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lime Screen Interview: Paula Patton

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Paula Patton

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The engaging and charismatic Paula Patton stars in the upbeat rom com BAGGAGE CLAIM, as a beautiful and engaging 30-something flight attendant, on a mission to find the perfect man - before it’s too late. 

Her younger sister gets engaged and her marriage-obsessed mother firmly believes the only route to happiness lies in settling down with a husband and kids. 


Feeling the pressure, Patton’s Montana Moore sets out on a bizarre journey across America: to track down her exes in the hope of finding the love of her life among them.    


It would appear that Montana Moore has everything: a job she loves, a warm, close-knit family and great friends. But she doesn’t have a husband, to the increasing chagrin of her five-times-married mum.  Her younger sister is about to tie the knot and Montana herself (Patton) becomes convinced that she needs a man and a wedding ring too.  


Her two best friends Gail (Jill Scott) and Sam (Adam Brody) decide to help Montana find a fiancée in 30 days.  The trio, all flight staff, devise a plan to use their elite airline status and contacts and arrange supposedly chance encounters with eligible ex-boyfriends around the country. The men include Taye Diggs as an ambitious and controlling politician and Djimon Hounsou as a wealthy commitment-shy businessman. Derek Luke plays Montana’s down to earth and loyal childhood friend and neighbour.


BAGGAGE CLAIM was written and directed by David E. Talbert and based on Talbert’s novel of the same name.   


Paula Patton’s films include the musical IDLEWILD, the late director Tony Scott’s thriller DÉJÀ VU, MIRRORS, the acclaimed drama PRECIOUS, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL, DISCONNECT, JUMPING THE BROOM and 2 GUNS.


The actress, 37, is married to singer Robin Thicke; they have a three year-old son. Looking stunning in high waisted J Brand jeans and an Isabel Marant shirt, her dark hair falling in waves down her back, Patton sat down in LA for the following interview.


Q: You look lovely and your character in the film wears some fantastic outfits; how interested are you in fashion and style?

A: “To be honest, as a mother you don’t have much time. I used to spend time on fashion when I didn’t have a child. I would go through my closet and pick out outfits. Now I often find myself racing to drop my son (Julian) off at school wearing the same thing:  black jeans and a t-shirt works. I still love fashion; I just don’t have as much time for it, so I have to carve out windows of time when I need to dress up. I don’t have the same attention to detail I  used to have.” 


Q: BAGGAGE CLAIM is great fun. How did you get involved in the film?

A: “I read the screenplay when I was making a film called JUST WRIGHT with Queen Latifah. I read it out loud with my husband and my best friend and we laughed out loud. It’s a rare thing for a black woman to be the lead in a romantic comedy, which is something I always wanted to do. I love romantic comedies. They just feel good.  So I met David (E. Talbert, the director) to discuss it. But the movie went away and then I got pregnant and had my son. I did some other films and got a call saying: ‘BAGGAGE CLAIM is back, and David wants to make it with you.’ That brought a tear to my eye. I jumped up and down with joy. I was so thrilled and making the film has been a dream come true for me. It has been a labour of love. David created this entire world; he wrote this book. Of course I read his book afterwards, loved it and I loved the script. I always keep the original scripts from my films, because I think they are so precious. I feel so blessed to be here doing this work.” 


Q: What was the appeal of your character Montana?

A: “I love going to the movies, so first and foremost I want to be in a movie that I want to go and see. Who cares if you do a great performance in a bad movie? This character Montana goes through so much. When we meet her she is very happy. She has a career that she loves, friends she loves and at the start, she thinks that she’s met her dream man who’s going to ask her to marry him; then she realises he’s not so dreamy and that is devastating. So she has come back home and as she’s crying into her pint of ice cream, in walks her beautiful younger sister, played by Lauren London, with a big rock on her finger, saying, ‘I’m going to get married in a month.’”


Q: Why does she care about getting married?

