The versatile actress discusses her role in the romantic comedy sequel to the 1999 hit movie, The Best Man.
Actress Nia Long
Tavis: Nia Long was one of the reasons “The Best Man” was a huge hit back in 1999. Some 14 years later, the sequel is finally here. Titled “The Best Man Holiday,” the movie reunites all of the actors from the first film.
Joining Nia again are Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan and others. In this sequel, the long-time friends, estranged now for nearly 15 years, come together for a long holiday weekend where they discover just how easy it is for rivalries and romances to be reignited – ooh. (Laughter) Let’s take a look at a clip from “The Best Man Holiday.
Tavis: (Laughter) Was that, was that, was that you kissing a white man?
Nia Long: Oh, gosh. That’s not my first white man.
Tavis: I know, but I just (laughter) –
Long: I like all flavors, Tavis. Come on, now.
Tavis: All right, so I don’t want to give this away, but obviously we know one piece of the storyline here. So what is your character doing 15 years later?
Long: Oh, let’s see. Well, Jordan was a segment producer in the first film.
Tavis: I remember this.
Long: Now she is sort of running the network. She’s doing her thing as a producer. She’s taking her time; she’s focused solely on her career. She put love and relationship on the side burner to be this amazing producer, and she made it.
Now she’s realizing, I think through the story as – I don’t want to give too much away, but as the story develops you see that she truly is recognizing that there’s power in being vulnerable and finding love and finding a partner, and that career isn’t everything. I think that’s something that a lot of women struggle with.
Tavis: What did you – was there something or some things that you needed to see to make you want to come back to do this? Because once – I find, at least, and you’re the actress here, not me, but I’m just a Hollywood fan.
Sometimes people do stuff a second time or a third time or a fourth time, and I wish they’d stopped after the first time.
Tavis: So as an actress, what did you need to see in this script the second time around to make you want to come back and do it again?
Long: I think the main thing was that the entire cast supported the idea of doing a sequel. That was it for me. If we – it was like I don’t think any of us would have really done it had we not all been a part of it.
We’re all friends. We’ve all grown, our careers have grown, we’ve become parents, we’ve become – Terrence Howard is a grandfather, you know what I mean? So life has changed, and it was just an interesting notion to see what would happen if you put these group of friends together 17, 18 year later, and whoa, where is their life now?
Long: The script is not going to be what anyone expects. I don’t think the story is going to be what anyone expects.
Tavis: I hope you’re right about (unintelligible) saw you kissing a white guy, so I wasn’t expecting that. (Laughter) So – I should stop this, because all the white guys are going to hate me for being – yeah.
Long: The white guys are not going to tune in.
Tavis: No, no, no, no –
Long: We love you, white guys. (Laughter)
Tavis: Yeah. The white guys love you, obviously. That’s pretty clear. Were there – you’re right about the fact that the characters’ lives have changed, but you’re also right about the fact that the actors’ lives have changed.
Are there parallels between Nia and Jordan in terms of how their lives have changed over the years, or vast distinctions and differences?
Long: I think the major thing is before I became a mom it was all about my career. How many films can I do, how many places can I travel, how many red-eyes can I get on and get up in the morning and show up on set and feel great.
My priorities are just a little different now. My priorities are really about creating balance in my home, making sure that I have enough time with my kids, making sure that I have the time to do the things that I want to do with my career, and to continue to make movies.
But also to think about the next phase, which for me is writing and producing and directing. I’ve done a little, I’ve dabbled a little bit before, but I think now more than ever it’s something that I’m really passionate about.
Tavis: I want to come to the writing and producing and directing in just a second. The last time I think we saw each other was –
Long: “House of Lies.”
Tavis: “House of Lies,” thank you – a tribute for – I love the show, “House of Lies.”
Tavis: You, of course, are in that.
Long: Not anymore.
Tavis: Not anymore – well, you were.
Long: I was.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, which I loved.
Long: That’s their fault. No, I’m kidding. No, no.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. It’s their fault? It’s their loss.
Long: No, no, here’s the thing.
