When it comes to entertainment, rapper Queen Latifah has just about done it all. She's released several albums, starred in a popular sitcom, earned an Oscar nomination for "Chicago" and recently launched her own line of Cover Girl cosmetics. For her latest trick, she's providing the voice for a very confused wooly mammoth in Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown."
In the animated family film, Queen Latifah joins fellow prehistoric players Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott and Josh Peck. Despite her experience acting and singing, the rapper, born Dana Owens, discovered that voice acting was a whole new challenge since the dialogue is recorded alone in a studio before animation gets underway.
"Honestly, I never felt so insecure on a job in my entire life," she confesses. "I'm telling you, these things are so hard because you do it so many times that you're not sure if you're giving them what you want. I thought it was just me until I talked to Ray and I found out ... a lot of people feel this way because its such a strange way to make movies. It's like working in reverse."
She also gained a newfound respect for the work involved to bring these characters to life.
"Having to scream or go, 'Ugh. Oomph,' weird sounds like that over and over and over, it can be tedious at times ..." she explains. "[And] there are little small things that need to be brought across in the voice. And if you don't get it, you feel frustrated sometimes."
Owens plays Ellie, a wooly mammoth who doesn't see herself as a nine-ton pachyderm but as a nimble, nocturnal possum like her adoptive furry "brothers," Crash and Eddie. While this little identity crisis made for humorous situations, Queen Latifah felt that the viewer needed a good, solid reason why Ellie has intentioanlly denied her true heritage.
"It was part of the problem for me when I was trying to work through creating this character and making it all make sense. I was like, 'You know what, guys? We really need a scene where she realizes who she is and she figures it out because she remembers,'" says the actress. "They totally got it and they created this wonderful scene where she rediscovers and remembers who she was and how it all happened. She's only allowed herself to be the child of these possums all her life."
Accepting her true identity is also essential to Manny (Romano), who once thought he was the last of his kind in existence until he met Ellie. Now he has the option of repopulating the earth with mammoths. For Queen Latifah, the pair's struggles reflects one of the film's central messages.
"The family is what family is," she says, referring to both Ellie's possum family and Manny's relationship with Sid (Leguizamo) and Diego (Leary). "It's not necessarily what a family typically is supposed to look like, but it is what it is. It's about that connection and that bond."
"Ice Age: The Meltdown" seeps into theaters nationwide beginning Friday, March 31.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun