Naturi Naughton Has Hollywood Hopping
Former 3LW singer returns onscreen as Bunny Brenda in The Playboy Club
It looks like things for Naturi Naughton, are taking off. But this singer and actress is no overnight success. R&B fans may recall her stint in the tween group, 3LW. Naughton stepped away from the spotlight after splitting with the group in 2002 but returned to the big screen as Lil Kim in 2009's Notorious. Her performance set it straight that she was no longer a little woman.
Now, the 27-year-old is on Hollywood's speed dial. Naughton’s latest role as Bunny Brenda in the NBC's highly anticipated The Playboy Club has her learning not only the tricks of the bunny trade but also getting back to her singing roots.
Loop21 caught up with Naughton, who was in Chicago where the drama is being filmed, to find out about her new role, her thoughts on posing for Playboy magazine and when fans can hear a solo album.
Loop21: What was the process of getting the role Brenda? How many auditions did it take to be a bunny?
Naturi Naughton: I went in for this role multiple times. I auditioned for Imagine TV. I screen tested for Fox, who is the producing it and I auditioned and screen tested for NBC, which is our network. It was a total of about four call backs and every time I was excited to go in and just prove that I could bring Bunny Brenda to life. I sang at my audition as well. I actually sang a Nat King Cole song, “When I Fall in Love” and I also did three scenes. I loved the process. I felt like I worked hard for it and at the end of the day it’s so much more rewarding when things don’t always come easy.
Were there any special preparations you did to prepare for the role?
Most of my preparation for this role was research, not so much physical preparation, but mentally preparing myself, you know, going back into time especially when doing a period piece like this, a show that takes place in 1961 and also being one of the first black bunnies. So I read a lot. I actually watched a documentary called The Bunny Years ...I read the book 50 Years of the Playboy Bunny, which was awesome. I researched Hugh Hefner and how much he was such a progressive, rebellious man at the time by integrating the Playboy Club.
I also spent time with an African-American Bunny from 1965, Pat Lacey who trained all of us and worked with me on things that are required of a Bunny. I actually went through bunny training with Pat Lacey.
Tell me about bunny training. What does that entail?
Bunny training is essentially where we learn things like the “Bunny dip,” which is how you serve a table when you’re a Bunny. A Bunny can’t just bend over in her costume with all the boobage that we have going on. We can't be indecent, so a Bunny has to dip backwards in a sense and bend her legs in order to serve a drink to make sure she doesn’t spill out in front of the guests. ...Also the “Bunny stance.” There’s a stance that a Bunny has and it’s very elegant where your knees are pulled together, your toes touch. It gives the shape of an hourglass and it makes your legs long. And also the “Bunny perch.” One of the things I realized is that a Bunny cannot sit down in that costume. It’s very rare that you’ll see a Bunny sitting; she always perches. It’s basically when you lean on let’s say the back of a chair with your butt, but you don’t really sit.
I also learned a lot about what the camaraderie was like between the women. We learned that this was a sisterhood and there was a Mother Bunny. I learned all the rules and there’s a Bunny manual. Bunnies aren’t allowed to give out their numbers. They’re not allowed to give out their last name. They’re not allowed to date key holders. They’re not allowed to do things that are inappropriate.
Your character Brenda wants to be the first African-American playmate. To prepare, did you meet Jennifer Jackson, the woman who met that goal in 1965?
No, I haven’t had the pleasure to meet her yet. I hope to one day. That would be awesome.
You speak very highly of Playboy as an organization. Now that you are part of the show, would you ever consider posing for the magazine?
A lot of people ask me that. You know, I’m an actress. I’m not a Playboy model. I’m not a Playmate. I’m not any of those things, which is nothing wrong with that but I’m just an actress playing a Playboy Bunny. Don’t get it twisted. Not to say that I would never consider doing the magazine, but if i did pose it would definitely have to be classy and something respectable and something that I feel comfortable with. So who knows! I would never say never.
You sing on this show and you sang on your audition. Are you planning on doing a future solo album?
Not right now, but yes definitely in the future for all the fans who have followed me since my 3LW days. I definitely want to do a solo project. I’m just focusing right now. I’m really the type of person who likes to master a trade instead of being a jack of all trades. With the show I’m grateful that I get to include my singing talents, which is heaven sent to me because there are not that many opportunities where you get to sing, act and dance.
Your character, in the preview, says it doesn’t matter what’s going on out there, referring to the Civil Rights Movement. Reflecting on your role, do you think that black women who were employed by Hugh Hefner, really felt that way?
Even though this world as a Bunny and the club was equal, it was somewhat of a fantasy. You felt just as beautiful, you felt just as respected, you felt part of a group; and that’s how I feel as Brenda. You get an escape from what the real world is telling you you are. You get to escape some of the discrimination and disrespect and inequalities that are going on. However, a lot of the black women at that time still had to walk outside after their hours and still had to take a bus and have to sit in the back. The women at the time were not naive to it.
Congrats on getting Wolverine! Please tell us you last the entire film.
Oh, oh my goodness. I would love to do this movie. I’m still, you know, I can’t really talk about it that much right now. But all I can say is it’s an awesome opportunity. I’m excited about the possibility. I just need paperwork. I need Fox to send over official, official, official but I am excited about the possibility.
Well, speaking hypothetically, if you could mix your superhero character with your playboy bunny what powers would you have?
Ooh, well, just being a Bunny alone has so much power I think but if I could mix being a superhero with being a Bunny, I would have the power of persuasion, which I think a Bunny has anyway. I mean, hello, have you seen our Bunny suit? It looks pretty awesome walking around with ears and a tail. I would like the power to read minds, like that would be kind of cool. If I could know what’s going on behind people’s eyes and what their minds are thinking that would be pretty cool to have.
The Playboy Club premieres on NBC on September 19 at 10/9c.