Tavis: See, you just broke news. I didn’t know that. (Laughter)
Long: No, no, no. Here’s the thing. They asked me to come on to do one season, and a lot of times with these shows they’ll bring on a couple characters every season. It wasn’t like I was signed on to be a permanent fixture in the show.
Tavis: But I wanted to see you next season.
Long: I wanted to be there too. Listen, Marty Kaan is a you-know-what, and I was so ready to get in his you-know-what. (Laughter) I was dying for them to write that next season.
I even saw Don Cheadle – where were we? We were at – I don’t remember where we were. I was like, “Come on, Don, you’ve gotta bring Tamara back.” He goes, “If I bring her back, I’m going to have to kill her.” I’m like, “Great. I’ve never died in anything. Bring her back.” (Laughter)
Tavis: Well, I didn’t know that when I said that. I was hoping that you were going to come back for another season. But it still doesn’t –
Long: You never know. They could call me. You never know.
Tavis: Okay. I hope they do. Please, hey, hey, hey, hey – “House of Lies” call Nia, she ought to be back this next season. (Laughter) But it doesn’t stop me from asking the question I want to ask, which is over these 15 years, 14 years, since you’ve done, did the first “Best Man,” before I get to writing and directing, has your career gone in the way that you thought it would go? Nia Long’s – forget Jordan.
Long: Right, my career.
Tavis: We’ll see the movie about how Jordan’s career’s worked out. Has yours gone the way you want? Has the trajectory been what you wanted it to be 14 years ago when you were headed in this direction?
Long: That’s – no one’s ever asked me that question, and I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it in those terms. I think my commitment to this business has been to do the things that move me.
To understand that there are political challenges, to understand that there are things that are so far out of my control, but that I can still aspire to get to where I wanna be regardless of if they choose me or not.
So it took a long time to get to the place where that is a reality. For most actors, we have to wait to be picked. That’s kind of how the game works.
Tavis: Let me jump in, though, because I’m with you, and I’m fascinated by this, Nia. How do you, then, or how has Nia gone about getting where she wants to be without waiting to be chosen?
Because the problem with this business is – I can say this and you can’t, maybe – the problem with this business where Black actors and actresses is concerned is that they can’t hold in their head the names of more than two or three people at a time.
Tavis: So you know what I mean by this.
Tavis: When you in the flow, you in the flow.
Tavis: And when you’re not, they move on to the next three. Whereas other communities don’t have that issue. A variety of people can work –
Long: That’s exactly right.
Tavis: – in a variety of roles. But for us, they got two or three Negroes now that are in, (laughter) and that’s who they going to work until they’re out.
Tavis: Then they pick somebody else.
Long: Or until you start asking for the money that you deserve.
Long: Then they go and find someone who is –
Tavis: Ah, who’ll do it for less.
Long: A “like” whomever, and pay less.
Long: So that’s sort of how it works.
Tavis: So how then have you navigated this journey over the last 14 years of getting where you want to go, to your point, without having to wait to be chosen?
Long: I think the business is what I do for work, but when I close my doors, my life is my life. My children are everything. I’m smart with my money. I don’t live above my means.
I have a great partner and supporter. When they don’t want me, somebody else does. I close my doors and I’m mommy, and that is the greatest thing you can ever be.
I think that I’m not afraid to say no, and sometimes it’s hard to say no, but I’d rather make the adjustments in my own life so that I can always say no if it’s not right for me.
There’s a lot of security in that. There’s a lot of – it takes a lot of confidence, it takes a sense of fearlessness. I’m a self-made woman. I’ve never compromised myself. So look, I just take one moment at a time, and honestly, I meditate, I pray, I keep myself just insulated.
There’s the inner circle, there’s very few there, and then there’s that outer circle, and if you keep yourself where you need to be up here, I feel like the rest just comes.
Tavis: Yeah. See –
Long: You’ve got to trust. It’s really trusting – I know this sounds like woohoo, but you have to trust that whatever is for you is for you.
Tavis: Yeah. I have a friend who says all the time you have to trust the process.
Long: You have to trust the process.
