Nia Long looked to her personal life to play her latest role in Tyler Perry’s film “Single Moms Club,” which opens March 14.
The actress spent a decade as a single mom raising son Massai, now 13. (Dad is ex-fiancé Massai Dorsey.) She also has a 16-month-old son Kez with longtime love San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka, who “doesn’t get days off.”
“We maneuver the best we can, but six months out of the year, I’m a single mom,” Long, 43, said. “This year was tough. I’ve worked more than I ever have since we’ve been together.” In addition to shooting the Perry film, she also starred in “The Best Man Holiday” and guest starred on Showtime’s “House of Lies”. “My business life has to be overly organized so if something goes wrong with the kids, it doesn’t throw me at work. You also need a sense of humor, lots of patience and 30 minutes a day to be by yourself. For me, going to the gym is very therapeutic.”
She says getting the hectic balance of motherhood right onscreen took some doing.
“When Tyler Perry called me, we had several conversations about this because he wanted to understand single moms’ problems,” Long says of her role in “Club”. “Whether you’re single or not, all mothers share many of the same feelings, challenges and time restraints. A single mom has no help at all if you can’t afford to hire someone or ask family members, and it can be scary. You feel completely alone because you have no one to bounce ideas off or have a conversation about, ‘Am I doing this right?'”
In Single Moms Club, Long’s son Massai plays her onscreen son, but she didn’t want him to land the role purely through nepotism. “I selfishly wanted him to play the part, but I said to Tyler, ‘He needs to audition and earn it. It can’t just be given to him. He’s had such a privileged life compared to my life. I don’t want him to have a sense of entitlement.'”
So, she sent him to school — of sorts.
“He trained with my old acting coach, and my mother videotaped him on her iPhone and sent it to me. I had tears in my eyes. I forwarded it to Tyler and said, ‘Don’t be afraid to tell me the truth.’ I felt like I was up for the job. I didn’t hear anything for 48 hours. Finally, my agent called and said he got the part.”
Long herself began acting soon after she graduated from high school and quickly made an impact in “Boyz n the Hood”. Although she has often been described as a beauty, she has mixed feelings about being typecast in that way.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” she says. “There are roles that I’ve seen come and go that I would have loved to play, but the feedback was, ‘No, she’s too pretty.’ It’s like pretty women don’t go through tragic things. There’s an assumption that if you’re pretty, you’re not intelligent. It’s really unfair. I don’t wake up in the morning and go, ‘I’m so pretty.’ It’s ‘Holy crap! Where’s the eye cream?'”