A look inside the ‘Secret Life’ of Alicia Keys
That is a beautiful image, and thank you for comparing it to my music. I appreciate that so much. I agree that [director] Gina [Prince-Bythewood] did an amazing job, and everybody involved loved it from the minute they signed on. She created a very nourishing environment on the set, where we just supported each other and wanted to do an incredible job. So I’m really, really happy about how Gina was able to be so subtle, yet so strong.
To me, it was the most important film of its type since “Eve’s Bayou.”
Funny you should mention it, because I watched “Eve’s Bayou” prior to beginning work on this one because I felt it would have a similar vibe. Also, I wanted to watch it for the accents, figuring it would give you a nice feel for the regional dialects, given that it was set in the bayou. But did you know they didn’t do any dialects in that film?
I never noticed that.
That was really funny, but it was still a great movie.
On what did you base your interpretation of June Boatwright?
On many things. On my own personal emotions and feelings … on my understanding of my character’s complexities and really wanting to bring them forth even without explaining them. I also based her somewhat on these beautiful pictures we had from this book called “Freedom Fighters.” There was one girl in it in a black and white photograph who just had her arms crossed. The way she was looking at the camera made me feel, “Wow! That’s my June!” There was something about how hopeful and strong she was, yet closed-off emotionally, that I really wanted to take and make a part of June.
I also took some inspiration from a really good friend of mine who has a kind of attitude like June has. When you first meet her, you’re terrified of her. You think she’s just the meanest thing, when she’s really a sweetheart and so vulnerable underneath it all. That’s why she has to be a little tough, because she can’t afford to give all her love away. So I really took a lot of those firsthand experiences and put them into June, too. She was based on little pieces of a lot of different people and things.
Another thing I was impressed with was that there was an arc not only to June, but to so many characters in the film. That degree of development added to the richness of the cinematic experience.
Seriously, that’s true what you say. You see each person start one place and end up somewhere else. How many times do you have a film where so many characters can make such significant transitions within it? So I agree.
I also liked the way the movie made statements about the civil rights movement without hitting you over the head with it.
True, because you wouldn’t quite say it’s a story about the civil rights movement, but it’s definitely about that era. I’m really proud of that aspect.
Any truth to the rumor that you might play Philippa Schuyler in the screen adaptation of her biography, “Composition in Black and White”?
It’s something that Halle Berry really wanted to bring to life and that we’ve been working on for a little while. Hopefully, it’ll pan out.
Born in the ’30s, Philippa was also a child prodigy from Harlem who had one black parent and one white parent. Do you think there are many parallels between your life and hers?
Honestly, there are fewer parallels than differences. The most obvious parallel is that my mother is white and my father’s black, and that we both play classical piano. What I love about the idea of playing her is that she’s not me, and I’m not her. And that she was this amazing person that too few people know about.
I’m fascinated by the strangeness of that era, and her trying to perform classical music as a black woman back then when she had to, in essence, hide her identity just to play the music she loved. That confusion of “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” is just crazy and is the theme of her story that I really relate to, because I think we all kind of want to find where we belong.
That reminds me to congratulate you on your five recent American Music Award nominations.
Oh, thank you.
As a child with one black parent and one white parent, how do you feel about Barack Obama’s candidacy?
You know I love it, and that I support him. I’m confident that he’s going to be the next president and I refuse to accept the idea of anything else. There you have it.
You not only play piano and sing, but you compose, arrange, act, and write poetry and prose. Do you have a favorite means of artistic expression?
They rotate. (laughs) They really do. Sometimes, after I’ve been on tour for so long, I start looking forward to composing and creating again. And after I’ve been songwriting for a long stretch, I’m kinda looking forward to going outside of myself and exploring someone else. And then sometimes it’s nice to be able to sit quietly and reflect and write without any specific outcome in mind, to just do it. So it rotates.
What was the last book you read?
The last book I read was “The House on Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood” by Helene Cooper. And now I’ve actually just started a novel, “Song of the Cuckoo Bird” by Amulya Malladi.
What music are you listening to nowadays?
I’m listening to a mixture of Kanye West, Sergio Mendes, Fela Kuti and Common.
Is there a question no one ever asks you that you wish someone would?
No. I always thought that I could figure out a really good answer to that question, but I haven’t found it yet.