Queen Latifah premiered her new film “Last Holiday” in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey – a fitting homecoming for one of the city’s most famous residents. 

   ”It just means I don’t have to go far to get home from the premiere,” said Latifah, who has homes in New Jersey and Los Angeles. “My whole family is here, so it’s wonderful. I can celebrate with Jersey for a change.”       
   Several hundred guests – including co-star LL Cool J, comedian Joe Piscopo and Newark Mayor Sharpe James – came out to support the Grammy-winner, who stars in the film as a woman who starts really living only after she is told she is close to dying.       
   “Georgia Byrd, stepping out and trying things she’s never done, that’s really me,” Latifah says, comparing the role to her own personality. “I have an adventurous spirit and I’ve always been like that.  I also have a shyness to me, you’re seeing like the butterfly version a lot of the time but I didn’t start like this and a lot of times I was shy about certain things.”        
  Back when Latifah was known only as Dana Owens, little did she know that a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame would be in her future.         
   “It was something you always dream about that you like, you want but you never know these things will happen,” Latifah told us in an interview last weekend. “I was excited, because it’s something that you share with everyone.  It’s not like winning a Golden Globe or an Oscar or SAG where you keep it and you have it in your mother’s house or your house.  This is something where everybody can walk up and down the street and go ‘Oh, Queen Latifah.’”       
   The artist’s first look at the Walk of Fame was in 1988, when the 17-year-old came out to Los Angeles to visit her close friend Tammy Hammond, a basketball player for USC.        
   “I remember walking down the street and seeing Errol Flynn’s name and I was like ‘Wow, Errol Flynn,’ she says. “I was a big Errol Flynn fan because I just thought he was just handsome and swashbuckling and all that kind of swordfighting and stuff.  That was me and my brother all day.  It was kind of cool to see all these names here so to be part of that is crazy.”         
   Upon her introduction at the Walk of Fame induction ceremony, Latifah learned with the rest of the world that her star was the first ever for a rapper.         
   “I thought it was Will Smith or something.  I thought I saw Will Smith up there, but maybe it was the handprints or something he had.”       
   The honor comes along with good reviews for her role in “Last Holiday,” which was one of the last films to be shot in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina demolished the city.       
  “It just broke my heart to see what happened to this town where we spent months in, a town that has always been good to everyone in America,” she says. “I’m sure the whole Gulf region suffered the same way.  But I’ve been to a couple places in Mississippi, a couple of places in Alabama performing through the years.  I’ve never spent time there like I’ve spent in New Orleans, though, and really absorbed the town and felt like I was one of the people.       
   “I could relate to the people.  It’s a place where people would say, ‘You havin’ fun baby?’ And you can’t tell whose black or white on the phone.  It’s always this attitude of we want you to come and enjoy our town and live it up and have a good time before you go back to wherever you live.  And so a place that has given us so much joy through conventions or festivals or just the music, the food, the culture, I just want to see them get back on their feet.  It’s a place where I would love to do some investing and help sort of revitalize the town or start taking things back down there when everything gets up and running.”
   Latifah’s character Georgia Byrd, a New Orleans chef who is diagnosed with only weeks to live, goes on a dream European vacation to cram in all of the things she has longed to do, but was too shy to try.        
   The Grammy-winner says if such bad news ever came to her, “I’d probably give every dime away so no one would fight over it.  Not that they would, but you never know.  I’d probably just give everything away that I own because I don’t need it and I’d definitely spend time with my family and friends and I would travel to one place that I’ve never been.”
  There’s not much that Latifah hasn’t already accomplished.  After making her musical debut in 1989 with “All Hail the Queen,” her third album, “Black Reign,” pocketed a Grammy Award in 1994. In 1993, she made her television series debut in “Living Single,” which introduced her to mainstream audiences. Memorable turns in “Set it Off,” “Living Out Loud” and “The Bone Collector” led to a best supporting actress Oscar nomination in 2002 for playing prison matron Mama Morton in “Chicago.”       
  Unlike her “Last Holiday” character, who made a “book of possibilities” to fulfill her last wishes, Latifah said she never sat down to make a list of goals she wanted to accomplish. “But I’ve kind of folded a page in the magazine and made little lists of what I like to do,” she says. “I think we all do that in certain ways maybe not in quite to the degree that she does but I think it’s a good thing to do because as long as you’re alive there are possibilities.  There are so many things that we would like to do but we get caught up in everyday life and the same rigmarole of doing things the way it’s always been done. That’s no fun.  You have to dream a little and try and go for it.”
This article was reprinted with permission: www.eurweb.com.