The lovely Zulay Henao will be starring alongside a very female-centric cast in Tyler Perry’s latest film Single Moms Club, coming to theaters March 14, 2014. We sat down with the lovely actress to talk about working with Wendi McLendon-Covey, her friendship with Tyler Perry and self-image in the media.
Playboy.com: I’m so happy to finally see a comedy about single mothers. It looks great; I honestly can’t wait to watch it.
Henao: It’s so fun! I think you’re really going to enjoy it. A lot of my guy friends are assuming it’s a chick flick, but it really isn’t. There’s also the perspective of the men in these women’s lives as well. It’s a really funny movie and I just can’t wait for it to hit theaters.
Playboy.com: You got to work with such a great cast of women, which means you probably had a blast filming!
Henao: We filmed it so long ago! You’re taking me back with that question. I have to say, even when we stopped rolling, Cocoa Brown is really funny, as is Wendi McLendon. Those two made the experience so much fun. Tyler would let Wendi go outside of her lines and she’d spiral into these incredible monologues and we would all just be staring at her like, “Is this woman for real!?” She comes up with these things so quickly. We had a lot of moments on set where Tyler would roll the camera to see what we could come up with. Some of the ad-libbed scenes did actually make it into the film, so it’s a testament to how funny they are.
Playboy.com: How did you connect most to your character, Esperanza?
Henao: I’m not a single mother myself, so I didn’t have that to bring to my character. But I was raised by my mother. My dad was around but my parents divorced when I was very young…so there were those elements in my life when I was growing up.
My character, Esperanza, is not only a single mother but she's also a woman who has lost her passion in life. Her whole life is being dictated by her ex-husband. As women, whether we’re single mothers or not, sometimes when we fall in love we give up so much of ourselves. And it was like that for Esperanza: she completely gave up who she was; she was being financially supported and emotionally robbed by her ex. There were so many different layers to her that I empathized with. I connected with the task of picking yourself up after being left. How do you become yourself again after you’ve carved out such a big part of your personality to fit someone else?
Playboy.com: Good question.
Henao: I really think in that sense that security is a lie. I don’t think it’s real. I think security means that you’re happy with who you are whether you’re with someone or not. You have to be happy and content and always be dreaming. There’s always got to be hope of something in the future. Not necessarily something better, but you’ve got to be striving and I think she stopped doing that. I wanted to help my character get through it and back to a place where she’d wake up in the morning excited about her life, her home, her daughter and their life together.
Playboy.com: Tyler’s great with really making more out of his female characters, there’s not many in his films that could be categorized as one-dimensional, which is something I admire. What was working with him like?
Henao: Not only is Tyler great at what he does professionally, he’s a great human being in general. I consider him a friend and a mentor. Working with him has been such a beautiful experience; he really pushed me with Esperanza. He showed me how I could bring my own life and my failures into the character and make them live through her. It’s funny because I called Tyler a witch on set because he knows everything. He’s such an intuitive human being. He’s really a special guy and I’m just so happy to have been able to work with him and I hope to continue. His work is growing so much. I think this film is the beginning of a much more diverse place for him, not only with the actors but as you said creating these multidimensional characters, both in women and in men. We’re going to see a lot more from Tyler, I just know it.
Playboy.com: When you’re not on set I see that you do a lot of work through activism like with The Warrior Scholar, a workshop to help veterans transition to college, which is so cool! From an actress’ point of view, why do you think that positive self-image and female empowerment is so important nowadays?
Henao: I can’t love my work or others unless I love myself. I’ll be honest with you, growing up I didn’t think I’d have access to what I’ve gained through becoming an actor or to be doing what I’m doing right now. We’re all being molded by our childhoods, by what we’re being fed through our environments and what our parents have passed on to us. But I feel that developing a positive self-image early on is so important because it affects so much of how you see and treat yourself. As a woman that’s so important, for work, relationships, for anything.
Playboy.com: It’s so important to have that outlook on life especially since we’re all so enveloped in media.
Henao: Especially in this industry, you have to be able to look at yourself and say, “You know what? Regardless of what anyone says of me, I love me.” Any mistake has brought me here, every choice; even those that have negatively impacted me in some way have ultimately made me a better person. It has helped me change my perspective on things or has made me think in a different way. Or maybe my mistakes helped somebody else. You just always have to find the good in everything, including your own mistakes and imperfections. I like to live in that space because that’s the only thing that keeps you sane.
Playboy.com: So now that you’ve gotten to do both television and film, what do you hope to do in the future?
Henao: I love people and I love what I do so there’s still so much for me to do in film and television, I just started! But I am interested in creating content for myself. So whether that’s producing, or crafting my ideas with a writer, I have been giving that a lot of thought, I’ve even talked to Tyler about those things.
Playboy.com: It seems like you’re on the right path, you keep yourself in good company!
Henao: I always wanted to surround myself with people who are better than me. Working on Single Moms Club I had that opportunity. I told Nia [Long] that I love watching her work and I’ve been a fan of hers for years. I watch Love Jones like once a year! [laughs] Seriously, it’s such a beautiful movie and I’m such a hopeless romantic… I just really love that movie; it feeds that part of me. Just watching her work you can see her strength. She makes really sharp choices with her work and I really enjoyed being able to see that. It’s all a gift, watching Nia, Amy [Smart], Wendi and even Tyler making their different choices, watching their conviction… In the end it really seemed to reflect on the choices I made with my role.
Playboy.com: What’s your…
Favorite food: My favorite thing to do in life is to eat Latin food. My mother’s Colombian food is incredible. I don’t think I could pick a favorite dish, though!
Favorite drink: I love wine. Pinot Grigio is my favorite wine.
Most embarrassing moment: I’m really brave…so I like to think. Tyler flew a bunch of us out to the Bahamas for a little vacation after the first season of Love Thy Neighbor. While we were there he told the group that he was going to take us out to a cave where we’d be able to jump from this 30-foot drop into the cave. Of course I’m the first one to say that I was going to do it, I was the first one to say I was all in. We got there and I was petrified. It took me 30 minutes to jump. At that point everyone had jumped in. There are kids jumping and other people joining the party… And not only do I jump in last, I do an ass flop. I couldn’t walk for the next two days! It was devastating. All the girls stayed on the boat and here I was being brave…[laughs] it was so bad. They told me I couldn’t go down the mountain and my only option was to jump off. I literally said an Our Father on the way down [laughs] and I really did hurt myself, too! It was a big mess.
First memory of Playboy: When I think of Playboy I think of a beautiful Pam Anderson shot. I don’t remember exactly the shot, but in my foggy memory there is this beautiful Pam Anderson, whom I love, by the way. I saw her at the airport a couple years back and I am in awe of her beauty.