The cast of The Secret Life of Bees

What brought two Grammy® winners, an Oscar® winner, an Oscar nominee and an acclaimed 14-year-old actress together for the first time? It's a story that's captured the hearts and minds of readers around the world.

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.
Queen Latifah

In The Secret Life of Bees, Queen Latifah plays August Boatwright, the nurturing oldest sister. When Oprah first read the book, she says she imagined Latifah in this role.

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."
Queen Latifah

While shooting the movie, Latifah juggled two roles—actress and Jenny Craig spokeswoman. Determined to improve her overall health, Latifah joined the weight loss program in December 2007. Since then, a new diet and exercise plan has helped her lose 20 pounds.

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."
Rita and Angel

Rita, Latifah's mother, is Skyping™ from her home in Wayne, New Jersey, to share her weight loss success. Since her daughter inspired her to join Jenny Craig, Rita says she's also lost 20 pounds and improved her health.

"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 Fanning

Since she was barely old enough to read, actress Dakota Fanning has been moving audiences with her thoughtful performances. She's starred in films like I Am Sam, War of the Worlds, Man on Fire and Charlotte's Web. Now, this child star is in her teens, and she's taking on a more mature role alongside Latifah.

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."
Dakota Fanning

Tearful confessions don't phase Dakota...and neither do kissing scenes. In one of her first forays into romance, Dakota and co-star Tristan Wilds share a kiss in the film.

"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."
Dakota Fanning

After having worked with legends such as Sean Penn, Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington, what could Dakota possibly do next? Cheerleading camp, of course! Dakota, now a sophomore in high school, is on the varsity cheerleading squad. "I was homeschooled from second grade to eighth grade, and when it was time for ninth grade and high school, I felt like no matter what age people were, they always talked about their high school experience," Dakota says. "I wanted to have that experience."

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."
Alicia Keys

Grammy winner Alicia Keys plays June, a fiercely independent music teacher in The Secret Life of Bees—a role she says held special meaning for her. "There's a lot of similarities between myself and June that I don't think I really recognized before. ... The way that she guards herself so fiercely. She puts up this persona of strength when, underneath, she's very vulnerable," Alicia says. "I find that I guess I did that in many ways in my life that I didn't really recognize. So when June came to me, it allowed me to release a lot of those things that I didn't really realize I did."

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."
Alicia Keys

In the film, Alicia's character is afraid of marriage. Alicia believes that June has a perfect man in her life, but she constantly pushes him away, worried that she will be hurt again. In thinking about her character's relationship, Alicia believes she understands what June was going through.

"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 Hudson

The last time Jennifer Hudson visited The Oprah Show, she was celebrating her Oscar®-winning performance in Dreamgirls. Given that Jennifer's initial pursuit was a singing career, becoming an actress has been an amazing turn of events. "I've been introduced into a whole new industry and a world that I didn't expect such as acting. I had never thought of it before, and so it's such a beautiful surprise," Jennifer says. "My favorite part is that I get to be someone else and then do things that I would normally get in trouble for."

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.'"
Jennifer Hudson

Releasing her first album—titled Jennifer Hudson—and starring in The Secret Lives of Bees aren't the only exciting things happening in Jennifer's life. She's also engaged! "[David and I] met through a mutual friend, and we actually haven't parted since the day we met," Jennifer says.

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 Okonedo

Oscar®-nominated actress Sophie Okonedo plays May Boatwright, a sensitive soul who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. To prepare for her character, Sophie says she read the script many times to get into May's head. "I ask myself, 'What are her hopes and fears? Where does she want to go in her life?' Those sort of questions," she says.

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 Okonedo and Oprah

Sophie says she had to delve deep into her character to act out an intense range of emotions. "All her nerves are on edge all the time, and everything she feels is like a 100 watts up from everyone else," she says.

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."
Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees director Gina Prince-Bythewood says she was thrilled to work with a cast of such phenomenal women. "When this first started and [I began] meeting each of them, I had to take off my fan hat because I was a fan of every single one. I had to know at some point to step up and direct them," she says.

"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."
Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson and Sophie Okonedo

Between juggling a film and a singing career, Alicia says sometimes she just needs a break to do something for herself. "We all work very hard and we have a lot of responsibilities, and it just kind of started weighing down on me and I realized I needed to kind of break away and see something I'd never seen before. Do something I never did before," she says. The getaway Alicia chose was to the awe-inspiring pyramids of Egypt. "It's historic, and I just felt renewed because I felt if such wonderful human beings could build such structures that can never be broken down, then neither can we. We can never be broken."

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.
Alicia Keys performs the song Superwoman.

Alicia Keys takes the stage to sing her hit song "Superwoman" from her triple-platinum album As I Am. As she sings, images of superwomen from all walks of life, including Oprah viewers, appear on the screen behind her.

Watch Alicia's moving performance. Watch

"[This is] dedicated to my superwoman cast, my superwoman director and writer, Gina, and all the superwomen watching right now," Alicia says.

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