Rose among the thorns
Jada Pinkett Smith of Magic Mike XXL tells M what it's like being in a man's world
Jada Pinkett Smith is perhaps taking too much pleasure in being the only woman in a roomful of male strippers.
The 43-year-old US actress and matriarch of one of Hollywood's most notable families - she is married to A-list star Will Smith and mum to trendsetting actor Jaden, 16, and stylish singer Willow, 14 - injects some sassy Southern attitude as one of the few women starring in the testosterone-fuelled comedy-drama Magic Mike XXL.
In this sequel to the 2012 original, Smith joins fellow new additions Amber Heard and Andie MacDowell, taking on the role of Rome, old friend of titular male stripper Mike (Channing Tatum) and mistress of Domina, an erotic strip club in Savannah, Georgia where he used to dance.
The movie, which opens here tomorrow, picks up the story three years after Mike bowed out of the scene at the top of his game.
Mike and his squad (Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez) set off for one last blow-out performance in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Smith almost didn't land the role, as it was actually written for US actor Jamie Foxx, who pulled out due to scheduling issues. Tatum, who is also the film producer, then contacted Jada for the character.
"I loved the possibility I saw with the character and the opportunity to figure out this woman who would have this club," she told M at the press junket at The London West Hollywood.
She came up with an interesting backstory for Rome and often gave director Gregory Jacobs and Tatum recommendations on how her character should be portrayed.
"I love people and studying behaviours and it's something I've done for years. I do a lot of research and love creating characters and certain characteristics."
She also suggested that Rome spoke in a certain language that would appeal to women, as well as what she should wear - opting for suits that flaunted lots of cleavage.
"I wanted her to have this softness and sexiness to her, but also not have other women be intimidated by her sexiness. A woman always respects and appreciates a strong suit, but also makes sure to show some chest in it," she said with a laugh.
But what Smith really enjoyed about being part of Magic Mike XXL was that it was an empowering story for women told through a guy's perspective.
"What I've learnt in doing the movie is that it really is a beautiful gateway towards the idea of giving women that freedom and safe space to really explore that erotic, sexual, sensual energy unapologetically," she said.
"The movie respects and celebrates women who go to these clubs to have these types of experiences because women want to feel special and acknowledged and be validated. But at the same time, validate these beautiful men who are with them in these experiences. It's very rarely about sex and more about being in a sensual, erotic play."
Being on set with a bunch of guys was second nature for Smith, who filmed Magic Mike XXL in the midst of shooting the male-dominated hit TV crime drama Gotham, where she plays villainess Fish Mooney.
Despite being surrounded by hunks all day, she did not feel pressure to take her own fitness up a notch - not that she needed to, given her svelte frame with curves in all the right places.
However, she did get to be a fly on the wall and witness the eye-opening camaraderie between the actors on set.
"I learnt how important it is for men to have boy time and really make space for that. Not to mention how much I recognised how men work really hard to fit in our (women's) world, as well as learning a lot about male sexuality."
Husband Will, 46, wasn't able to make it to the Magic Mike XXL set as he was busy shooting his own movie, something Smith was all too happy about.
"If he did come out, he would have a found a way to get in that movie, trust me. I'm so glad he was working!"
The movie respects and celebrates women that go to these clubs to have these types of experiences because women want to feel special and acknowledged and be validated. But at the same time, validate these beautiful men who are with them in these experiences.
-Jada Pinkett Smith
She quashes gender typecasts
In Magic Mike XXL, Amber Heard plays the mysterious Zoe, the new girl who catches Mike's (Channing Tatum) eye.
Looking gorgeous as ever in a black dress and sophisticated braided updo during our interview, the 29-year-old US starlet - who married Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp in February - talks about joining the sexy ensemble cast.
What was it like to get such an intense lap dance from Tatum for his big finale?
I wish I could say that was acting. It was pretty shocking even to me. It was hard to really translate it verbally to me in the pre-production process.
I signed up after a phone conversation with Channing. We were chatting and having a good time and then he starts explaining the nature of this dance and telling me that he just wants to make sure that I'm cool with it. And I'm like, "Are you going to be naked?"
And he's like "No, no, I'll have my pants on the whole time". So I was thinking what's the big deal. It was definitely not something I was expecting.
What attracted you to the role?
It was nice to see the gender norms turned on their heads. We didn't have to take off our clothes - just the guys.
And they were the ones being subjected to the sorts of carnal desires of being objectified for their body, which is typically fulfilled by a female.
But these men had enough courage to be okay with taking it on themselves and allowing themselves to be objectified by women.
At first, the payoff was my character and Channing's hook-up. But the movie was about brave men doing their own thing and having fun in an environment that fostered fun and creativity. Since they were calling the shots and didn't have investors they owed anything to, I questioned why they were still following this formulaic approach for my character.
Why should that be the norm? The female lead shouldn't be the payoff and so they restructured the whole nature of the relationship and it's not something that fulfills a typical female role. They can just be friends and they don't have to be anything more.
How did you become Zoe?
They actually let me dress myself. I designed every aspect of Zoe, and basically made her... me! I chose everything from her pink hair and even her jewellery was mine. And even eating that red velvet cake was one of my artistic additions to the film - it's my favourite dessert.