A: “Montana comes from a family that places a great deal of importance on marriage. Her mother (played by Jenifer Lewis) believes you’re not a lady unless you’re a wife. This pressure feels like a boulder on her back. Emotionally she’s about to crack and so she says, ‘I can’t do it anymore. I don’t want to go to one more wedding,’ because people at weddings keep asking: ‘what about you? The clock is ticking.’ So she devises a plan with her best friends (played by Jill Scott and Adam Brody) who are magnificent in the film. We had really good, fun chemistry.  Adam says: ‘listen, we’re going to find you a husband. You can’t find a new person to put a ring on your finger within a month unless they’re in jail or they need a green card. So let’s go through your exes.’ So they go through her phone book and they say, ‘What about this guy? What about this guy?’ Montana is revisiting the past and her exes, wondering if maybe she’s been too picky in the past and should give them another try. It turns into a 30-day journey through many airports and many cities. Her journey gets a little zany and she starts spiralling out of control. You can see it with her clothing as she starts dressing for each man; she’s trying to be the right fit for each person she dates.  You’re not exactly sure who she’ll end up with. That’s the surprise of the film and the fun. Like any good romantic comedy you’re hoping you know what’s going to happen, but there’s still a little element of surprise, too, at the end.”


Q: What was it like working with Derek Luke (William) who plays your close friend and neighbour?

A: “The honest truth is that Derek is an amazing actor. I think it’s hard to see a man truly fall in love in a movie, but he is already in love. Derek really loves his wife and has such respect for her and for that love; it just emanates from him. Derek has a lot of warmth. You can believe this man wants to give himself over to a woman. We immediately clicked in the room when we read together, I knew right away that it would be great because of the sweetness, the innocence and the kindness in his heart.”


Q: You commented that it’s rare for a black woman to be the lead in a romantic comedy. Are things changing?

A: “I think it’s a rare opportunity. It’s hard for women to find lead roles in which they are not playing the support to a male, which is ok, I don’t mind doing that, but it is great to find roles where the woman is driving the movie. And it is absolutely rare to find a movie that has a role for a black woman as the lead of a romantic comedy. In this movie, race doesn’t play any factor in the story; it just happens that our director chose to have an African-American woman in the lead. Often that’s not what happens.”


Q: Did you always want to perform, growing up in LA?

A: “I always wanted to be an actress, since I was a little girl. I would put on plays in our backyard and then I went to a performing arts high school.   I met a guy, who took me to see DO THE RIGHT THING (Spike Lee, 1989). And from then on I wanted to be a filmmaker.  At the time that I was in high school the roles for black women were not great, to be frank. And I thought, well I want to write and create movies that will have great roles for black actors.”   


Q: Your BAGGAGE CLAIM director compares you to Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. What’s your reaction?

A: “That’s amazing; I am a big fan of both of them, so that’s a big compliment. I love Jennifer Aniston and I love Reese Witherspoon. They have both mastered the romantic comedy so well.”


Q: You’ve acted alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, from Tom Cruise to Denzel Washington. Any highlights in your career so far?

A: “Oh big time.  I had an amazing time working with Tom Cruise. I’d just had my baby so I couldn’t believe I was going to be in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (GHOST PROTOCOL). I learned so much from Tom, and I adore the man. He acts like every movie is his first movie. He has that kind of amazing passion for his work. He knows everybody’s name on set; he’s so gracious and kind and giving to the other actors, making sure we all have our own moment. What I really love about him—and this is something I’ve taken on and thought about a lot and that has really influenced me—is the idea that the audience matters the most. People pay their hard-earned money to come to see you, and it’s our job to give every last bit of energy we have to make the role as entertaining and as enjoyable as possible for the audience. Tom always called it ‘The Popcorn Factor’. I love that. You’re an artist but you’re an entertainer.”


Q: Other leading men you’ve worked with include Will Smith and Denzel Washington? Any great memories?

A: “Will Smith is the most gracious man. We only worked for two days together on HITCH, but he was awesome. Denzel has been a really important part of my career. We worked together on DÉJÀ VU (2006) and recently on 2 GUNS. When I first worked with him, I’d only done one other movie in which I had been one of the leads, so I was very much a newbie. I got to DÉJÀ VU and first of all, I was mesmerised by Denzel. I was determined to learn as much as I could from him. He never taught me by telling me anything. I just watched by observing. I watched what he would do and I soaked it up like a sponge. He doesn’t know it but he’s been my mentor the entire time. Everything I learned from him I took with me and used in every movie I’ve done since. I think he’s one of the greatest actors of all time. I wasn’t just mesmerised by his looks but really truly by the energy he brings to the screen; that’s why men and women love him equally, because he’s  magnificent. To know he wanted to work with me again and to get the opportunity was a huge honour.”


