The new Lee Daniels show “Star” follows the rise of three young singers from obscurity to the top of the charts. One of its cast members, Queen Latifah, relates personally to the struggle. The famed rapper, music producer and actress plays Carlotta in the series: a washed-up singer who exchanges tracks for cutting hair and finds herself a surrogate mother of sorts to the young girl group. We got to chat with Latifah on set about the dark side of the entertainment industry, taking a chance on your dreams and the pursuit of fame versus the pursuit of craft.
What attracted you to the role?
I was attracted to it way before there was a script; Lee Daniels and I had conversations about the concept of the show over the years. He would add more and take parts away. We’d talk every six months or so. Finally he was ready and showed me this 13-page treatment and I was like, “Wow. This is juicy. Let’s go for it.”
Where did you draw inspiration from for Carlotta’s character?
A part of her is people that Lee and I both know. I grew up in East Orange, he grew up in Philly — you know these places, you know these houses, you know these women, you know these salons. Having been in the music business, I know what it’s like to have a hit, to deal with shady people and have friends that get caught up in drugs and lose friends along the way. We had similar lives in certain ways and know these characters. We know who Carlotta is. The rest is things that Lee sees in his mind in terms of where she is going and I step into his brain for the rest of it. I’m in her shoes a lot quicker now than day one. Initially I relied on him a lot to have that clear vision of who he saw her as.
Can you relate to the girls in the show?
I definitely faced my own challenges. Just trying to get a record deal [was hard]. I know what it’s like to be hungry, beat the pavement. My boy spent his rent money to put me and one of my other boys in the studio to make a demo — somebody didn’t get paid that month for us to make this music. [Laughs] Of course, when I got a deal I paid him back plenty. But this was all about taking chances on yourself and your dream. But you never know. It’s a chance you take and it’s more important in you believing in that dream for yourself.
Is there such a thing as going too far?
I’ve seen very ambitious people make really bad decisions because they wanted to get on so bad and they were willing to do anything. And you can’t just do anything because you become anything and people will treat you like anything.
In the show, I see this recurrent theme of pursuit of fame versus pursuit of craft. What are your thoughts on that?
Some people really want to be famous and want all the things that they think comes with fame. They see a glamorous life, money, riches, cars, drugs, alcohol — all of that. Some people see music, the creativity of it — creating something that makes them feel good inside and sharing that with the world. That’s what's important. Sometimes it’s a mixture of both. I think there’s a way to take the craft of music and build a business model around it that helps transport it to the world. If you are successful with your craft then the fame is a byproduct of it. It comes automatically. People always say, “That’s the price you pay for fame,” but I never set out to be famous. I set out to make music. The fame came with it.
"Star" will debut on Fox on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 9 p.m. after the season finale of "Empire."