Naturi Naughton, the new star of the movie Fame, wants you to remember her name. The singer, who first made a name for herself as one third of the girl group 3LW (before being kicked out for being “too dark”), says she is over the past and ready to be known as more than the “chick from that girl group.” After starring in Hairspray for three years on Broadway, Naturi scored her big screen break when she landed the role of Lil Kim in the Biggie Smalls epic Notorious. Since then the singer has gone on to land roles in three more films- Fame, Lottery Ticket and Four To The Floor.
On the heels of the release of her latest film, the singer turned actress sat down with Giant Magazine to talk about her slow rise to… Fame.
GIANT: After you signed on to star in the new Fame, did you watch the original movie?
Naturi Naughton: Yes I did watch the original awhile back and looking at it, I could see how our movie was going to be different. The style, music and fashion today are so different from 1980, so this is a great opportunity to bring a fresh edge to the movie. I thought the original did do an excellent job exposing the rawness of the entertainment world. Fame doesn’t come overnight, some people make it and some people don’t and that’s kind of the same theme this Fame is preaching.
GIANT: Your character Denise is based on the role Irene Cara played in the first film. Are there any similarities between them?
Naughton: There are some similar elements, but I feel like Denise has different struggles. She’s been trained as a classical pianist and her parents don’t support her desire to pursue R&B and hip-hop. So she’s afraid to even reach for the stars, to branch out and try something new. That’s not the case in the original movie. But I do get to sing the same songs as Irene, including “Out Here On My Own.” I learned to play the piano so that I could play and sing that song.
GIANT: The movie is filled with fresh young faces like yourself. How did you guys get along between takes?
Naughton: We spent a lot of time together, because we lived in the same apartment building while we were shooting. It was like dorm life. Even before rehearsals, we had get-togethers like game nights and pot lucks. That way we got to know each other so there wouldn’t be any fake chemistry onscreen. We spent too much time together, probably. After awhile, it was kind of like having a brother and sister-like, “I’ve had enough of you!” [Laughs]
GIANT: You got cast as the prim-and-proper type in Fame right after you played the down-and-dirty Lil’ Kim in the Biggie biopic Notorious. Was that a strange transition?
Naughton: It was hard-I’m not going to lie. I had just finished this grown and sexy role and then I had to play a timid, all-covered-up little girl trying to find herself in high school. It takes work and professionalism to really stay focused on the heart of the character. I wanted to portray the rawness of Biggie and Kim’s love affair. If I watered her down, it wouldn’t be Lil’ Kim. She’s a person fans know and love and I wanted to make sure I did her justice. It’s funny, since that movie came out I’ve had people come up to me and say “What up, Kim! You killed it in Notorious.” And I’m like “Well, my name is Naturi, but I appreciate the love!”
GIANT: You got your start in the business as a singer in the group 3LW. When did you decide that what you really wanted to do was act?
Naughton: Well, I always wanted to pursue acting; I just don’t think it was heavy on my mind at first. I was young when I started with 3LW and at that point, being in that group was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a performer, a recording artist. But the acting bug really hit me when I was in college. After the group broke up, I had been scarred by the music business and I took some time off to attend Seton Hall University. I was focusing on school but also auditioned for theater. Then I got cast as Little Inez in the touring production of Hairspray and got to Broadway six months later. I remember my opening night: April 4, 2006. Going out onstage in front of that audience, I was like “Okay, this is for real!” And that’s when I got serious about acting, taking classes, working with a coach and looking for an agent.
GIANT: You alluded to a rough break-up with 3LW. What’s your memory of that time?
Naughton: It wasn’t pleasant. It’s unfortunate because we were all young girls of color trying to represent and be the next Destiny’s Child or TLC. We really wanted to be a positive image for other young girls to aspire to. After the success of the first album, there were all these outside people telling us we needed a different look and a different sound when in my mind, things were working. Before we knew it, we were being broken apart. I was pushed out of the group and I couldn’t take some of the ways I was being treated any longer. I realized that I’d rather be happy than be stuck in a situation where I’m not respected. I still don’t talk to [my former bandmates] on a regular basis. I’ve seen Adrienne Bailon at different events and its all cordial. The way I look at it now is that I’m grateful for the bad stuff, because if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Who knows if I would have been on Broadway or been in Notorious or Fame?
GIANT: What’s next for you on the acting front?
Naughton: I booked an independent movie called Yelling to the Sky that hopefully starts shooting later this year. It stars Don Cheadle and Zoë Kravitz. And other than that, I’m still auditioning. Some actors think, “Okay, I made one movie, I’m going to sit back and let the offers roll in.” Not me-I go right back to work. I want people to realize this is not an overnight thing. I have a few ideas and passion projects that I hope to do one day when I get to be big time.
GIANT: Such as?
Naughton: I would love to do a story about young Coretta Scott King. We always see the story of the Civil Rights movement through Dr. King’s eyes and it would be interesting to get her perspective. I’ve also always wanted to work with Spike Lee, John Singleton and Denzel Washington as either an actor or a director. And I would love to act alongside Taraji P. Henson. She’s great and I think we would do so well together. Those are my people-somebody better call me! [Laughs]
GIANT: What do you hope audiences take away from Fame?
Naughton: I hope young people in the audience realize that anything is possible. We all have been in situations where we didn’t think something was possible, where we didn’t know if were going to get the job. I really hope this movie shows people your biggest dreams can be reality.
Fame opens in theaters nationwide today.