Antonique Smith: Gotta Have Faith

Playing Faith Evans in Notorious was a role destined for Antonique Smith. While the budding star played the drug-addicted Mimi in the Broadway show Rent, Smith has a knack for combining her gift of singing with acting in dramatic roles. Preparing for the Notorious release, Antonique discusses her personal investments in the role – including working with Faith Evans herself – and how Faith affected Biggie’s life.

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AllHipHop.com Alternatives: So let’s talk about Faith Evans. The impression we have of Faith and the way Notorious portrays her – there’s always a regal heir about her, but at the same time she’s gangster. How did you manage to combine those two worlds and still come off like a lady?

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Antonique Smith: Oh thank you! Well that gangster part is the part that we, all ladies, would like to be able to bring out. I feel like most of us, the majority of us, have been through issues – a little infidelity possibly with a guy – and I personally have never gotten to beat the girl up and it was wonderful! It was like payback for all the girls that missed the beat-up…that was for everybody. The lady beat-down…girl power! So the regal part…I think…I’d like to think that I have a good portion of that in myself, that I was able to bring that to the character.

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It wasn’t something I’ve played before. In fact I’m so used to playing drug addicts…I’ve played a lot of drug addicts. Mimi [from the Broadway show Rent] was a drug addict with AIDS, an exotic dancer, so the sexiness was easy but this was a different sexiness. It was a regal sexiness, so I actually enjoyed that. So it was nice to be able to bring that. I’m not sure how I did that. You know it’s crazy because I watched it and I really don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how I do it. It’s a gift and it’s such a blessing that God gave me – the gift to act and sing. I don’t know how I do it. I really don’t.

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AHHA: When portraying someone that’s still alive, how do you differentiate between impersonating and interpreting?

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Antonique Smith: Well impersonating would have been me trying to figure out every tiny nuance about [Faith]. I tried to just get her essence. I wanted to channel her. I wanted you to get her soul, more so than the way she holds her head or the way she uses her hands. People say I did pick up the laugh, but I had studied the laugh for the audition so I got a little bit of the laugh. But then I didn’t try to go far with it because there was another little element of the laugh that I thought about.

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I was like, “Should I do that?” I said no I didn’t want to go too far with it because honestly it was really more about Biggie being Biggie. I felt like as long as I was channeling her spirit and her soul and really getting the truth of the emotion of what she was going through in those moments, then I felt like I was doing, you know, not an impersonation but bringing her life to life.

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AHHA: Did you focus on the dynamics of the relationship more than you did on her in general? In other words the feeding off of, did you focus on that more?

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Antonique Smith: When I talked to her I focused more on how she felt. I focused more on trying to figure out where I could come from as an actor. Because you know, you have to find the emotions somewhere. So I wanted to know how she was feeling, more than the little nuances of how she might have stood in the room. You know I didn’t care about all that other stuff because that would have been more of an impersonation. I really just wanted to go, how did you feel? What was going on in your mind?

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AHHA: You said at the junket that Faith gave you a copy of her book, Keep the Faith: A Memoir. It appears that what was in the book contrasted with what was in Notorious in some instances. Was it hard for you after reading the book to kind of get into that story? Because you knew what really happened, but you had to portray what the Biggie circle said happened.

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Antonique Smith: Yes exactly. That’s who hired me, and I did not want to get fired. And that actually was a struggle. It was a struggle because it was so important to me for Faith to be happy. So I got in trouble the first week of shooting trying to make Faith happy. Faith didn’t like something…because the truth of how they met was one way, but then in the movie, there’s you know how a scene is written, how a scene has an arc. It starts and then it has to be different at the end. So when we first meet [Biggie], if I’m like, “Oh my God Biggie! Hi!” Then there’s no obstacle. So I had to be like, “Oh ok you know I can’t do this right now,” and focus. You know because [Faith] has a daughter and she’s focused and she’s trying to get her career going. Like, “Ok nice to meet you, Biggie, but I got stuff to do. I got a photoshoot…you know.”

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Faith was nervous [when she first met Biggie at a photoshoot]. She really was. She had never done [a photoshoot] before. So she was nervous at the photo shoot. And here comes this guy [Biggie]. So in real life she was like, “Oh, hi.” You know they cool and he’s funny, looking through her pictures. This is in real life, he’s going through her pictures and that’s how he got her number, off the sheet when you turn the pictures into Kodak or whatever. And she took him home that night, dropped him off. And everyday after that they were together. He would pick her up…well she would pick him up.

