The Secret Life of Bees' Cast
Executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith has assembled this all-star cast to bring Sue Monk Kidd's beloved novel The Secret Life of Bees to the big screen. In the film, actresses Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo and Dakota Fanning infuse the story with heart and soul.
Set during America's turbulent civil rights movement, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of a lonely, South Carolina teenager named Lily who's haunted by the death of her mother. Lily runs away from home and seeks refuge on a honey farm. There, she discovers true happiness in the home of the Boatwright sisters, strong black women who introduce her to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey.
Latifah says she immediately felt connected to her character. "August is so solid, so nurturing and just so caring about her family," she says. "She just reminded me of my mother in a lot of ways and my grandmother."
Though the book has been read by millions and spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, Latifah says she relied on director Gina Prince-Bythewood's script for character cues. "A book is a book, and a film is a film," she says. "Your mind takes that journey when you're reading a book, and the characters look all kinds of different ways and the scenery is so different in each individual's mind. But when you bring it to screen, there's certain criteria that have to be followed in order for you to really make it happen."
Latifah has also gotten her loved ones involved. "I knew some of my family members had health concerns, and I read an article in a magazine that said if you lost 5 to 10 percent of your body weight, you could cut your chances of heart disease in half," she says. "Many of my family members are affected by that ,so I said, 'What do you all think, you want to do this? Let's do this.' They were with this—they wanted it."
Unlike many Hollywood actresses, Latifah says she isn't concerned about her clothing size. "It wasn't about body image. I don't feel self-conscious about my body. I feel proud of myself," she says. "I feel confident in myself, but [I signed on] for health reasons."
Whether she's on a film set or at home, Latifah's Jenny Craig meals are always close at hand. "They definitely go with me everywhere I go," she says. "It's kind of convenient."
Every few weeks, Latifah says she meets with a Jenny Craig counselor to weigh in and discuss her progress. "It really makes you more cognizant of the way you eat or how much you eat," she says. "I just exercise a lot more, and I try to be conscious of what kind of portions I'm eating, but it hasn't been a bad trip. It's actually been great. I feel good."
"I was dealing with a lot of health issues, which are a lot better," she says. "I'm doing awesome."
As additional motivation, Rita says she recently got engaged and is now focused on losing weight for her upcoming wedding. "My mama's getting married!" Latifah says.
Latifah's new co-star in her Jenny Craig commercials is her real-life aunt Angel. Over the past few months, Angel says she's lost 36 pounds.
"I really feel good about it because I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I was really at risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, and I definitely did not want that to happen to me," Angel says. "As a result, this weight loss has given me normal blood pressure. My cholesterol is back to normal, and I feel good. I feel really good."
Dakota says she first read The Secret Life of Bees when she 10 or 11 years old. At the time, she knew she wasn't old enough to play Lily. "I knew the movie wasn't able to be made quite yet, so I was hoping when they were ready to make the movie, they would still want me to be in it, because I absolutely loved the story," she says. "I loved the relationships that I would get to have with all these wonderful, wonderful ladies."
In the film, Dakota has many emotional scenes, which she says she looked forward to filming. One such scene features Dakota's character Lily tearfully confessing her true feelings. "It was such a pivotal moment for my character. It's kind of when she tells the truth to Latifah's character, August, and so it was a really challenging scene," she says. "I really knew Lily very well, so I was able to put myself in her situation."
"I really have to thank Tristan because he really made me feel comfortable," she says. "I think we really knew each other well, and we made each other feel very at ease with that. There was no awkwardness going on, and [the director] didn't make us do it a million times."
Off-screen, Dakota says she and Tristan are friends, but when the director said action, they became their characters. With so many technical aspects to consider, there also wasn't time to get lost in the moment. "When you're setting up, [they say] 'When you go in, hold your head here, and then at this point, turn your head here,'" she says. "You're like, 'Okay. We do have to kiss at some point. It can't be all about the face angles.' But, you know, it was good. He's such a nice, nice, nice person."
This summer, Dakota participated in the USA Cheer Camp in Santa Barbara with 600 other cheerleaders. She and her team were evaluated on their cheers, dances and stunts. "I get really nervous because you have to learn the cheers, and there are other people watching you and the other girls are watching you," Dakota says. "But it's fun because you actually make friends with the other teams."
Whether she's acting or playing her music, Alicia prefers to challenge herself in hopes of improving her performances. "I never want to ever find myself too comfortable anywhere, because I don't think you can grow if you're too comfortable. Even with my music, I like to do things that I'm not quite comfortable with, because it pushes me to do better."
"Not until recently have I kind of come to terms more that—marriage is a beautiful, beautiful thing," she says. "I think marriage takes work and it's commitment and it's equality and it's tough, but I don't think it's impossible. But I do understand why June felt so scared about it."
Jennifer's rise to stardom started in 2004 when she was a contestant on the television show American Idol. Since competing on Idol, Jennifer says she is grateful for all that she has experienced. "Every moment, each and every day is another beautiful surprise after another," she says. "I have to take a moment out of all of that and just say, 'Wow.'"
David says he had no doubt that Jennifer is the one for him. "It just clicked that one day like, 'Wow, we've spent almost every day together, and I just love every moment of it.' It's just a feeling. I can't explain it. You just know when it's right," David says. "I've never met somebody who's more giving, more humble and just so down-to-earth. She's just such a regular person."
Sophie also had to ask herself what it would be like to lose a twin sister, a life-altering tragedy in May's life. Sophie says she researched twin bereavement and watched Spike Lee's film Four Little Girls, a documentary about the bombing of an African-American church during the civil rights movement. "There is one part where one of the sisters talks about losing her sister, and I played this all the time because it was such a phenomenal documentary," she says. "I felt it really got me inside the atmosphere and what was happening at the time."
Sophie needed to be able to cry on a dime to play May, something she says you can only prepare so much for. "I just sort of stay very open and then just really listen and watch what everyone else does and then just react," she says. "I didn't really try and work out what I'm going to do. I do all the research, massive research before I start—but as soon as I get on the set, throw that all away and just see what happens. Just trust that it would happen."
The London-born actress had another challenge—to transform her British accent into May's South Carolina drawl. Sophie says she had an excellent dialect coach while working on the film but can't put into words exactly how she found May's voice. "It's divine intervention," she says. "I don't know—it's just part of acting. I've hardly used my own accent in any part I've done."
"Alicia said at the end of the filming: 'Can you feel it? Can you feel how special this is?'" Gina says. "To be able to work with all these women—that we got all of them in the same film—was just a dream."
Latifah says she was inspired by Alicia's trip and decided to take one of her own! She traveled to Cairo and Sharm el Sheikh. "It's one of the best places to snorkel in the world," she says. "And [see] wonderfully handsome Egyptian men!" When she can't take an elaborate trip, Latifah says she finds ways at home to center herself. "I'll get on my motorcycle and ride—I've got a helmet on and nobody knows it's me, so I can kind of dip around and be free. Be at one with myself," she says.
Dakota says she turns to her loved ones when she needs a break. "I love to be at home with my family and friends. I think that's important," she says. "I also ride my horse."
For Jennifer, sanctuary is in her art. "I like to draw," she says. "That's what I call finding my inner peace. Put my music in my ears and just draw and it helps me escape."
When Sophie needs to get away from work, she goes back to what she says is her real full-time job—being a mom. "And I daydream an awful lot," she says.
Watch Alicia's moving performance.
"[This is] dedicated to my superwoman cast, my superwoman director and writer, Gina, and all the superwomen watching right now," Alicia says.
More inspiration from phenomenal women