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An Interview with Yara Shahidi (“Imagine That”)

IMAGINE THAT

For the nine (and a quarter)-year-old Yara Shahidi, fame and fortune is all in a day’s work. Yara started acting at the ripe old age six months, doing commercial work, before branching out to print ads, and, more recently, acting jobs.

She landed a role on the ABC sitcom “In the Motherhood,” and her first feature film, “Imagine That,” opened June 12. Yara’s co-star is someone you may have heard of: Eddie Murphy.

In “Imagine That” Yara plays Olivia Danielson, the 6-year-old daughter of Murphy’s character. The fantasy world Olivia creates helps revitalize her father’s life and career.

Yara chatted with me about racing Murphy to the set, learning Farsi, and just how scary Samuel L. Jackson is in real life.

JS: This is your first movie, right?

YS: Yes.

JS: But you’ve done TV before. I would like to know how different, or how the same, it is working on a TV show than a movie, and even a commercial.

yara-zahidiYS: Well, on a TV show, it takes one week to shoot a show, and a commercial one day, but a movie takes like five months. The similarity is that in all of them you have a number of lines.

JS: Do you like one better than the other? Is there one that is harder than the other?

YS: Not really, because a movie is just like a TV show, only stretched out. It’s like a long TV show.

JS: How did you manage to get into an Eddie Murphy movie?

YS: It was kind of like auditioning for a commercial or a TV show, but instead of auditioning twice, I auditioned like ten times, or something crazy like that.

JS: When you first auditioned, did you think you’d get the role? How nervous or excited were you?

YS: Well, I didn’t know how many girls got to audition, so I thought “well, if I get it, then fine, but if I don’t , I don’t. We were relaxed the whole time. We weren’t really worried.

JS: But I bet you were excited when you got the job.

YS: Oh, yeah.

JS: How was it working with Eddie Murphy? Did he make you laugh a lot?

YS: Well, he’s super fun. We were always having conversations. He’s a really fun person to be around. He’s always excited, so I’m more excited.

JS: Did he play any pranks or do any jokes?

YS: No pranks, because you never know what can happen when you do pranks. Something could go wrong with the wardrobe or something like that. There was one time when I almost tricked myself, though. I usually beat Mr. Eddie to set, so one day I saw his car coming on to the set, so Iwas running to try to get to the set first. So I got to the set, and I announced to everyone that I beat Mr. Eddie to set. Then I heard TONS of laughing, and I looked to my right, and he’s sitting there on the couch waiting for me. Mr. Eddie wasn’t even in the car.

JS: I understand you’re learning Farsi. Can you tell me why you’re doing that?

YS: Yes, I am! It’s a really interesting language, and I’m half Persian, so I figured you might as well learn the language. And I want to visit Iran someday, and if you try visiting Iran knowing only English it’s going to be hard. So I’m learning, but at school it all kind of fell out, so I’m relearning. I can understand it better than speak it.

JS: Do you have any goals for learning it? Is there a time you want to speak it by?

YS: Well, I want to continue to learn it. I want to know enough Farsi to speak in full sentences by the end of the year.

JS: Can you tell me a little bit about your character Olivia, and who she is and how you want people to see her?

YS: Well, Olivia is (Eddie Murphy’s) six-year-old daughter, and she is a young girl, she’s kind of sassy, and she is very creative. She can go into this imaginary world that no one can see, and things are real to her. That takes creativity to see this world in front of her. I wanted everyone to see her as being kind of sassy, but still a very sweet girl and very nice. All she wants to do is spend time with her parents. The reason she’s sassy is because no one was giving her what she actually needs: someone to spend time with her.

JS: When you’re acting, you’re pretending to be someone else, and to have a different life-different parents and friends. How do you do that, pretend to be someone else?

YS: Well, really, since it’s still me, all I have to do is find the range of emotions to create the character.

JS: I understand you have some other movies coming up too.

YS: Yes, I have “Unthinkable” and “Salt.” “Unthinkable” I’m doing with my brother (Sayeed Shahidi, also an actor) and Samuel L. Jackson.

JS: And how was that working with him and with your brother?

YS: It’s really cool, because he said my brother is a kid comedian, because he was making jokes on set and doing all of his different dances.

JS: How how is Samuel L. Jackson?

YS: He’s a really good person. It isn’t hard to get along with him.

JS: But he’s not scary? In a lot of his movies he’s kind of scary.

YS: Well, I haven’t seen a lot of his movies, because I’m kind of young. But no, he’s not scary. Whoever thought he was scary…he’s not scary at all. That’s just a version of how he makes his characters.

JS: And you’re working with Angelina Jolie in “Salt” too?

YS: Yes, I play her neighbor and she asks me to take care of her dog. She’s a really nice person to be around.

JS: Are there any other people that you want to do a movie with?

YS: I really want to do a movie with Queen Latifah and Chris Rock, and I also want to work with Jack Black.

JS: Can you tell me one more thing you want people to know about your movie?

YS: It’s a great movie, and it’s a great movie to see on Father’s Day.

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