Queen Latifah at premiere of 'Just Wright'If there were a hierarchy of modern renaissance women, Queen Latifah would be right at the top. Actor, rapper, singer, film and music producer, Cover Girl spokeswoman and plus-size role model, the former Dana Elaine Owens -- and Newark, New Jersey, native -- can seemingly do anything, and do it well.

Flavor Unit, the management/production company run by Latifah and partner Shakim Compere, has put out several films, most recently 2007's 'The Perfect Holiday.' Opening this weekend is their latest, 'Just Wright,' directed by Sanaa Hamri ('Something New,' 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2'). The rom-com stars Latifah as physical therapist Leslie Wright, a rabid New Jersey Nets fan who meets and treats the team's injured star, Scott McKnight (Common); though he's initially involved with Leslie's gorgeous roommate Morgan (Paula Patton), complications arise. The movie's romantic scenes alternate with rousing on-court sequences featuring several NBA players and real-life sports personalities.

Moviefone spoke to Latifah about the movie, her role models and dream projects. Queen Latifah at premiere of 'Just Wright'If there were a hierarchy of modern renaissance women, Queen Latifah would be right at the top. Actor, rapper, singer, film and music producer, Cover Girl spokeswoman and plus-size role model, the former Dana Elaine Owens -- and Newark, New Jersey, native -- can seemingly do anything, and do it well.

In the movie world alone, Latifah (who took the Arabic name meaning "gentle" and "kind" at the age of eight) has amassed a varied body of work, playing, among other things, a bank robber in 'Set It Off,' a nurse in 'The Bone Collector,' a show-stopping prison matron in the musical 'Chicago' (for which she was Oscar-nominated) and a former crack addict turned AIDs activist in TV movie 'Life Support' (for which she won a Golden Globe).

Flavor Unit, the management/production company run by Latifah and partner Shakim Compere, has put out several films, most recently 2007's 'The Perfect Holiday.' Opening this weekend is their latest, 'Just Wright,' directed by Sanaa Hamri ('Something New,' 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2'). The rom-com stars Latifah as physical therapist Leslie Wright, a rabid New Jersey Nets fan who meets and treats the team's injured star, Scott McKnight (Common); though he's initially involved with Leslie's gorgeous roommate Morgan (Paula Patton), complications arise. The movie's romantic scenes alternate with rousing on-court sequences featuring several NBA players and real-life sports personalities.

Moviefone spoke to Latifah about the movie, her role models and dream projects.

'Just Wright' is the ultimate fantasy movie for women who are sports fans and die-hard romantics. Not only does your character date an NBA star, but several teams want to hire her.
She's a fortunate woman.

What did you like best about Leslie Wright?
I love that she's a real girl with real curves, hard-working and successful in her own right who's just an avid basketball fan. I love the energy that she has at the games and the fun that she got to have with Morgan (Patton); they're so opposite in so many ways. Leslie's more like her father and Morgan is like Leslie's mom. Kind of funny to see the dynamic in Morgan's world ... she's still a nice girl, just a little misguided.



An interesting aspect of the movie was the pro athletes' "wives club" and a character who makes it her life's goal.
There are a lot of women out there who are like that, who want to achieve that fantasy. I think the interesting thing about it was that Leslie has her own fantasy, but hers is more about love and falling in love with someone who is absolutely in love with her in the same way. Whereas Morgan's fantasy is about being a sort of princess, someone who gets to live the lifestyle of the wife of an NBA player, to sit in that section at games, to have the latest fashions, to be swept off her feet in more of a financial way ... the whole lifestyle that comes with with being involved with someone who's affluent and famous.

Paula Patton played it nicely.
She played it amazingly. At the premiere, there were not only industry people but a lot of regular people who we just gave tickets to, and it played so well. People really laughed at her character a lot, were angry with her sometimes, they cheered for some things. It was great to see it with that energy.

You've known Paula for a while?
Yeah, we're friends and we also manage Paula, and we've known her and her husband Robin [Thicke] for years. It was kind of easy to achieve the sort of chemistry we needed. She's going to be a great actor to watch in the future.

Common and Latifah in 'Just Wright'Speaking of casting, Common was great in his role because he's believable on a romantic level, but he's also clearly an athlete. Did you even consider anyone else?
We considered a couple of NBA players who could act, which would have sort of been the ultimate, but I think the acting was equally important as the athleticism; and once Common came into play for the character, I know him as a friend, and he kind of embodies a lot of the same qualities as Scott McKnight. And he really had a desire to play this role. He called me and talked about it, then he called me again.

He really wanted it.
He really did. He felt that this was something he could sink his teeth into. Because as a kid he always wanted to be an NBA player. He was a ballboy for the Bulls when Michael Jordan was on the team. He's been around professional sports since he was a kid, and his father played professionally for the ABA, so I think it's something that's in his blood. And he's also a very sensitive and caring individual, a beautiful person, so I felt that he was perfect for the romantic side of Scott.

