LOS ANGELES – Queen Latifah thrives on going big. From writing and rapping at the start of her career to being an Oscar-nominated actress to producing, she has upended expectations for years.
Her latest chapter comes in the new CBS series "The Equalizer” as the first Black woman to portray the role in the franchise.
The show debuts Feb. 7 in the coveted timeslot following the Super Bowl, typically the year's most-watched program. The series settles into its regular Sunday night slot on Feb. 14.
The football game offers the potential of a huge lead-in audience to introduce Latifah as Robyn McCall, an ex-CIA officer who uses her skills to defend those who can't help themselves while pursuing her own redemption. Her co-stars include Chris Noth, Lorraine Toussaint and Adam Goldberg.
The post-Super Bowl slot has provided monstrous ratings over the years for shows like "Friends,” “Survivor” and "Undercover Boss.”
"I'm so stoked that we’re coming on after the Super Bowl," Latifah said Wednesday on a video call. "It was a great boost for our crew that has been working really hard under difficult conditions. It just gave us all a boost around here and made us go even harder and work even harder.”
Latifah is getting her licks and kicks in on three sets built inside Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, her home state.
The arena where fellow Jerseyites Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra, as well as the NBA and NHL, once played closed in 2015 after nearly 40 years. Tax credits from the state have helped lure TV and film projects to the sprawling site.
"We're across the street from Giants Stadium, for cryin' out loud,” said Latifah, a self-proclaimed "huge" football fan.
The crime drama is being reimagined, following the original series from the 1980s with a white man (Edward Woodward) in the title role. That show spawned films in 2014 and 2018 starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington.
“I did watch the original series as a kid,” Latifah said. “What Denzel did with the feature films has been incredible. We wanted to do something different.”
Latifah's character is a divorced single mom to a teenage daughter. On the job, her character is strong, cool and skilled, but at home she's thrown off-balance.
Debra Martin Chase, an executive producer on the show, said she believes Latifah is just the fourth Black woman to play the lead on an hour-long network drama, joining Teresa Graves, Kerry Washington and Viola Davis — all of whom were Golden Globe-nominated for their roles.
Latifah gets to cruise on a motorcycle (a passion in real life) and fight, something she and her brother learned as youngsters from their police officer-father.
“My father taught us how to fight at a young age, how to defend ourselves, taught us all these moves, and then told us never to use them unless you were defending your mother, your brother, you're sticking up for someone who's being bullied,” she said.
While Latifah loves action and fighting, she doesn't go in for gratuitous violence. As an executive producer, her influence extends to all areas of the show.
“I want to see Robyn fight, not just with her hands, but with her brains. That's what you haven't seen enough of, particularly from Black women on television and in a lead role. We’ve been equalizing for centuries, from Hatshepsut to Stacey Abrams to Kamala Harris,” she said.
Latifah added: “Hopefully, they’ll start to say, ‘Damn, Latifah is a badass.' The ego in me wants them to say that.”