Jersey girl Antonique Smith may have stolen our hearts while playing Faith Evans in the 2009 film “Notorious”, but these days the rising starlet is simply winning the game.

Interview: Aimstar

It’s an average day in New York City. It’s about noon and nothing particularly inspiring has happened yet. In a few minutes actress and singer Antonique Smith will be calling in from her Los Angeles home to discuss her new film projects: Abduction and Yelling to the Sky. The first of which is in theaters now, she plays Sandra Burns a CIA operative, opposite Alfred Molina and Twilight‘s Taylor Lautner, a role that is somewhat left of what we have come to know her for. In Yelling to the Sky, a story of survival and the family ties that bind, she plays Ola O’hara, older sister to Sweetness (played by Zoe Kravitz) who is coming of age, while battling the ins and outs of neighborhood happenings. Having received rave reviews, the film, which was recently picked up by MPI Media Group, is set to hit theaters sometime next spring.

Antonique, the New Jersey native who side-swiped us with her portrayal of Faith Evans in Notorious, the 2009 posthumous story on the life of rapper Biggie Smalls, seems pretty chill and mellow when she begins to talk. She doesn’t seem much like Mimi, the character she played in the Broadway reprisal of Rent for many years in the early 2000s (the one made famous by Rosario Dawson on screen in 2005) or when she played Maureen in the same play (different era) for that matter. As the conversation goes over, longer than was anticipated, she becomes the girl you know you’d want in your circle, the one you’ve just met but you feel like you’ve known forever…

So let’s talk about Yelling to the Sky….

Yes, me and Zoe Kravitz are sisters. I’m 20, she’s 17. We just have a crazy family life. Our dad is White, is an alcoholic and you know, somewhat abusive. Our mom is Black and she has some mental issues going on and we’re dirt poor, which being poor brings about its own hardships. So add that to the struggles that we’re dealing with our parents and Gabourey Sidibe is a bully for Zoe at school. It’s really an edgy drama and I’m really proud of it too. I’m proud of the work we did.

What I find interesting about it is that it features the new era of Black girls who are phenomenal actresses and something to be noted. You’re phenomenal as are welcomed newcomers Zoe Kravitz and course, Gabby. What was it like working on set together?

Thank you…it was great. They were great. We had a lot of fun [laughs]. We tried to have a lot of fun because it’s an indie [film] so the budget was kind of non-existent. The environment that we were shooting in really added to what we were kind of going through in the scenes, but in between it was cool. Me and Zoe really felt like sisters and it was a lot of fun. Gabby is a sweetie, so it was nice. It was good; it was unforgettable! [Laughs] In many ways, it was unforgettable. The blood, sweat and tears on that one so, totally unforgettable experience.

The roles you have chosen have also been unforgettable. You’ve been in Rent, which is actually one of my favorites.

Is it…

Yeah I’m such a nerd stan that I even have the soundtrack, which I probably play way too often. [Laughs]

Wow. [Laughs] Did you see it while I was in it?

Yep, sure did.

You did?! Oh wow, that’s nice.

So how do you go about selecting your roles, is it a matter of finding characters of depth—

Yes! It’s a matter of depth and it’s a matter of variety. Like I’m really picky; I turn a lot of stuff down. I know my team probably think I’m crazy, like, ‘Just work!’ But I mean, I really want to do things that not only challenge me, but that are so different than the other things I’ve done. I guess as the years go by, I’m sure some things will be kind of similar to others, but for now, I’m just really proud of the fact that I haven’t been locked in a box. I’ve been doing such different kind of characters where they all look and feel, and go through different experiences. Oh my god, I just feel so blessed though. It’s been kind of a dream just kind of the way things have unfolded. Because Mimi is so different from Faith—wait until you see Abduction! Nothing is more different than the role I’m playing in Abduction cause I’m not glamorous and I’m super official CIA agent. And it’s out today [at interview time]. Everything is different and I want to continue to do that as long as I can.

Are you concerned at all with roles in Hollywood for Black women in general?

Yeah. I’m excited when films like The Help have a bunch of women in it and a bunch of Black women in it, and does well for weeks in a row at number one. That excites me. I’m excited when someone like Zoe Saldana has a movie and she’s the lead and it does well. Even with Tyler Perry with all his movies doing so well. I know that when those movies do well, it means that Black people will get more work. It kind of comes down to what the consumers support because the studios are just trying to make money. They just want to do whatever people are going to pay to see. And I love when we get that kind of support, cause I always know that means there is more coming for us. And it’s not just Black women, it’s women. Women don’t get a lot of lead role opportunities so I’m excited to see The Help being number one for two-three weeks in a row, it’s going to show itself in the scripts coming out soon.

So are you recording these days? I didn’t know that you were interested in being a singer. I mean aside from Rent and Notorious…but recording?

Yeah a lot of people thought that might not have been me singing [in Notorious], but it was. And I am recording now and we’re thinking of possibly putting a teaser single out before the end of the year, but definitely there’s going to be an album coming out next year in 2012. And I’m really excited about that. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised, cause they do know me as an actress and sometimes you don’t expect too much to come from a person like that. But I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised.