Tavis: You have to trust the process. You don’t control most of it anyway.
Long: You don’t.
Tavis: But see, I get that there is a peace and a tranquility and a centeredness that comes when you get home and close the door that only your family and loved ones can bring.
But you’re also an artist.
Long: I am.
Tavis: So when those choices that you’d like to be making don’t come your way artistically, how do you go about expressing yourself?
Long: Oh, I just get out a piece of pen and paper and get some crayons, and we draw. (Laughter) No, listen, the truth of it is this. There are moments when I’m frustrated; there are moments when I’m disappointed. There are moments when I go, “How come I didn’t know about that?”
There are moments when I say wow, that’s such a great opportunity. But I’m never angry, though, because I do, I go back to my faith, and that’s the part that allows me to go oh, well, it was just her turn. Oh, well, it was just his turn.
I’ve seen people come and go, and I think the biggest thing that I’m – the most amazing part of all of this is that I’m still here. I started at such a young age, and I’m only 25. (Laughter) I’ve reinvented myself, and morphed myself into many characters.
But I’m still standing. So I look forward to this next phase of my career. I look forward to see what’s going to happen next, and now I have a tribe that gets to come with me.
So if I fail, I know there’s someone there to pick me back up, and I don’t have any regrets. I can’t say “any.” I have a few, but I don’t have anything that has made me feel like gosh, I blew it on that one.
Tavis: The regrets that you do have – and you don’t have to get any deeper than you want to get, obviously; not that you would anyway. Nia’s going to do what she wants to do. (Laughter)
Long: I’m glad you know that by now.
Tavis: I know that, I know that by now.
Long: Everybody knows that. I don’t know why everyone knows that about me. (Laughter)
Tavis: But when you say that you do have some regrets, we all do.
Long: Yeah. That’s part of life.
Tavis: We’re not human and divine, we’re just human, so as humans we make mistakes, we have regrets.
Long: That’s right.
Tavis: When you say you have regrets, though, are they regrets about roles taken, regrets about roles turned down, regrets about – give me some sense of the categories.
Long: I did a film many years ago called “Alfie,” and I played opposite Jude Law, and I think that was a disappointment for me, because I really thought more people would support that film, and I thought that maybe perhaps that would be the film that would sort of break the glass ceiling for me.
It didn’t happen, and it was okay. But that to me was like, whoa – here I am, the only one of two Black people in the film, and you think that it takes that to break the glass ceiling, but the truth is it doesn’t matter who else is in the film with you.
It’s the project, it’s the timing, it’s the director, it’s his will, and it’s who you project onto that screen. When all of those things come in this perfect package, then you know you’ve taken it to the next level.
But I’m not sitting here going, “Well, I should have more than what I have,” or “Why am I not a big, fat movie star that’s making millions of dollars?” I don’t really have that – I’m not so concerned about that. I think my path is my path, and I’m – Heavy D. Oh, God, whenever I talk about him it just makes me want to tear up.
Tavis: I miss him, yeah.
Long: I miss him so much, and one day he said to me, he said, “It’s not a race, it’s a marathon, and you will run forever. You will be in the race forever.” He was like a brother to me, and that, whenever I start to feel that – I cannot believe I’m, like, tearing up right now.
Tavis: It’s okay.
Long: Because I just – oh.
Tavis: He’s a great guy.
Long: That was tough for me too, because he actually passed away the day after I gave birth to my baby, to Kez, in the same hospital, one floor down. So here I am giving birth, everyone’s in my hospital room, we’re all excited.
I get a call that he had passed away. He was just such an important person in my life and still is, because I think about him all the time. One of the things he just would always – and we started in the business together.
When he was nominated for his first Grammy, I was a young actress on a soap opera. He said to me, “Will you be my date,” and I said, “Yes,” and we were best friends for the whole, that whole big, fat chunk of life.
So he would just always say to me, like, “Listen, it is not a race, it is a marathon, and you will have everything you want.” But I feel really full and happy. I just would like to see more diversity in the roles. But everybody has that feeling.
