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Talk on the wild side.

Byline: By Kat Moore

Glamorous, stylish and petite, actress Jada Pinkett Smith makes a very unlikely hippo.

But after her success in Tom Cruise thriller Collateral and The Matrix films, that's exactly what she's chosen for her next role - being the voice at least, in animated adventure Madagascar.

'You'd have to ask the directors how they thought of me,' says the 33-year-old with a smile. 'But I just thought it'd be cute to have my voice come out of a full-figured gal.'

In the film, Jada plays Gloria, a pregnant hippo, who along with Marty the zebra, voiced by Chris Rock, Melman the giraffe, aka David Schwimmer, and Ben Stiller's lion named Alex, escape from New York's Central Park Zoo and end up on the island of Madagascar.

The motley group of city softies have to survive in the wild - learning in the process that Alex the lion is in fact a predator.

Gloria is the mother figure to the three rather juvenile male animals and provides the tough love needed to keep everyone going.

'Gloria looks after the boys and tries to keep them out of trouble,' Jada says.

It was exactly those qualities which the actress has in real life, which appealed to the film's makers.

Co-director Tom McGarth explains: 'Jada's a very strong, powerful woman and her voice reflects that. She may be petite, but boy, I tell you she's tough.'

The former Miss Maryland says she had no qualms about taking on the comfortably-sized character.

'When they showed me the picture of Gloria, yeah she's a hippo, but I thought she was adorable. It never occurred to me that it's something I should be thrown back about.

'I actually thought it was funny they cast me as a hippo,' she admits. 'I really enjoyed how maternal she was. She's kind of a momma who has a tough love approach but she has a lot of love for her friends.'

The hard part was the very nature of voicing a character who is drawn in later by computer graphics. It's not easy working alone in a recording studio without other actors to bounce off, she says.

'It's a pretty challenging process just because there's no-one there and you don't have any sets or props,' she says. 'It's just kind of throwing a bunch of lines out and trying different stuff. It was weird.'

But when she watched the movements of her character Gloria, she certainly saw bits of her own self, says the actress.

'A lot of the eye movement, the different positions of my head - I realised, oh I do that in movies too.'

Half of Hollywood power couple with husband of eight years Will Smith, Jada is also a mother to daughter Willow Camille and son Jaden Christopher.

She admits that she chose her latest role partly for them. Having featured in the thriller Collateral and the stylishly violent Matrix Revolutions, this was something the whole family could get excited about.

'I didn't say anything, my kids actually saw a clip of it on a video and said, 'Mommy, you're playing a hippo!'. I was like darn it, I was trying to wait and make it a surprise. They were so surprised and excited to hear Mommy's voice come out of the hippo. They are very excited about it.'

Her own success in Hollywood is a testimony to her determination. Jada headed there as just another hopeful wannabe after attending the Baltimore School of Arts, before getting her big break in 1991 in the television sitcom A Different World.

She made her film debut two years later in Menace II Society and her real breakthrough came in 1996 Eddie Murphy comedy The Nutty Professor.

Her strength of character really helped.

'When you're young it can be a wild crazy ride,' Jada admits. 'It's when you get older all this stuff starts to make sense and becomes clear, which kind of grounds you.

'When I was young and single I wanted to take on the world. I still do, just in a different way. Having kids put things in perspective. It takes a lot to get me crazy now. When I was younger I was a basket case.'

She and Will are one of Hollywood's family success stories - and Jada says they work hard as a married couple on their relationship, while Will admits they've benefited from therapy.

'Will is a very interesting, unique man,' says his wife, 'and I'll tell you why. He makes love like a woman.

'He loves to touch, massage and feel. He's in touch with himself, who he is.'
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 3, 2005
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