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Fame’s Naturi Naughton on Playing Lil’ Kim and Why Her New Movie’s No Remake

Twenty-five-year-old Naturi Naughton made a big, brief splash as one third of late-nineties hip-hop girl group 3LW, then turned to acting, most recently appearing in Biggie Smalls’s biopic Notorious as Lil’ Kim. This weekend, she arrives in theaters as Denise, the conflicted ingénue at the center of the new Fame remake. Naturi spoke with Vulture about playing Kim, Fame’s PG rating, and not stopping traffic (in the movie).

Tell us a bit about your character — she’s the equivalent of Coco from the original, right?
Her name is Denise, and she’s basically a classical pianist turned singer; she’s one of those girls who doesn’t really know what she wants because she’s always been told what to do by her parents. I think she’s very discouraged at home to pursue music, but she decides to kind of rebel and say, you know, this is my dream, and she goes for it. It’s based off of Coco [Irene Cara’s role in the original], but the personality traits are very different.

This must have been a big change from playing Lil’ Kim …
It is a big change — Lil’ Kim, she’s a real person, and such a well-known hip-hop icon. I had to study her music and learn how to rap, which was so new for me, and she’s very sexy and mature but also vulnerable. It was very different, so I think Fame will actually showcase my range, because now I’m a young, insecure high-school girl, and I like that.

Were you nervous to sign on for the remake of such an iconic movie?
Oh, you know, I think it was definitely a little pressure, to remake something like Fame. But the good thing was our director and everyone around us said, “This is not just a remake, it’s a reinvention.” We’re taking it to the next level, we’re not stuck having to do it exactly the way it was in the original. It’s a new time, with new dance and music styles, and I think that relieves the stress and allows us to make it our own as opposed to trying to just make it a replica.

Did any original cast members talk to you guys?
Well, we don’t know anyone other than Debbie Allen. All the other cast members weren’t around. But she was great; I didn’t get to work with her that much in the scenes, but she was so down-to-earth and fun and talked about how much fun the original Fame was. All the original people were unknowns and raw talent, and she told us she liked that idea, and that we should keep that rawness.

What do you think audiences will think is the most controversial thing about this version of Fame?
People might be surprised that the graduation finale is not “I Sing the Body Electric.” That was great and eighties, but the songs … we wanted to bring something new to that. I think the audience is gonna be shocked, to be honest. We have some amazing shots, and I think they’ll be more shocked than looking at it like, “Why did they do this?” It’s fresh.

It’s attracted some attention that the movie has a PG rating, when the original touched on several very non-PG subjects (abortion, interracial romance, homelessness, drugs, and more!). So where does the conflict come from this time around?
Yes, and it’s great because I hope families will come and see it; we don’t want to limit who it can touch. We want everyone to be inspired by it. There’s a lot of relationship issues; how you’re gonna choose, friendship or love or a career. I think there’s issues about getting caught up, wanting things so badly that you’re willing to do anything, and sometimes things that aren’t so good. I think a lot of young people don’t realize the price of fame is a lot higher than they imagine.

Will we see the cast stopping traffic to sing the title song?
That’s actually not in the movie! That’s why we did the music video, which we just premiered at the Video Music Awards, to pay tribute to that scene. It’s sooo good. And it’s just a short version. We wanted it not to be as fantastical as a musical, we wanted it to be real when people sing, so I think the director decided against it so it didn’t seem randomly implanted. We reinvented that whole moment for the video instead.

Fame’s Naturi Naughton on Playing Lil’ Kim and Why Her New Movie’s No Remake