Television

Q&A: Emmys 2015: Queen Latifah stays calm (on the outside) over ‘Bessie’ nomination

Bessie

Queen Latifah in “Bessie." 

(Frank Masi / HBO)

It took two decades to bring “Bessie” to fruition, but the wait seems to have been worth it.

On Thursday morning, star and executive producer Queen Latifah was honored with an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in the HBO biopic, which picked up 12 nominations overall -- making it one of the most recognized programs of the year. 

FULL COVERAGE: Emmy nominations

We caught up with Latifah shortly after she heard the good news. 

Congratulations. How are you feeling? 

I’m feeling pretty good. This is very exciting.

Where were you when you found out?

I’m here at my mom’s house in New Jersey. I just got off a plane from Paris last night. It was quietly playing on the television and I just turned over and it began, so it began. And now it’s like, what? Is this really happening?

Were you reluctant to watch the nomination announcement in case you jinxed yourself?

You know what, everyone else around me gets so excited about these things. And I do [get excited] on the inside but I tend to remain the calm one. I just try to remain really calm and relaxed and I start hearing a bunch of screams around me and I know it’s really happening. So the house has lightened up a bit. 

Emmy Nominations: Complete list | Snubs/Surprises | Social media reaction | Diversity | Drama | Comedy | PHOTOS: Nominees | Reactions

You’ve been nominated before. What kind of lessons did you learn from that?

First of all, enjoy the moment, enjoy these moments. I’ve been nominated for an Emmy award before, it’s exciting. I think it’s one of the most beautiful awards. I’m really honored to be a part of experiences like this because it’s like the work is speaking, the hard work that everyone does, to make something like this happen, all the folks that you work with, the time that your family sacrifices to follow your dream, your gift, it really means so much and it validates what you do and it gives them a chance to say, “Well done.” And I genuinely appreciate that. I feel very grateful and I feel very proud of myself.

I know it took guts to do what I did on that screen and I’m proud that I had the guts to do it. She deserved to have her story told with every bit of fearlessness that she had, and every bit of pain and every bit of talent, as much as I could garner to honor Bessie’s story. I’m thankful to all the writers through the years who’ve created versions of the scripts, for Dee Rees to bring it home and also to be nominated as a director.

What has the response been from viewers? 

They thought it was incredible. People have really, really responded, “Wow, you knocked it out of the park.” For people who’ve watched me through the years, even some people who were jaded, they said, “This is your best work.” People called me when they saw it that didn’t have to pick up the phone or email me out, but felt like they had to do that. That means a lot. 

This is a big year for diversity in TV. How does it feel to be a part of that?

It’s very important point for me, this is something that we’ve always done with our company, Flavor Unit, really just trying to provide that opportunity, trying to tell our stories, and show people in a different light, trying to convince people in Hollywood, hey, we can’t all be lumped together. You can’t stereotype us.

There are so many stories to tell and the more of us who are able to tell stories, the more you see what life is really about, especially in this country. You can knock down the ridiculousness of the past if we’re willing to face the present truthfully and honestly and deal with the past as it really was and yet look forward to the future. This is an exciting time, people should be brave, excited. We should look forward to hearing different stories, it’s what keeps life interesting.

There’s room for everyone, that’s how it’s supposed to be. You do great work you should be honored for that work, it should not be a question of your skin color but it’s been like that too long. It’s a wonderful thing to see people giving these accolades from the bodies who really mean something in our industry. 

VIDEO: Emmy contender chats

How do you feel about your fellow nominees?

I respect every one of them. I know they do great work. They’ve been doing great work. I’m amongst great company and I think they all feel the same about me... It comes down to that work. 

What show do you wish you could be a part of?

I would have loved to have played one of the dragons in “Game of Thrones.” I love “Game of Thrones.” That would be something for the sci-fi fantasy part of my mind. 

Follow @MeredithBlake on Twitter.