Yeah, we’ve seen the Naomi Campbells. We’ve seen the Lindsay Lohans. [Laughs]

[Laughs] I’m not naming no names! But I feel you!

[Laughs] So what does your sound sound like?

I call it Pop Soul with a Hip-Hop appeal to it. I think subject matter wise, everybody is going to be able to identify with it and sound wise it’s kind of international. I think there’s going to be something for everybody.

Can you give us any insight to any producers you’re working with?

Right now, [Ronald] Jukebox [Jackson] who produced “Whip My hair” for Willow Smith. We did a bunch of songs together, he’s incredible and he’s got so much that’s about to come out with other artists himself, so that’s been really good. It’s been an array, but I can’t talk about too many people that I’ve been working with, but I can definitely talk about Jukebox. There’s going to be some pleasant surprises coming in that area too though. [Laughs] Some unexpected collabos…

Did you always know this was for you, singing and acting?

Kind of always knew. Since I was three, well this is a story I don’t remember but my parents always tell me that I used to tell their friends, “I’m going to be a star when I grow up.” Like since I could talk, that’s the kind of stuff I was saying and I know that I really didn’t know what that meant at the time. I was an only child for a long time and I used to play in my grandparents’ living room making voices. I had a little cassette player, and I would create different characters. I would kind of write radio shows. I would be the guy and the girl. I would do different accents and I would sing. So I was kind of writing songs then, cause I would just kind of make up my own little entrance to the show for the radio show. So that’s really how I started, really how I honed my craft to begin with. Then I started singing in the choir when I was about seven at church in Newark, New Jersey. That’s where it came from and I did it on an amateur level in school and church for a long time until 2000, when the legendary Sidney Lumet—which is crazy—gave me my first professional role.

I was a teenage drug addict and I OD’d. It wasn’t an easy role for someone who had never professionally acted before and I didn’t even go to school for it. I went to Christian school so it was like a blessing and it became kind of clear that this was the path that I was chosen for by God. Like he gifted me with this stuff and then started opening the doors for me cause it wasn’t the same path that most people go through when they’re kind of struggling to get started. It just kind of came to me actually, which is a blessing.

So you’re influenced by Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, but I don’t know, I see more Queen Latifah… and you’ve got the Jersey thing happening.

Modern day Queen Latifah, J-Lo, Beyonce, just people who have been able to not just have to do one thing, but be able to do other things on a high level though. Not just ‘I want to put an album out’ and only two people buy it, or ‘I want to act in a movie” and it’s not good. These people have been to a high level, acting and singing, and even getting into that mogul thing they’re endorsing things and so, that’s kind of my model or the people my parents talked about when I was a kid like Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross. My mother loved Lady Sings the Blues. So as a baby they had me watching all types of crazy stuff and listening to all kinds of music, but that’s the stuff that inspires me.

What would be your dream role?

I always wanted to play Lena Horne. And Lady Sings the Blues is a movie that just always inspired me, but I can’t say that I’d ever do it cause Diana Ross—that movie is just perfection to me, so I don’t think anybody should ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever touch it.

I’d like to see you in Mahogany actually.

Oh, I watched that recently. That’s a good one. These things really do inspire me and I go, “Okay, I know where I’m going.” And those doors have already opened for me, I can’t say how much of a blessing it is.

Can I talk to you about Nas?

Yeah. [Laughs] There’s nothing to say, but you can…

So why do you think there was so much hoopla about your photos together?

Well, he’s an icon and he shouted me out, kind of out of the blue. I mean totally out of the blue for me cause I had never met him before. So I think it’s just like ‘He said something, and now we see them together, what does it mean?’ And you know, he’s a Hip-Hop icon, so that’s why. And it can’t be much more than that really, right?

Right…. [Laughs]

[Laughs] They’re just curious, but we were just having lunch. He’s a cool guy, we’re just friends.

Okay one more question, out of all the characters that you’ve played, who was the most fun to play and who do you feel the most kinship to?

Well they were all fun to play for different reasons. Kinship probably somewhere between Mimi in Rent and Faith, because Faith kind of came from the same area as me, and she’s music industry, singer, so I felt a kinship to her in that way. Then Mimi—well, Faith too, she got to be vulnerable—there were so many levels. When you get to have that many levels, you get to put your own experiences into the characters. So probably Faith more so, because Mimi’s journey was just so crazy like she was a drug addict, and a GOGO dancer and had AIDS, and I’m not experiencing any of that. So I’d say my kinship is definitely closer to Faith Evans. But I played Mimi everyday like six days a week, eight shows a week, so there’s definitely an attachment to her. As far as a person, I’m a lot closer to experiences that Faith went through and with the guys and the cheating—well at least wanting to beat the girl up for that. I never actually got to beat a girl up for that, but definitely wanted to. So you know, I identify with Faith. [Laughs] …So yeah, probably with Faith more than with any other character.

Follow @AntoniqueSmith on Twitter.

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