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In Sparkle you play Sister Williams, eldest sibling to Jordin Sparks and Tika Sumpter. You also played Maya Rudolph’s sister in Away We Go. It seems like something about you inspires people to cast you in a sisterly role.
[The characters in] Sparkle and Away We Go couldn’t be more different as sisters. I think being cast as a sister is more about looking like the lead. Sister has talent, but what she has moreso than talent, I think, is charisma and ambition, and a willingness to objectify herself, to achieve success. The three of us have this very overbearing mother figure in Whitney’s character; she’s overprotective based on her own mistakes in trying to achieve fame. Funnily enough, it was more about Whitney, because despite myself I’m more like my mother than I’d like to be [in the movie]. With Sister and Sparkle [Sparks’s character], it’s almost more of a maternal relationship than a sister relationship. There’s really a lot of depth to [Sister].
Obviously the movie will receive attention because of Whitney Houston...
Whitney was very willing to be authentic about herself and her past, and bring that to the table when it was necessary. That was helpful to me, because there are a lot of parallels in my character’s life that she was very aware of. I think the message of the film becomes all the more powerful as a result. I think her concert was the first I ever saw. As a girl growing up in the UK, there were certain people who were just iconic and massive personalities that seemed at times to rise above and beyond any other kinds of preconceptions of what somebody who looks like me can and can’t do. It really had an impact, and her body of work is very impressive to me.
How does Fort Greene compare with London, where you grew up, or other places you’ve lived?
I’ve never lived in LA; New York is much closer to what I love in terms of diversity. I don’t actually believe New York is really a melting pot, to be honest. I think that, you know, in the day we all kind of cross paths on our way to work. Then we all sort of scurry back to our various parts of the city, and it’s pretty segregated. London isn’t that, in my memory of it. I adore London, and I miss it dreadfully. But of all the cities I’ve spent time in, I think New York, especially Brooklyn, is the best fit for me. I definitely feel very much at home here.
This is our food issue, so I need to ask: any restaurants in Fort Greene you’d recommend to people?
I like spaces that are low-key. The Vanderbilt I like. I’ve watched DeKalb change so much, but there are a few mainstays: General Green is really great. You could find a plethora of good food on DeKalb; that’s where I’d send people. Luz has this great garlicky steak and [yuca] appetizer. If I could afford it, I’d eat it every day.
You’re of Nigerian and Scottish descent. Do you have recommendations for Nigerian and/or Scottish food anywhere in the city? Is that an absurd question? Haggis in Brooklyn?
I’m afraid I don’t know any great haggis spots. I’ve not yet found one myself, nor have I been looking, frankly! EN on Lafayette, which is a real Nigerian spot. It’s got really good food, it’s also a bar, and it’s mostly Nigerians who go there—that’s the hangout in the neighborhood. That would be my first recommendation. I’m much more connected to my Scottish heritage than my Nigerian, actually; I spent most summers in Scotland. I remember a lot of fish and chips. That’s the best I’ve got. •
Carmen Sings of Brooklyn