Q: The late Tony Scott of course directed you and Denzel in DÉJÀ VU.

A: Tony Scott was a magnificent director—I hate to say ‘was’—and one of the most loving men. He just loved people; he was so kind to everybody. Every week, he would send me flowers in my character’s name; she was called Claire. The note would say, “Dear Claire, You’re doing magnificently, love, Tony.” [English accent]. They were all handwritten and then he would draw the silhouette he’d always do of himself with a cigar and his hat. He just gave me so much confidence and so much freedom. I learned so much from him. He was a magnificent director.” 


Q: Going back to BAGGAGE CLAIM, despite its premise (of a woman desperate to find a man) it has a positive message for women in the end doesn’t it?

A: “It does. After Montana acts like a crazy person, yes. What’s beautiful about this romantic comedy is there are two happy outcomes. We see a woman who stands up to her family and says: ‘I don’t care what you think any more, through taking this journey I have come to love myself.’ And as in life, the moment you no longer need a man then one comes along.  Then there’s a second happy ending. In this modern world we live in, it was so important that Montana found her own happiness because people are very tough on women. It’s not enough to have a successful career, to volunteer, doing charity work and to take care of all your nieces and nephews. The question is: do you have a man? Do you have a child?  It’s as if none of the other things matter unless you are married with a child. That’s unfortunate. Men don’t go up against that. It’s an amazing thing when you find the right person to spend your life with, but if you’re just finding anybody to fit in so you can say, ‘I did it,’ that’s not good.  That is why there’s so much divorce quite frankly. What I think is beautiful is at the end of the day, the man Montana meets is the man who knows about all her baggage in life and who she really is.”


Q: I’m assuming you don’t identify with Montana. You are actually married [to Robin Thicke.]

A: “I do identify with Montana in different ways. For the dating parts of the film, I took a lot from my own friends; I live vicariously through them (laughs). Also, on the other hand I do understand how love makes you crazy like it makes Montana crazy (when she ambushes a guy she is seeing because she is suspicious). Trust me, I’ve had ambushes, before we were married, and I’ve been caught!  (laughs) I definitely had one day when I was crazy. I drove over to his [Robin Thicke’s] house and hid in the bushes. I got caught, which is the worst. I was suspicious, and I was wrong! He was like, ‘You wanna come in?’ No, there was no-one with him, and I was so embarrassed. A lot of bad things can happen when you go onto someone’s property uninvited. I can also understand the need to please people and to be accepted by your family and being concerned with that and what they think.” 


Q: Did you know early on that your husband was ‘the one’? You met in your teens I know.

A: “No, we didn’t always know. I met him when he was 14 and I was 15; I didn’t know that was going to be my husband. Something just happened. Sometimes people grow apart, but we grew together, and it just kept getting better and better. We’ve always been dreaming the same dream together since we were kids: he wanted to be a singer, and I wanted to be an actress.  Listen, we go through some ups and downs, but he’s the best thing that ever happened to me.” 


Q: How do you balance motherhood with acting?

A: “I’m tired a lot. I’m always tired. (laughs) I’ve got my hands full. But motherhood is the best thing. I love my little boy; he brings me so much joy. I can’t say enough about motherhood, but it’s all about gaining perspective. You can go through a hard day, get rejected, then you play with your son and nothing else matters. You can see the bigger picture; you can’t be so selfish anymore. In the old days, before I had a child, I could sit there and stew and go, ‘oh poor me.’ There’s no time for ‘poor me’ anymore. The kid needs to get fed and someone needs to read him a book to get him to sleep. And by the time that’s done you’re over it.” 

BAGGAGE CLAIM is released through Fox Searchlight across the UK and Ireland on 11 October 2013. 

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