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FALL SNEAKS | Star Turns

Getting back in full swing

September 12, 2004|Mark Olsen

"I'm a single mom with a beautiful 3 1/2 -year-old son. A lot's changed in my life. I took two years off when I had him, just to be there," says Nia Long, 33, by way of explaining the curious gap in the filmography of someone who had been working steadily since she was 18, with credits in such films as "Boyz N the Hood," "Friday" and "Soul Food."

When she was ready to return, she tried for six months to get work. Then, in the off-kilter kismet that so often defines Hollywood, she was offered two jobs within a week. This fall Long begins her second season on "Third Watch" and appears on the big screen opposite Jude Law and Omar Epps in a remake of the swinging-London classic "Alfie."

Long ultimately provides "Alfie" with its moral center, as her character is forced to choose between a life of frivolous thrills or one with more meaning. "It's easy to play 'the girl,' " she says, "but why not play the girl with some issues?"

Her time away from the camera inadvertently helped Long move beyond the easygoing urban films she was known for.

"I felt I had reached a peak after 'Big Momma's House' in terms of doing those types of films," she says. "I'm always going to have a home there, but as an artist I wanted to grow and do things that were more mainstream, do stories and films with bigger stars, bigger budgets. I'm not interested in being the big fish in a small pond. I'd rather be the little guppy trying to make my way through."

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-- Mark Olsen

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