Leslie Jones is a queen—or rather, she is the embodiment of Queens. In Coming 2 America, the long-awaited sequel to the 1988 Black fairy tale about Eddie Murphy’s guileless African prince crossing an ocean to find true love, Jones plays a New Yorker who slept with Murphy’s Akeem way back when—and, unbeknownst to him, gave birth to the heir to Zamunda’s throne.
The Saturday Night Live alum imbues the role with the same unhinged energy and warmth she brings to Twitter, where she’s continued practicing crowd work despite the pandemic—live-tweeting the election, MSNBC, and her current obsession, The Equalizer. When Jones loves you, she will hype you to the moon. Here, we return some of that love back to her.
Vanity Fair: Tell me what Coming to America meant to you when it first came out.
Leslie Jones: First, I need to know what year it was. ’85? ’86?
Lord have mercy. The reason I ask is, my 20s is, you know, only certain things I remember. But I do remember Coming to America, and I remember needing to see it. It was so Steven Spielberg-ish, you know what I’m saying? The sets, the costumes, the dance scenes, Eddie doing all those characters, Arsenio [Hall]! This might be a bad example, but it was the same with, like, The Cosby Show, or A Different World—showing Black people as educated people, like we knew how to do stuff instead of just [as] caricatures.
How pleased were you to be invited into the sequel?
[Co-screenwriter Kenya Barris] said when he was writing the script, he was writing with me in mind. It was kind of surreal, to be honest with you, when Eddie walked in as Prince Akeem. It felt like the movie never ended.
How many lines did you improvise? I’m thinking of one particular moment, when you sit down to a lavish Zamunda royal dinner and announce, “I’m so hungry I could eat the ass out of a zebra!”
[Laughing] I can’t believe they kept that line. I was told they wasn’t going to keep that. I improvised probably most of them. I played Mary pretty much how I wanted her to be. I know there was a lot of, “Hey, Leslie, can we do one from the script?” and I was pretty much saying no.
I wonder if you’ve ever worked in this Black of a space before, and if there was something different or comforting about that experience.
I mean, you know, I think that people are under the misconception that Black people are uncomfortable on set. I’m going to do my job. I’m going to mesh with whomever I need to. As far as saying was I comfortable on set? Yes, of course, we’re always comfortable with our people. But I mean, some of the crew was white. What Black people would like is just to see more of them on set.
Your election coverage on Twitter—whether you were celebrating Steve Kornacki or blasting pundits’ Zoom backgrounds or shouting hey to your boos, like Joy Reid or Nicolle Wallace—was a buoy during election season. Had you ever been this invested in politics before?
It’s kind of funny because I think SNL was supposed to be where I learned about politics. But I didn’t learn nothing. I didn’t know about any of these people until I started watching MSNBC. Like, I didn’t know Alex Moffat and Kate [McKinnon] were doing Morning Joe that whole time. But for this election, you know, you had a lot of regular people who don’t know much about politics suddenly become involved because the stakes were so high. So I thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to bring some levity to this serious situation? I’ll put it this way: Whenever I watch Seth Meyers, I feel more informed because he talks my language.
After you tweeted your appreciation of Congresswoman Cori Bush, she called you “the ultimate hype person.” Who does that for you? Who lifts you up?
Oh, all my people around me. My hair person, my assistant, my agents, my fans, my aunt. But I’m going to be honest with you: I pretty much take it out the air. I don’t really need nobody to give me shit.
Speaking of aunts, I was sorry to read your tribute to your aunt Rosetta on Twitter this week. She sounded wonderful.
Ah, thank you. Aunt Rosetta lived a very long life. I just wanted to shout her out and celebrate her. All the people in my family die very old, and when it’s time to go, they ready to go. Aunt Rosetta was in her 90s, and she was ready for one of us to push her on down the stairs.