Four years after her Oscar-nominated turn in 2002’s “Chicago,” Queen Latifah is bringing Broadway to the multiplex all over again.
Latifah will play Motormouth Maybelle in the upcoming feature-film remake of “Hairspray,” based on both the 1988 film written and directed by John Waters and the Tony-winning Broadway musical. The former hip-hop MC says she’ll inject even more feistiness into the already-lively role of the R&B record-shop owner/dance-show host/civil-rights activist.
“[Maybelle] has a bit of sass already, so I’ll just bring what I can bring to it,” Latifah said recently, bearing a sly grin. “We’re still kind of a ways off [before we start filming], so I have some time to develop the character. But it’s kind of funny because she speaks in rhyme and that’s what I come from, so it’ll be [especially] fun.”
Adam Shankman — who directed Latifah in 2003’s “Bringing Down the House” — will oversee the project, which is set to start filming in the fall. He will also choreograph the dance moves, while Neil Meron and Craig Zadan — who helped executive produce “Chicago” — will serve as executive producers for this flick as well.
Set in 1962, “Hairspray” tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a tubby Baltimore teen who has dreams of landing a spot on a local dance show. When that dream is realized, the big-haired, bootylicious young woman uses her newfound stardom to break down racial barriers in her community.
The remake, due in 2007, will likely get a conventional overhaul, according to the Queen, but it will keep the spirit of the original film alive.
“We hope to make the project a little more edgy, a little more modern, but [still] make it just as fun as it has been in previous movies as well as on Broadway,” she said. “We’ll do a little singing, a little dancing, and I haven’t really done that since ’Chicago,’ so I’m looking forward to it.
The actress added that while she has been involved with the movie for a while, “John Travolta just agreed to do the movie, so right now it’s just me and him. I think Billy Crystal is going to do it as well. We’ll see who else is going to [come on board].”
Nearly 30 years after he rocked the box office with his disco-era dance moves, Travolta will slip into the high heels of Tracy’s mother, Edna, who is typically played by a man in drag (Harvey Fierstein won a Tony for his rendition of the desperate housewife).
Crystal is still in talks to play Tracy’s father, Wilbur. Not yet cast, however, is the lead role of Tracy — producers have been scouring for an unknown actress to nab the role. So far, New Line, the production company backing the film, has held auditions in New York, Atlanta and Chicago for an undiscovered talent to take on the role originally powered by bubbly actress-turned-talk-show-host Ricki Lake.
“I would love to see someone from the theater play that role and get a chance at film,” Latifah said. “But I would also love to see someone who’s been waiting in the wings. We’ll see what happens, but some young woman out there is about to be very lucky.”
The Queen also hinted that she might soon return to her music roots, infusing some much-beloved rap into her next album.
“It’s going to be fusion,” Latifah said of the follow-up to 2004’s jazz-driven The Dana Owens Album. “Anything I do at this point will probably have a combination of [everything]. I’ve got too many things in me, and I gotta let it all out.”
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