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She had the car; he didn’t have a car. He lived with his mama, which is the whole misconception…I’ll get into that later. I really wanted to make sure everybody knew what wasn’t true.

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AHHA: They were focusing on the artist “Faith Evans” less than Faith.

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Antonique Smith: Right and they wanted the scene to have a beginning and an end. So if she gives into him in the beginning of the scene, then it has nowhere to go. They’re giving me to play it off a little bit and then at the end it’s like he’s making me laugh. So [Faith] didn’t like that in the scene. She’s like, “That sounds a little mean. It’s making me sound mean.” And I said, “Well I think I can make you not sound mean, I think I can help that.” So the first like five takes I’m like really nice to him through all those lines and they’re looking at me like, “What are you doing? Cut!” I’m like, “I don’t want to come off mean.” And I must have said that like five takes after. But I really don’t want to come off mean because Faith doesn’t want to come off mean.

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So they said this is not about Faith. We hired you, this is the script you’re working with, this is what we want you to do [laughs]. But I still in my heart wanted to make her happy, so I did as much as I could, but there were some battles that I lost. The battles that I won though, yes from the memoirs, is that she really loved him.

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Some of that wasn’t quite in the script. The wedding scene wasn’t [originally] in the script, it was a lot of cute fun stuff and I said, “But they loved each other! We have to put some love in there somewhere.” So me and George [Tillman] were talking and he really felt what I was saying because I read in the memoirs she said, “I thought we had more time.” She said even before he died they thought they were going to get back together. He mentions you know “spending time with my wife”…at the beginning [of the film] in one of his last interviews, and he was talking about how ten years from now he sees himself with Faith.

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AHHA: Did you find it crazy though, because you’re going through the emotions as Biggie’s wife, but at the same time, you’re playing the role of someone who was cheated on with a number of different people, while at the same time honoring this man’s legacy. Was it hard for you getting into this role thinking to yourself like, “Wow he was a player”?

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Antonique Smith: He had a lot of pain. I mean he didn’t have a father, he grew up in the inner city, his mother had breast cancer. So he had a lot of stuff stored up inside of him. Sometimes a lot of that pain – I mean, we can see that just in society right now – a lot of the pain comes out kind of in maybe sometimes the wrong way. So you end up expressing yourself and you don’t really know how to properly like…he really loved her, but he didn’t really know how to really show it. You know, that’s all he knew. He knew enough that she was the girl he wanted to marry. He did know that much.

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[Biggie] knew the difference between [Faith Evans] and Lil’ Kim. He knew that Faith was the girl that you feel like you can’t get. She’s the one that you aspire to be with. He had confidence, but I’m sure he looked at her like, “Man that’s the girl that you really fight to get.” And she fell for him, they fell in love. But I think a lot of his struggles and his pain growing up may have come out in the wrong way.

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AHHA: When you cry, what do you connect to?

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Antonique Smith: Well you know, sometimes you can literally – like I did have a relationship that I was hurt in and so when I was breaking up [with Biggie]…the break-up scene…I connected to that. I never had a break-up scene that was that dramatic, but you can just remember that feeling of how it is to know that this is like goodbye. It’s interesting…sometimes I think happy thoughts, and I get so happy that it makes me cry. Like the funeral, I wasn’t – well, first I was sad. But my dad was there.

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And I love my family, my mom and dad, my sister we’re very close. My sister Antonia she’s my special little sister. I’ll tell you all about her. She has a disability. But anyway, I sometimes think of them and you know maybe you can think of losing them, but then you don’t always have to think of losing them. You can think of how much you love them. So in that little shot of me in the funeral was I was just like balling, I might have been thinking of my daddy who was standing behind the camera. It varies.

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AHHA: So what’s next for you?

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Antonique Smith: Well I’m working on my album. I’ve turned down a couple movies because I really want to…this role first of all, Broadway – I played Mimi – meaty roles. Meaty you know run the gamut of emotions. This role, meaty role, run the gamut of emotions. So I didn’t want to take something else that was just something to do. I didn’t want to just take it just to have a project. Because you know sometimes they say you just got to keep working, you take anything that comes. 

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You don’t want to just take any project. You want to be selective. So you’ll see me in some movies when the right thing comes along. But you know the right thing’s gonna come along after [Notorious] comes out. And my album – I’m thinking spring, summer of next year.

Additional reporting by Odeisel.

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