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Podcast: Emmy hopeful Jill Scott on her cool African sleuth and the day her melting shoes stopped the show

June 18, 2009 | 12:12 pm

Three-time Grammy champ Jill Scott may have something to sing about when Emmy nominations are unveiled July 16. As the critically hailed star of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," she could be nommed for best TV drama actress and, if she wins, make Emmy history as the first African American to claim that category.

In our podcast chat, Scott shares her view of her role as an unflaggingly upbeat detective determined to right everyday woes in her African homeland: "She wants to heal Botswana's ills. She's a woman of substance. She's a lady. She doesn't curse. She isn't violent. I personally think she's got it going on! And I think it's inspiring for all of us. Everybody, all the people who aren't so cool. She proves an average person can actually make a difference."

Jill Scott No_edited-1

In its review of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," the L.A. Times hailed Scott's performance as "a revelation" while portraying "Precious, an earth mother in brightly colored batik, with her abiding belief in the basic goodness of life." The HBO series is so good, insisted The Times, that it is "clear that this show will restore the premium cable network to its former stature as the most surprising place on television." Such huzzahs mean that the program is a real contender for best drama series too.

Listen to our podcast chat to hear Scott reveal what it was like to work with baboons ("they smell terribly and I was about four and a half months pregnant — I had to shoot quick and run to the trash can") and the late, great director Anthony Minghella (Oscar champ, "The English Patient"), who championed the series and helmed its pilot before dying of a hemorrhage while battling cancer in early 2008.

"He was so generous with his energy," Scott recalls, and he was tough, but when things got really heated under the African sun, "he would sing" and everyone would join in crooning Motown songs. "He only got angry at me once," she confesses. Why? Listen to her tell the tale of the day "my shoes melted on my feet" and production had to halt.

Scott also shares with us her experience at past Grammys where she won three times: best urban/alternative performance ("Cross My Mind," 2004), traditional R&B vocal performance ("God Bless the Child," 2006) and urban/alternative performance ("Daydreamin'," 2007).

However, one of her most memorable experiences was the "frightening" first time she entered the Grammy race. Below, she recalls the night at the 2001 Grammys when she was nominated for best new artist and performed with Moby and Blue Man Group just before the winner was announced.


"The first time I was up for a Grammy, I was nominated for three and everybody told me, 'Oh, my God, you're gonna win!' and I did my part," she says. "I went to all the Grammy events and spoke on the panels. I took pictures. And I performed right before my category, which always means you're going to win. And they didn't say my name. I think it took me a month to recover. It was a heartbreak. At that point I realized you can hope, but don't wish too hard. If it happens, celebrate. If it doesn't, celebrate."

In 2001, Scott lost best new artist to Shelby Lynne. Earlier that night she was up for best R&B album ("Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1"), but lost to D'Angelo ("Voodoo"), and for best R&B female vocalist ("Getting' in the Way"), but lost to Toni Braxton ("He Wasn't Man Enough"). When she finally triumphed for the first time three years later, she wasn't "even slightly" prepared, she adds.

"It was a great thing because it meant I was living in that moment," she says. "I had planned, since I was a child, my acceptance speech. It came out kooky. It came out just random thoughts. When they said my name, I remember everything going quiet and the room swirled a little bit and everybody was yelling and I couldn't hear them. Then somebody pushed me and I started running. So the first time wasn't very classy. I think I said 'Wow!' six or seven times. What a wonderful feeling to dream so big and have things actually be tangible is ... wow! Wow!"

When Emmy nominations are announced July 16, she says, "I'll be in Atlanta shooting a new film and I'm hoping the phone will ring that day and somebody will tell me something real good!" Positive Emmy news could help to keep her series alive. HBO has not yet announced if "Detective Agency" will be extended beyond the seven episodes aired so far. "We don't really know yet," Scott says. "We're hoping for the best. We're waiting with bated breath."

Click here to download and listen to Gold Derby's podcast chat with Jill Scott. (Note: You may need to hold down your computer's control key while clicking.)

Below, Jill Scott's performance at the 2001 Grammys when she was nominated for best new artist.

Photos: Jill Scott in "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency." Photo credit: HBO. Anthony Minghella shooting "The Talented Mr. Ripley," in which Scott did not star. Photo credit: Miramax