The rest of the world may be falling in love with Nia Long again, but Black audiences have never stopped appreciating the actress. We’ve grown up with her as she’s starred in the movies Boyz n the Hood, Friday, Love Jones and The Best Man franchise, as well as TV series like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and House of Lies. Long has never stopped working and it appears 2023 may be her busiest year yet. The actress can currently be seen in theaters in the thriller Missing, the Peacock limited series The Best Man: The Final Chapters and the new Netflix comedy movie You People. To celebrate her Hollywood takeover, the actress looked back on some of the most important moments of her career in an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment.
In addition to sharing memories about her early days working on the soap opera Guiding Light, she recalled her first meeting with John Singleton at the audition for Boyz n the Hood. Initially, Long wasn’t that interested in the project, so she didn’t really feel like making the extra effort to impress anyone. Turns out, being herself was the right call.
“I remember walking into this casting office and all the actors were standing around, and John Singleton was walking around the room looking at every actor. And he came up to me and he looked me up and down and he said, ‘What’s your name? Who are you?’ I said, ‘Well, who are you?’ And I kind of gave him that look like, ‘If you don’t get outta my face, boy we’re gonna have problems,’” she said. “And he was like, ‘I’m John Singleton, the director.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, hi, nice to meet you.’ And we hit it off. I went in and I auditioned and I just believed that he was going to tell a really important story that was close to my personal experiences and that he would be our Spike Lee on the West Coast. Spike was really representing the Black experience on the East Coast, and not just the East Coast, but he identified with Brooklyn… But there’s a whole situation going on in South Central that I really lived as a young girl. And I just think there will never be another John Singleton.”
The NAACP Image Award winner also addressed one of the biggest controversies from her career. For years now, there’s been a story floating around that Long turned down a role in 2000’s Charlie’s Angels to star in Big Momma’s House. Well, she set the record straight about what actually happened.
“That is the biggest fattest lie,” Long said. “Charlie’s Angels did not want me because they said I looked too sophisticated and too old next to Drew Barrymore. But listen, I thought Lucy Liu was great in that role. When I went back and looked at it, I was like, ‘Whoa, she’s really doing some stunts.’”
First of all, Nia Long looks like no time has passed since we were watching her in Love Jones, so I don’t think it’s possible for her to ever look too old. Despite this ridiculous excuse from the film’s producers, the Are We There Yet? star thinks that she made the right decision.
“I don’t know if I was quite ready for that. You can’t do everything, and every opportunity isn’t for you,” she said. “And as much as it would’ve been fun to play that character, I think Big Momma’s House was probably more fun for me.”
In one of the conversation’s most emotional moments, Long remembered how much fun she had working with Will Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, calling the famously energetic actor “Disneyland,” because he was so happy all the time. However, she also noted that being a star of his magnitude comes at a heavy cost saying “he’s carried a burden for many years to try to represent what perfection looks like or achievement looks like.”
“We all have our moments in life where we have to reconcile things that maybe we suppress. And I think it’s hard growing up in this business and being front and center every day, all day,” Long said. “I can go to the grocery store anytime I want to. And for the most part people are like, ‘Hey Nia Long, how you doing?’ No one’s chasing me down the street. I still have my anonymity and I appreciate that about my career. I appreciate that. However, I’ve managed to do that. That it’s, it’s the thing that allows me to stay connected to the people and to be human and not try to be this perfect being. And you know, I’ve had some pretty devastating moments in my life over the last couple of months and I’ve had to just say, ‘It’s all right. You’ll pick yourself back up.’”
You People starring Eddie Murphy, Nia Long and Jonah Hill premieres Jan. 27 on Netflix.