Alicia Keys Shares Secrets of 'Bees' Movie To date, singer Alicia Keys has won over 80 music awards, including 11 Grammys. But her talent doesn't stop there. She's back on the big screen starring in The Secret Life of Bees. Keys talks with Farai Chideya about her role in the film and what's next in her evolving career.
NPR logo

Alicia Keys Shares Secrets of 'Bees' Movie

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Alicia Keys Shares Secrets of 'Bees' Movie

Alicia Keys Shares Secrets of 'Bees' Movie

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(Soundbite of song "Falling")

Ms. ALICIA KEYS: (Singing) I keep on falling in - in love with you...


Who can forget that intro to Alicia Keys breakthrough 2001 hit "Falling" from her debut album "Songs in A Minor."

(Soundbite of song "Falling")

Ms. KEYS: (Singing) Sometimes I love you, sometimes you make me blue. Sometimes I feel good, and times I feel used…

CHIDEYA: To date, the piano-playing Keys has won over 80 musics awards, including 11 Grammys. But her talent doesn't stop there. Last year, she made her film debut as Georgia Sykes in, "Smoking Aces," followed by a role in "The Nanny Diaries."

Now she's back on the big screen starring with Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Sophie Okonedo in "The Secret Life of Bees." I caught up with Alicia promoting the film in New York, and started by asking her about her latest role.

Ms. KEYS: June Boatwright is so incredible. I love her. I mean, I think that if you take yourself back to the '60s, smack in the middle of the beginning of the civil-rights era, and really seeing that the power of the country and the power of the people that really are making the country change. That's where you can find June Boatwright.

So she's a very strong woman. She's very independent. She is a person who is really - loves her family very much. She is guarded. She's been hurt before so, that makes her extra guarded. She puts up a very tough exterior. It's a tough world, so she puts up a tough exterior, but underneath, she is really very vulnerable.

She is really kind of - you know, who really wants to love, but kind of is afraid of it, in all sides of it.

(Soundbite of movie "The Secret Life of Bees")

Ms. ALICIA KEYS: (As June Boatwright) Would you keep it down?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALICIA KEYS: (As June Boatwright) Keep it down. I am practicing.

Ms. DAKOTA FANNING: (As Lily Owens) Come over here, you don't get wet.

CHIDEYA: In the movie, you get to see these different worlds. Rich white, poor whites, people who own land, people who work land, people who have dreams, people who don't have dreams. What is it about this story that you think is true? And I mean it - that in an emotionally way. It is fiction, but what is it that stands out to you as true?

Ms. KEYS: All of it is true. And I think that every character that you'll discover as you're watching the film is someone that you'd know, or you know, you can identify with yourself. You know, you have August, who's kind of the head sister. She is the matronly one, the one that keeps everything running. Keeps everything smooth. She might remind you of a mother, of an older sister, or of a grandmother even.

(Soundbite of movie "The Secret Life of Bees")

Ms. Queen Latifah: (As August Boatwright) The world is really just a one big bee yard, the same rules work in both places. Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you.

Ms. KEYS: We have a May Boatwright who is the other sister, who has kind of the whole weight of the world on her shoulders. When you see her, you know, the smallest little things sets her off. You know, she is just very sensitive soul and I know, everyone has met someone like that.

You see Lily, someone who is, you know, young, coming of age, really trying to deal with her own demons and confusions. You see June, who is like, you know, someone who is again, another - is coming into her own in a lot of ways, and is really trying to change the world and fight for different rights.

I think the entire movie is true, even with the on start of, you know, being of the time of being able to vote. Especially in this climate that we're in right now politically, you know, it's like everything about it is true. It's a true part of history that I just think that details of it you don't always get a chance to witness, and that's what's so exciting about this movie.

CHIDEYA: Your character June plays the cello, but it's not really - music is not a huge part of this movie. There is you, Queen Latifah, and Jennifer Hudson, all in key roles. So what do think it is that the movie got out - or the audience might get out of seeing people who've really got one foot in the world of music and one foot in the world of acting.

