We’re one week away from the premiere of CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, and our celebratory silk pajamas are being steamed and pressed as we type. VH1 visited the Atlanta set this spring, and were blown away by the style, the moves, and the talent among this young cast.
As Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Lil Mama breaks through in a big way with her very first acting role. Born Naitia Jessica Kirkland, the 24-year-old brings an intense authenticity to the group’s most mysterious member that should impress anyone who still thinks she’s only concerned with lip gloss. Learn how she got into character and what she believes to be the legacy of TLC, in our exclusive interview below.
VH1: This is your first acting role. What do you want people to think of you when they see this movie?
I want people to think, “She really became Lisa.” It’s not about me; it’s bigger than me and that’s something I knew before this film, and God has been really good to me. I truly believe that this project was aligned perfectly, from the characters, to the director, to VH1, being known for putting out films like the Jackson Five movie. And everything that has happened is totally perfect and I just want people to feel that I sit perfectly in that.
What was the audition process like?
Whatever you want in life you have to fight for it. You can’t just expect it to just come jump in your lap, especially when you haven’t shown people what you’ve done before–like you’ve never acted before. People are gonna look at you and say, “OK she sings or she raps, or she plays the violin, but can she act?” That’s the main question when dealing with directors and producers. They want to know, can you act? And I guess I proved myself.
You obviously had that desire and passion to go along with it.
Yeah, I did. I felt that if anybody was gonna play Left Eye, it was gonna be me because I wanted her to be well represented.
Did people say that you reminded them of her when you were growing up?
Not really. Not with her. M.C. Lyte, maybe Missy [Elliott] at times, [but] never Left Eye. It’s crazy, right?
Were you a fan of Lisa and TLC before you started filming?
I was. I was really young when they came out, but as they moved into the FanMail stuff, that’s when I really started catching up with them–like “No Scrubs” and things like that. [I’m a] big fan of “Scrubs.” I’ve always liked the futuristic style, so to learn that a lot of that stuff was her idea, and that she thinks on that level, I was excited to see that we had a lot in common.
Do you feel like you became her?
Oh yeah, most definitely. Not only through hair, makeup, and wardrobe, but also through character. Studying her persona and her demeanor is really a beautiful thing. It’s just amazing to be able to catch the essence of her character.
Do you have a favorite outfit that you’ve worn?
[The] “No Scrubs” [costume] is my favorite because I wear Lisa’s entire outfit–like if she wore it, I wore it, OK? Another one of my favorites is definitely, “Ooooooohhh… On The TLC Tip!” I live in the ’90s. [That era] is so close to my style and who I am. I love it. The big hat, you know?!
Has it been harder to connect with the character since Lisa is no longer with us?
It’s been a little more difficult not having her here. For one it’s really sad when two people walk in the room, and that third, I guess, that spirit, is just hovering over. It makes you sad. When I went to read for the role, Tionne and Chili were there and immediately when I saw them, I was like, “Wow” and then a few seconds later I was in tears. I didn’t expect to break down, but it happened. I guess the reality hit that she wasn’t going to be here.
What’s it been like to spend so much time with Tionne and Chilli?
It was very insightful to spend time with them and to hear their stories and to pretty much understand what was going on in the background of the scene.
Was it difficult at all to portray the moments toward the end of Lisa’s life?
It was difficult to find the emotion behind the action, if that makes any sense. There are many ups and downs in this story and some come in the beginning, some come in the end, some come in the middle. It was more so knowing factual information of where she was and I can’t get that from her in person, so I had to really search. And it was a challenge, it was really a challenge.
What have been some of the hardest scenes that you guys have had to film?
For me, one of the harder scenes was [Lisa] losing a parent; that’s something that I can relate to. She lost her dad at the beginning of her career and kept going, and I lost my mom near the beginning of my career and kept going. I can relate to that hurt and that pain, but it’s a hard thing to do when it’s so close. Not only are you in character, but you’re really experiencing that pain.
And how important do you think it is for this film to show their personal lives?
It’s very important to show the personal lives because there are young people who look up to not only TLC but to other celebrities as well and say, “Hey I want that, I want to be a celebrity. I want to be famous.” And with this movie you’ll be able to see what happens beyond what you see on television and the videos or in interviews that are given to you. You get to see the challenges of being exposed and being known and wanting to just be a regular person and live a normal life. I think that that is one of the biggest challenges as a celebrity, to want to still feel like a normal human being.
Was that your favorite performance to film?
My favorite performance to do is [raps] “Yo, mic, check, one two, one, two, we in the house.” “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” is my favorite song to perform. Lisa comes alive and it’s so cool. I’m so in my element when I perform that song. We perform that song and we created the video, so you’re going to be blown away.
What’s it like to perform Keke and Drew?
Oh my God, it’s incredible. So much chemistry and yes, it’s incredible.
You guys are all musicians. Would you want to perform together elsewhere?
I would love to work with them; I love working with them. They’re incredible.
Which song or moment in TLC’s career do you think had the biggest impact on the music world?
Crazysexycool, because with Crazysexycool people got a chance to know who they were and to see them make mistakes in the public eye. People got a chance to feel like, “Hey, I’m just like that girl.” And they also got a chance to see them make a change. They changed in front of everyone’s eyes from these cool, crazy, like kind of tomboy-ish girls to some crazy, sexy, cool girls. My favorite song is “Diggin’ on You.”
That’s what Keke said, too.
That’s her favorite song? Look, she knows that that’s my favorite song, OK? She needs to back off [laughs]. She knows that that’s my favorite song. Everybody knows; I made it clear.
What do you think about other girl groups that have come after TLC? Will anyone be able to compare?
I mean, there’s never a comparison unless you make it a comparison for yourself from the beginning, when it comes to groups or even individuals as artists. When you set out to be like someone else, or when you set out to compete or outdo someone else in their style or in their walk, you’re kind of setting yourself up for failure because you have your own thing, we’re all special. TLC was a very special group. No other group can do or be what TLC has been or what they’ve done and not only in the industry but in life period.
TLC’s songs are full of social commentary. Do you think there are a lot of artists doing that today, or is that something that’s specific to TLC and their time period?
Wow that’s an interesting question, a very interesting question. That is a universal timeless thing to be conscious of what you’re saying, to touch the people through your music. I’m a big fan of Bruno Mars [sings] “‘Cause you’re amazing, just the way you are.’” In that song he’s reminding someone how beautiful they are, the way they are. And with all the cosmetic surgery going on, that’s a very prevalent, relevant song. And I think that it was important for TLC to do that, because they were tapping into their souls, they were tapping into their hearts. As far as being social, it’s very timeless. It’s missing in many of the songs that are popular today but it’s present at the same time.
What is the legacy of TLC?
The legacy of TLC is being a groundbreaking, innovative, voice of the youth. ’Cause not only were they cool and someone that you looked up to and wanted to be like, but they were very boisterous and honest to themselves. It wasn’t like [they were] trying to be perfect; it was what it was. And that helps me as a person–in playing Lisa and being a part of the group through the movie. It helps me understand that I just need to be myself and people who love what I’m doing will follow me. People who don’t, won’t.
[Photo Credit: Blake Tyers/VH1]