Interview with… Paula Patton

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To celebrate the UK release of new romantic comedy Baggage Claim, out today, we’re bringing you exclusive interviews with four of the film’s stars! Our final interview is with the the film’s leading lady, Paula Patton, who plays the loveable but unlucky in love flight attendant Montana Moore, who has just 30 days to find a man to take to her younger sister’s wedding…

Baggage Claim is great fun. How did you get involved in the film?

I read the screenplay when I was making a film called Just Wright with Queen Latifah. I read it out loud with my husband (‘Blurred Lines’ singer Robin Thicke) 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 feel so blessed to be here doing this work.

What was the appeal of your character Montana?

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.’

Why does she care about getting married?

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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. 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 and recently on 2 Guns. 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.

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?

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.

BAGGAGE CLAIM opens in the UK and Ireland today, distributed by Fox Searchlight



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