separates the men from the boys.
JOSEPHINE BAKER and THIN LINE are the two credits for which you're best known. What impact have they had on your career?
Josephine Baker created its own following. People pop that video into their VCRs on a regular basis. It's historical material that people find interesting. It also had a great story, was bright and colorful, and had great music. Thin Line created for me a younger, more cutting-edge audience. I'll walk around Manhattan and guys yell, "Aw, man! You were cold!" It's very funny.
What haven't you gotten to do yet as an actress that you're itching to do?
I want to do an action film. I want to do a straight-forward romantic comedy. And I must do the Angela Davis story.
Davis is a social activist known to some. What would be the power of her story?
The power is that you've got to stand up for what you believe in. What's the point of being here if you don't care for something deeply and fight for it? She stood for what she saw as a need for fairness in society. Not everybody agreed with her, but that's OK. It's exciting that she's still alive, still teaching, still fabulous. I'm trying to produce it as an independent feature. This film will happen.
What made you want to be an actress?
It's really WHO made me want to be an actress. Audrey Hepburn. Marilyn Monroe. Dorothy Dandridge. Lena Home. Cicely Tyson. I adored these people. Still do. Sitting in Baton Rouge, watching old movies with my grandmother - bless her, she let me stay up late to watch these things - I saw these women make people laugh or cry. I've known since I was five I'd be doing this.
Are you pleased with your career?
I always want more. Looking at the whole scheme of things and how I'm growing, I am pleased. Right now, I'm ready to deal with more features, producing, whatever. I'd love to do the films Michelle Pfeiffer does. Whatever happens, happens. I'm in a good period, a good space.
Tell us about your latest film, EVE'S BAYOU...
It's an exploration of a dysfunctional family, seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl (Jurnee Smollett). Samuel Jackson plays her womanizing dad and I'm her mother, who suffers from bad self-esteem. It's also about the mysticism Louisiana holds. It was exciting because I'm from there and I know these people like the back of my hand. The film shows us a lot about an African-American group the mainstream hasn't seen.
Let's talk about your director, Kasi Lemmons. Not only is she a woman, but she's African American, and a first-time director...
Because of all those things, I was so in support of Kasi and her vision. There's never enough time or money on independent films, so all of us were rooting for Kasi, and we got behind her and tried to help her tell her story. I'm very proud of Kasi. It was a tough shoot. Now I know what it could take to get the Angela Davis project on screen.
Any interest in directing?
No, no, no. I have no desire to have 50 people at once wanting answers from me. I'm myopic that way. I can only do one or two things at a time. So, I won't be directing. Ask me again next year.
What's life like for you offscreen?
I have a six-year-old daughter with a very active social calendar. We live in Manhattan, which is one of the world's most wonderful cities. My daughter and I wander up and down the city on a weekend and see everything from puppet shows to musicians. It's amazing, so vibrant. Life offscreen in New York makes me a better artist. It's raw, real, sophisticated and urbane all at once. Also, my producing efforts keep me busy. That part of my life involves raising money, keeping my writer and director happy and in the loop. That's important time for me. And I just LOVE shopping.
What's the best thing you bought lately?
I was in Paris. It was a gorgeous, black suede skirt. As long as I keep mv waist size at its current size I'll wear it until I'm at least 70.
SMOKE - Fall '97
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