Ms. KEYS: I think that you'll just see the passion there. And I think that, you know, that just lends to the feeling of the passion, truly. The passion of acting. The passion of music. The way that music feeds life, you know, everyone's life. And so you'll see it. I know a lot of people are so shocked that we're all in it and like, it's not a musical, but I think that's kind of the interesting part of it.

CHIDEYA: What was it like to work with the director, Gina Prince-Bythewood?

Ms. KEYS: Gina is amazing. You know, she's the writer and the director of this, which is a no small feat, and she just did an amazing job. I love her demeanor. She is very no-nonsense, you know, at the same time, she really allowed us - she really was very focused on preparation.

She would kind of do these improvisations with us, that would just allow us to get to know each other's character better and on the spot. And it just gave us a certain freedom. You know, she gave us books, and music, and things to study and look into - movies, you know? She is definitely super, super hands-on.

And what was great about her is like - because she is so no-nonsense, she pulls it out of you in a very inspiring way. But at the same time, she doesn't overdo it, so you know that, if she likes it, you'll know. If she says she likes it, you'll know she really likes it, and you did a good job, so you feel proud of that.

CHIDEYA: All right, moving on to music. I don't go to a lot of award shows, but I was at the BET awards and you did this kind of ensemble piece with SWV, En Vogue, and TLC.

Ms. KEYS: That was so, so fun. At that time, my single was called 'Teenage Love Affair," and it's off my album that's out now, "As I Am." I really wanted to kind of do it like a girl-group style, because it has that feeling in the song.

And so, as we were talking about favorite girl groups of all time, you know, myself and my manager, Jeff Robinson, we start shooting out our favorite girl group so, you know, we start singing SWV, En Vogue, and TLC, and so when it came time for the BET awards, it just felt like the right thing to do, to kind of represent all these amazing fantastic girl groups.

(Soundbite of song "Teenage Love Affair")

Ms. KEYS: (Singing) I don't want to be here, it a matter for extreme importance. My first teenage love affair.

CHIDEYA: Well, just a couple of more things, very quickly. Are you involved in anything around the election? You know, so many people from music, television, film, are making their stamp on trying to get people out to vote, are you involved with any other groups?

Ms. KEYS: Every day, every day, no one in particular, but every day, every show, just urging people to vote. Every time that I am able to have an opportunity to speak on television, I am urging people to vote and get registered. Definitely do some private events with different people to help raise money for - I support Obama, so to raise money for his campaign.

And you know, it's just like a constant thing to really see how the country is just so alert and involved in this election. I think that it's super important and it's obvious that it's time for a major change, so I am really looking forward to the change coming, and I believe it will.

CHIDEYA: How have you changed between your 2001 album "Songs In A Minor" and your latest album "As I Am?"

Ms. KEYS: Oh, man, in the best ways. You know, just becoming more comfortable in my skin. You know, being more aware of the things that come with this business, and with balancing business and personal time. With creatively - just being more expressive, being more free, all around the board.

You know, just the lessons, and the learning, and the growing, and just being way more inhibited even just physically in regards to, you know, style and that kind of thing, you know? At first, you come from a certain neighborhood. You're young and you know, you feel like there is a certain limit for the things that would do, and then you realized that life is limitless. And I think that the more I live, the more that I realized that.

(Soundbite of song "Another Way To Die")

Mr. JACK WHITE: (Singing) I know the player With the slick trigger finger For Her Majesty…

CHIDEYA: That was singer and actress Alicia Keys. She stars as June Boatwright in the film "The Secret Life of Bees," which opens nationwide today. She joined us from New York. And here she is singing the theme tune to the new James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace."

(Soundbite of song "Another Way To Die")

Ms. KEYS: (Singing) A door left open A woman walking by A drop in the water A look in the eye

A phone on the table A man on your side Someone that you think that you can trust Is just another way to die.

(Soundbite of acknowledgment)

(Soundbite of preview)

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: I am Farai Chideya. This is News and Notes.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.