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Published April 2001

Whoopi takes a hold of Kingdom

Veteran thesp offers view on life and the biz

By Angela Baldassarre

Dateline: Los Angeles

Whoopi Goldberg is that rare beast in Hollywood: an African-American woman without the perfect body or face, middle-aged and, remarkably, still very successful.

Her latest pic, Doug McHenry's bittersweet Kingdom Come, sees the Detroit native as the matriarch of the wacky Slocumb family. Hubby has just dropped dead at the breakfast table, so now sons (LL Cool J, Anthony Anderson) and their wives (Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox), along with sister (Loretta Devine) and nephew (Darius McCrary) are forced together for the funeral.

Word talked to Whoopi Goldberg in Los Angeles.

It seemed that your role in Kingdom Come was an easy one.

"It was. That's who my character was. She's very laid back, she's not the star of the movie which I was thrilled about. I worked a couple of weeks then I went home. I was happy to have the work and I was happy to go home. It was nice to see those young folks running around and doing what they had to do in order to make the film work. So I was pleased to be in their company."

You were one of the first actors to sign on.

"Yes. The script made me laugh. Just the idea of someone dropping dead at the table and the family having to come together to deal with it, that was amusing to me 'cause it's a family that maybe we haven't seen before. I knew they wouldn't have greenlit the project if I didn't do it, which is a nice place to be."

What do you look for before you choose a role?

"It has to be short enough to keep my interest. It has to pay me well enough so I don't feel like I'm doing it for nothing, and I have to feel like there's a possibility we can have a good time doing it. As long as it pays a lot of my bills, that's enough for me to just cruise along. I'm just interested in having a good time, now. I don't want to be a star, I don't want a headache."

After The Colour Purple people expected you to disappear.

"Yeah. I was a flash in the pan. They didn't expect me to be around 20 years later. They didn't like the choices that I made, and some of the movies were beneath me. I realized that one has to build a career, and you never know what an audience is going to like, so you take a shot. It's not like I was sitting around and saying, here's The Silence of the Lambs and here's Eddie, what should I do? You take the best of what you're offered and you do the best job you can, and then you move on with it and hope for the best."

Why is Ghost still a favourite with audiences?

"Because everyone wants to believe that their loved one is there. I have a friend called John Edward who is helping people feel that their loved ones are still there. Everybody wants that, everybody needs to feel that somebody has their eye on your back."

Do you have a dream role?

"Thousands of them. But whether I'm actually going to get up off my backside and do them, that's another thing. I'm working with Cristina, the talk-show hostess, on doing the Celia Cruz story. Celia Cruz is the quintessential survival story. She looks like no one else, she sounded like no one else, and she's still the queen of Latin music. No one can ever touch what Celia Cruz did. It's a story that people need to know. She was a pioneer not because she weighed six ounces, but because she had it. Another thing that my company is trying to bring to the screen is something called Destined to Witness: Growing up Black in Nazi Germany. We own the rights to the book by Hans Massaquoi."

Is it a true story?

"Yes. That's why it needs to be done. People don't realize that during the course of the thirties in Germany there were a lot of people who were trying to survive. This gentleman, he's in his 70s now, was born in Germany, grew up in Nazi Germany and it's a phenomenal tale. The reason I love it is because it's so unusual. But people are scared of it. That's why we're having such a hard time getting it made."

Kingdom Come is opening only in select theatres. Why do you think that is?

"Because there are too many black people in it. They should put that on the poster. I've always worked in different kind of capacities and I found that people don't really care if there are too many black people in the movie. That's not been my experience with people who go to the movies. People are going to see something that they think is going to be interesting. I'm sure that the incidents that have taken place over the years with the protests that sometimes are mounted against movies that have a whole bunch of black people, if they'd been done by a white person, or if a movie doesn't get 11 Academy Awards because there was a protest, I don't know if I was a studio head if I'd be looking at an all-black cast and go 'y'know, I'm going to do this', and risk the wrath and be told I didn't do it right. I think people should let the moviemakers make the movies they want to make, be they full of black cast, or white cast, or what not. It'll be a lot easier. All of this focusing on what's black and what's white, that's never been my thing. I'll never be anything but black."

At the recent Academy Awards there were no blacks nominated. Any thoughts?

"Are you surprised? How many movies were we in? How much support did we give those movies? Is Miramax throwing money at African-American movies? What happened to the young man in Gladiator, or Cuba, or Don Cheadle, or Denzel in Titans? If you feel strongly about a movie, then go out and support it."

So what can be done?

"Write some parts. Write about the fact that you're feeling an emptiness. Remind the people that the industry isn't catering to a large part of the moviegoing community. If there were more roles, there would be more films, and more work for actors like us."

Angela Baldassarre can be heard live on Reel Entertainment at www.2kool4radio.com

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