Jill Scott, Sleuthing With HBO's 'No. 1 Ladies' Renee Montagne interviews the singer and star of the new HBO miniseries The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency — and Alexander McCall Smith, author of the books that inspired the show.
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Jill Scott, Sleuthing With HBO's 'No. 1 Ladies'

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Jill Scott, Sleuthing With HBO's 'No. 1 Ladies'

Jill Scott, Sleuthing With HBO's 'No. 1 Ladies'

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(Soundbite of movie, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency")

I: (As character) I just need to speak with a detective.

JILL SCOTT: Unidentified Woman: (As character) About a problem.

SCOTT: (As Madam Ramotswe) A problem. A mystery?

MONTAGNE: Unidentified Woman: (As character) (Unintelligible)

SCOTT: (As Madam Ramotswe) I am Madam Ramotswe, the detective.

MONTAGNE: It's a first leading role for singer and actress Jill Scott. Of course Alexander McCall Smith wrote the books. And they've both joined us to talk about the new series. Good morning.

SCOTT: Good morning.


MONTAGNE: For those who haven't read the books, how would you describe Precious Ramotswe?

MCCALL SMITH: Well, she's, she's a woman of great intuitive ability. She's a very intelligent woman, she's kind, she is forgiving. She's just the sort of person that you'd like to sit down and have a cup of tea with. And she's fairly typical of many people whom you meet in that part of the world. I don't know whether - Jill, did you meet many Mma Ramotswes when you were making the film?

SCOTT: I bumped into them all the time, in the grocery store, at - in the mall, at the movie theater. I keep meeting women who were sweet, just genuinely sweet and smart.

MONTAGNE: (Soundbite of movie, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency")

SCOTT: (As Madam Ramotswe) Because I love my country, Botswana. And I love (unintelligible). And I want to do good with the time God has given me. In every bar and market, behind every window there are so many people who want to know the truth about some mystery in their lives, some mystery they (unintelligible).

MONTAGNE: It seems less about crime. She goes on to say it's more about solving peoples' problems.

SCOTT: I think she's, you know, absolutely inspiring in that way. Even if it's a small case, there's someone who has a missing dog and it breaks their heart, you know, she's about it. If there's someone who feels that their husband isn't faithful to them, or their wife, or they have a child that's missing, or whatever the situation may be, her view of justice isn't black and white. She wants the best for her country. And it doesn't necessarily have to do with, you know, getting the police and the courts involved.

MONTAGNE: (Soundbite of movie, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency")

BONGEKA MPONGWANA: (As Happy Bapetsi) I am starting to suspect that this man may not actually be my daddy.

SCOTT: (As Madam Ramotswe) Not the daddy?

MPONGWANA: (As Happy Bapetsi) I think he may be an imposter who is only living with me because I have money and a good job.

SCOTT: (As Madam Ramotswe) This is a very bad story. (Unintelligible)

MPONGWANA: (As Happy Bapetsi) It will be him who will be sorry if I discover he is not the daddy.

MONTAGNE: Now, why is he in trouble if he's not the daddy?

SCOTT: Because that's just wrong. The fact that he's living off of this young woman - her name is Happy Bapetsi. She's a good woman. She's a nice young lady and he's living off of her, and that's just wrong. So she's going to fix it. She's going to mend it. She's going to recover the good in whatever situation she's in.

MONTAGNE: You know, there is a storyline in this first episode and also in the first novel that has to do with something quite dark. You know, and it's a real problem in Botswana, in parts of Southern Africa. It's in a midst of an otherwise very sunny...


MONTAGNE: ...happy story. Witchcraft.

MCCALL SMITH: Well, you know, the first thing I'd say is this problem of using body parts which are taken from people for the purposes of creating medicine, often strengthening medicine, known in that part of Africa as muti(ph), still exists, but it's not very common, and it's very rare these days in a country like Botswana.

MONTAGNE: But in a sense that in a way this feels like a fairy tale. There is this, you know, even in fairy tales there's a witch. You know?

MCCALL SMITH: Well, there's a background to this particular aspect of the first book, in that initially when I read the first draft of it, I didn't have that case in, and the book was concerned purely with very mild instances of wrongdoing or difficulties in people's lives. But I inserted that at the suggestion of the first publisher, who felt that the work didn't have sufficient grit about it. It didn't - it wasn't strong enough. I rather regret doing it, actually, because it's certainly not in keeping with the overwhelming majority of the rest of the incidents in these series of books. I'm very used to people saying to me, well, you paint a very optimistic, positive picture of the country. I think that obviously I'm a writer who works at that end of the spectrum.

SCOTT: It's not - you know, I hate to say just, but its not AIDS, and it's not just war and poverty. It's so much more. This is an abundant continent, and Botswana is an abundant place.

MONTAGNE: Thank you both very much for joining us. Thank you, Jill Scott.

SCOTT: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And thank you, Alexander McCall Smith.

MCCALL SMITH: Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: And the series, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," begins this Sunday on HBO.

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