Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cocoa Brown Shines In 'The Single Moms Club'

By Darlene Donloe

When Tyler Perry set out to write his latest film, Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club, opening nationwide March 14, he wanted to tell the story of how single moms  make it work, regardless of their circumstances. He touches on the various issues surrounding single moms, including having a career, dating, raising children, being detached from one’s own child, providing a safe environment, insuring the children stay on the straight and narrow, and dealing with a maniacal, controlling ex.

“I made a conscious effort not to make this about the men,” said Perry, who wrote, produced and stars in the film. “It was about these women coming together to be the village for each other. This is not a woe-is-me movie. This is women doing what they have to do for their kids.”

The film follows five single mothers from very different walks of life whose children attend an exclusive prep school called West Merryville. The mothers range from a white alpha-female career woman to an African-American fast food worker; but they find themselves united through a stroke of bad luck: each of their children has been caught for infractions – smoking, tagging graffiti – at their school.  With their children’s expulsion hanging in the balance, the five mothers have no choice but to agree to the principal’s assignment for them: to organize West Merryville’s upcoming fundraiser and school dance.

Together they form Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club as a way to reclaim their freedom. When their struggles and vulnerabilities come to the surface, the women realize their gatherings are actually an unexpected resource.

While Perry was putting all of the elements together for the film, he says he was actively thinking about the actors and actresses who could bring the characters to life.

So he enlisted Nia Long, Terry Crews, William Levy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Zulay Henao, Ryan Eggold, Amy Smart and Cocoa Brown.  

Brown plays Lytia, a single mother raising children on a small budget she acquires from working in a diner.  Her main goal in life is to make sure her youngest son doesn’t end up in prison like her two older sons. Although heavy handed in her approach, she’s a mother doing the best she can with what she has.

Brown is on a roll. She appears in Perry’s For Better Or Worse, has a national commercial  (Progressive Insurance), does stand-up and is now appearing in Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club.

Ironically, when Brown began work on the film, she had not only given birth just five months earlier, but she was also going through a divorce.

Brown was now a single mother! Either art was imitating life or life was imitating art!!!

I recently caught up with Brown at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about her career and her role in the film.  She’s dressed in black slacks, a black jacket and a red, white and black patterned shirt.  Her hair is long, curly and flowing, which accents her big, pretty and expressive eyes.  Although she talks fast, she’s very clear about what she has to say.

DD:  How did you come to be in this film?

CB: He (Tyler Perry) approached me. We were shooting For Better or For Worse. I was eight months pregnant with my son. We were on the set. He said, “How long is it going to take you to recuperate from that baby?” I said, ‘Eight weeks.’ He said he had something for me.   Five months later, my agent calls and says, ‘Tyler Perry has a role for you.’ I’m thinking it was a small role. My agent said, “No baby, it’s a lead.” It was for the role of Lytia. I was grateful for it. A month later we were in Atlanta shooting. What I love about Tyler is if he says he has something for you, he has something for you. 

DD: What was it about the character that made you want to take the role?

CB: It was Tyler. When the boss summons, you come. He believed in me. Others didn’t know if they would take a chance on me.  I will always be indebted to him. This is my first lead in a movie.

DD: This hasn’t been an easy time, has it?

CB: When I got the call for the movie, I had decided to leave my marriage. I had a five-month- old son. I walked away from a three-year marriage. I was becoming a single mom. I was working with Nia (Long). She is a single mom. We were able to talk to each other. I got advice from her.  It was so helpful. I was always the funny one. When I got the role I didn’t know if he wanted me to show everything. I decided to let go and purge. What you see on screen is me funneling everything I was going through. Working on the film when I was going through all of this was therapeutic.  It came at the very moment I needed it.

DD:  So, given everything you’ve said, you could easily identify with your character.

CB: I have a great respect for women who are doing it on their own. I have the utmost respect.  Just having my movie kids was enough for me (laughter).

DD: I’m sorry girl, but your character was crazy for not hooking up quicker with Terry Crews’ character. That boy is fine. What is wrong with you or should I say what is wrong with Lytia?

CB: I think for Lytia, she thought she was damaged goods. Someone convinced her she didn’t deserve love.  Society tries to brand mamas like that. In her mind Branson (Terry Crews) was being silly, but in her mind she just couldn’t be getting the attention of a good man. She didn’t think she was worthy.

DD: What did and didn’t you like about your character? She’s a stereotype. She lives in the hood. Her sister is, well, um, er. She has two male children in prison.

CB:  Oh, Lord, she works in the waffle house. Oh, Lord, she lives in the projects. There are so many Lytias out there. Why can’t they just be? She is doing what she has to do.  If she’s perpetuating a stereotype, then sue me.

DD: Talk about the atmosphere on the set while shooting?

CB: Love. We became family. I keep in contact  with all of them. We stay in touch with each other. There is something in the Tyler Perry water.

DD: Talk about your one-woman show, Confessions of A Suicidal Diva.

CB: I’ve been working on that for 12 years. It  keeps changing. There is nothing to tell you right now. I’m working on it.

DD: You seem to be doing OK for yourself.

CB: I have a staff. I have a nanny. That’s crazy. Black people don’t have nannies. We have Big Mamas.

DD:  What else are you working on?

CB: I’m going to be doing a sitcom called, Braddock & Jackson with Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence. I’m playing a 59-year-old woman. Telma Hopkins plays Martin’s mother. I’m working with three icons. We’re going back for a fourth season of For Better Or Worse. I’m working on a one-hour special called Cocoa Brown - One Funny Mama, which should be out in May.  I’m also going to be on tour with the show, Cocoa Brown - Don’t Judge Me. It kicks off next month is Albany, Georgia.

Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club (Lionsgate) is Rated PG-13; Running time: 111 minutes.

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