Tavis: But see, here’s –
Long: I think it’s an artist’s – I think it is part of the journey you take as an artist, to not always have what you want. That you get it in stages.
Tavis: Okay, I accept that. So let me express my own frustration, though, on your behalf, and on the behalf of fans of yours like myself. So I take that, and that’s a very mature and adult way –
Long: Have to; otherwise you go crazy. (Laughter)
Tavis: It’s a very mature, a very adult way of handling it. You’re very charitable and you’re very generous, and I appreciate that. Now here’s the real deal.
Long: All right.
Tavis: I can’t think of one or two people, actresses, who are more beloved, who are more adored, who are more celebrated than you are inside of Black America, and we are a huge chunk of the movie-going public.
There’s a reason why – and I say this with all due respect – there’s a reason why even when you ain’t starring in nothing, you’re still on the covers of African American magazines.
Tavis: Because you sell magazines. Because Black people love Nia Long.
Long: Thank you, Black people.
Tavis: So part of it is – (laughter) and honestly, I’m not saying white people don’t. I’m just saying –
Long: No, no, no, but we’re – I understand. I’m with you.
Tavis: Yeah. In your own community, you are beloved, and so there is a frustration that people have that we don’t get to see you more.
Tavis: So part of it ain’t even about you; it’s just we mad that we can’t see you more.
Long: Right, and I’m mad that I can’t –
Tavis: Because you ought to be out there.
Tavis: The other part of it is that there are people – I’m not going to name names because it’s not about hating – but there are people who are less gifted, who are less talented, who we see more than we see you.
Tavis: So I’m glad you’ve got a mature and adult way of handling this, but part of the frustration is that there’s not a whole lot that we as ticket-buyers can say or do about that, except to support the work that you’re in, like “The Best Man Holiday.”
We vote with our ticket stubs when we come see you. But that’s part of the frustration. That’s my anger. I know I need some anger management about my –
Long: About your Nia Long.
Tavis: – about my Nia Long situation. I’ll get some anger management about that. But that leads – that’s a long soliloquy that leads to a question, which is how you navigate seeing folk who are less talented. That’s a judgment that every actor has to make.
Nobody wants to be public with all that kind of stuff, but I know there have got to be times when you’re sitting looking at something and you’re like, wow – wow.
Long: I’ve said “wow” a lot. (Laughter)
Tavis: I imagine so.
Long: I have. But I don’t think I’ve ever looked at anyone else’s career and said, “That should have been me.” I really don’t.
Tavis: Do you ever think –
Long: When I look at – when I think about – sorry.
Tavis: It’s okay.
Long: When I think about – like I’m so proud of what Kerry Washington is doing with “Scandal.” That was her job. All of us were seen for that show, but the truth is I went in there and didn’t know I was pregnant until weeks later, so that wouldn’t have worked out well for me.
Long: It was her moment. It was her job, and she’s doing an amazing job. So I don’t go – people have said to me, “Did you audition for that? How come that wasn’t you?” Those are just my fans who absolutely love me, and I’m sure they love Kerry as well.
But look, I could – I just don’t want to walk around being that angry Black chick that’s like pissed off that somebody else got a job. That’s a waste of energy.
Tavis: Yeah. So how then do you go about making choices? I’ll go back to “Alfie.” That was a very – that example as instructive, informative, and I think insightful about the way you view your career.
So if it – and every actor wants to breakthrough that ceiling. That’s what everybody wants, and you’re no different than anybody else, Black, white, or otherwise.
Long: And white actors too, exactly.
Tavis: I was just saying, Black, white, or otherwise, everybody wants that moment –
Long: Yeah, that next level.
Tavis: – that’s going to take them to the next level. Not that you are doing bad, because you ain’t.
Tavis: And to your point, you’ve been around a long time and you’re still working.
Tavis: But how do you come to terms, how do you, again, navigate daily hoping and praying for that moment when, by your own admission, you’re going to “break through?”
Long: Well, I think that’s an internal thing. I’m not really waiting for the world to validate that for me. I think that I have that. I think that I am that. I think that I’ve grown as a woman, as a mother, as a partner, as an artist. I don’t feel like I’m lacking in any way.