Not to be shallow, but he also looks really good.
Oh no, he's fine as hell.

Yeah, that's a small part of it.
Just a smidge.

And I'm sure others have said this, but maybe the Nets need a Scott McKnight now, right?
Yeah, I'm sure. We need somebody. We definitely need an injection of quality players, top-notch players on our team.

You're saying "we," so you really are a fan.
Well, yeah, I'm from Jersey; it's almost like I was automatically born a Nets fan.

Sanaa Hamri has directed romantic comedy, but she'd never shot a sports movie before. You obviously had faith in her.
I did, because we interviewed several directors, but we just felt that she had a grasp on what this story was and how important it was that both elements came across and that it looked really polished, that it looked luxurious, that Scott really looked like he was an NBA playe. And she knew that the sports scenes had to look very realistic because we have the support of the NBA, we have NBA players appearing in these scenes, and it is playoff season; and for people who are at fever pitch about basketball, we know how exciting it needed to look. Furthermore, I'm a basketball fan, my partner Shakim is a basketball fanatic and so is our leading man, so we all knew what it needed to come across well and Sanaa executed it wonderfully.

Queen Latifah in 'Just Wright'And you had a lot of cooperation from the Nets themselves. Practically the whole front office is in the movie.
Oh yeah, they were. One of the Nets assistant coaches worked with Common every day and trained him, really put him through the paces of what an NBA player would go through so that he'd really be on point. And it was good because he didn't have to fake too much. Common was able to nail the shots and do all the things that enabled him to look like an NBA player. It was funny because at one point I'm on the sidelines and they're getting a shot of myself and the coach talking and Common's shooting around, shooting three-pointers, and whenever he would miss [laughs] the coach would say, "No, no, man, you gotta knock that down." He did not know how to act, all he knew was basketball -- and even though we're shooting a scene in the movie, he's talking to Common like he's really in the NBA, demanding that he do better. It was really hilarious.

Leslie's and Scott's mothers are played by Pam Grier and Phylicia Rashad, respectively. How did you get them on board?
We just gave them a call and had them read the script and they were in. With James Pickens, who played my father, I called him myself as well to see if he would be interested. I knew he had a limited schedule with 'Grey's Anatomy' and he had another play that he was doing in the summer, so we were very fortunate to be able to work that out and have them all be a part of it. Phylicia is amazing and there were those pinch-me moments, where you gotta pinch yourself and ask if this is really what you do for a living, working with Clair Huxtable and Foxy Brown? So I'm thankful.

Sounds like it might have been fun to make this movie.
It was a lot of fun; it was a lot of work because we shot over a short period of time in New York City and New Jersey on location, and it was raining so much last summer that it was just wet so much of the time, but we all pulled together. You can't make a movie by yourself. So it's hats off to our cast and crew, they made it happen.

Leslie Wright can be a role model for a lot of girls and women, and you yourself have obviously been one for years. When you were growing up, was there anyone in entertainment that you looked to as a role model?
Well, I guess it comes back to Clair Huxtable [laughs]. That whole family of people ['The Cosby Show']. My mom was my main influence growing up and Phylicia Rashad reminded me a lot of my mother, just the way she handled certain things, she was ... not soft-spoken but smooth-spoken. Just very calm, cool, collected about things. There were musicians that influenced me, but they weren't all women. Teena Marie was a big influence because she wrote and produced her own music, which let me know that women could write and produce their own music, which was an empowering moment for me.

Latifah and Paula Patton in 'Just Wright'Your production company has deals with BET and VH1. There's a film for the latter called 'Single Ladies' in the works?
Yeah, we're actually shooting today. Kind of like an urban 'Sex and the City,' set in Atlanta, starring LisaRaye McCoy, Stacey Dash, Lauren London. We have a sitcom for BET called 'Let's Stay Together,' which is about young couples making it in the world. So it's all coming together. A lot of other irons in the fire.

Anything musical coming up for you?
I'm about to finish my third standards album. This one will be a live album, not yet titled, we'll be doing that hopefully in the next month, getting that out in time for summer. We're going to record it either here in New York or L.A.

Is there any dream project you've had in mind but haven't yet done?
I would like -- either as an actor, or producer or even director -- to do something sci-fi or action-related. I like sci-fi, always have, 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' and all that stuff. And Bessie Smith is a character that I've always wanted to play; I'd love to see that come to fruition.

Any other upcoming projects or appearances you'd like to mention?
I have a book coming out called 'Put on Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom.' It's sort of an inspirational book for young women. Just kind of talks about the things I've gone through in my life, how I did it and how I continue to live life. It's not so much a self-help book, it's really more of a conversation with the reader, sort of giving you check points that I've hit along the way, whether they were good ones or bad ones, and how I handled those moments and dealt with those things. There's even a chapter written by my mom, so you can see the root of where all of this comes from.