I feel really good and whole and full, and I mean, I wish I had a different answer that –
Tavis: That’s your honest answer.
Long: But this really is my honest answer, and the other part of it for me is I don’t really feel the need to rush through. I think the one great thing about being an actor is you can be an actor for the rest of your life.
I might not win my Academy Award until I’m 70-something years old, but I’m going to win it. I’m going to get there. I’m not worried about oh my God, is it going to ever happen, because it will.
Also too you’ve got to look at it like this – people met me when I was 16 years old, and that’s when I started in this business. I turn 43 in 10 days, nine days. That’s a long time. So I’ve lived my life in front of the camera.
The times that you saw me step away and shy away is because there were things in my life that at that time were more important. I never wanted to be this age and not have children. I never wanted to not have a family.
That was never part of my plan. So you can have everything, but just not at the same time.
Tavis: Same time, yeah. So let me circle back then to “The Best Man Holiday.” What, then, is the joy of being reunited with an all-star cast of Black folk in a movie that’s fun, full of fun and frolic, and some insights as well?
Long: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: What’s the joy like of being on the set when all of that energy is coming at you?
Long: Oh my gosh. We had nights where it felt like we were college dorm mates. The girls were constantly counting calories -constantly. (Laughter) “Did you just eat that chocolate chip cookie? Give me some of that. You’re not supposed to have that.” The girls were constantly counting calories.
The boys, the boys and the girls would have these very in-depth conversations about relationships and the difference between men and women, and because most of the guys are – I think everybody except – well, Terrence, Terrence isn’t married, but Taye is married, Morris is married, and Eddie is married, Harold’s married, and none of the girls are married, which I find to be very interesting.
I’m probably the only one that’s – I’m probably the closest to marriage, but – so there was a lot of debate, and the biggest debate was can a Black man who is successful and famous actually handle a Black woman who is equal to him?
Tavis: Oh, my. (Laughter)
Long: So that was a big one. Because they thought we were a bunch of like (makes noise) loudmouthed, complaining, bratty women, but honestly, they were the same way about certain things that they felt strongly about.
Tavis: See now that is a movie in and of itself.
Long: Oh yes it is.
Tavis: Before I go – I got to get out of here in two minutes. The writing, the producing, directing – how serious are you about that into the future?
Long: I have the rights to my dear friend Ann Wolfe, who is an amazing – well, was a professional boxer, and she is – it’s a very long story on how we met, but the bottom line is this is a coming-of-age film.
It’s about a single mom who, in order to save her children, had to learn how to box. So it’s her journey from the time she was 18 up until she became a professional boxer.
A lot of guys out there know who she is, and they’ve featured her on HBO and I saw the story, and Ime even said to me, “You’re going to love this story, Nia.” I watched it, I found her, I called her, I got the rights. We’re almost done with the script.
Tavis: So you’ll start in it as well?
Long: No, I’m going to direct it.
Tavis: So you’re just directing?
Long: Are you kidding me?
Long: I do not want to be in a boxing ring. (Laughter)
Tavis: I see you in the gym all the time, so I figured you were doing it for some reason.
Long: I’m like, no thank you.
Tavis: Jonathan, put those covers of “Ebony” back up again one more time. I want to just celebrate the beauty of these covers that our friends at “Ebony” have – isn’t that a gorgeous cover?
Long: Oh, we had so much fun.
Tavis: Those are all the sisters from “The Best Man Holiday.” Where’s the brothers? Let’s not leave the – there we go.
Tavis: There are the brothers. This is going to be a huge film.
Long: I hope so.
Tavis: I think it’s going to open big, and if it opens big, you’ll take it from there. But –
Tavis: – I’m going to congratulate you in advance on the success of the film.
Long: That’s sweet. I hope you come to the premiere.
Tavis: I’ll be there.
Tavis: I’ll be there. It’s good to see you.
Long: You too.
Tavis: Congratulations on everything.
Long: Thank you, thank you so much.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching. As always, keep the faith.
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
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