- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Forgive Toni Braxton for her unabashed glee when she talks about all the good things in her life.
Hot on the heels of her third hit record and her sixth Grammy, Miss Braxtons working on another album. Shes getting married and is eager to start a family. And shes making her film debut with the comedy "Kingdom Come," the first step toward what shes hoping will become a side career in movies.
Thats a lot to sing about considering the state of her affairs a few years ago. Mired in bankruptcy and fighting with her record label over royalties, Miss Braxton felt uncertain she would re-emerge anywhere in show business.
"Ive got a job," Miss Braxton, 32, now says decisively, then corrects herself with a laugh. "Ive got jobs. Plural."
Unlike the eye-catching outfits she often wears at events including her barely there gown at this years Grammys Miss Braxton dresses conservatively for an interview at the Four Seasons hotel. She wears a simple but classy ensemble of black sleeveless T-shirt, dark slacks and open-toed shoes with spiked heels.
Miss Braxton exudes charm and good will, going on at length about her man, her movie, her music and her now-happy money matters.
Early in 1998, though, Miss Braxton wasnt sure when she would work again. After her self-titled debut album in 1993 and the 1996 follow-up "Secrets," Miss Braxton and LaFace Records wound up at odds over her cut.
With 20 million albums sold worldwide, Miss Braxton felt LaFace was paying her a pittance of what she deserved. Mounting debts forced her into bankruptcy.
Miss Braxton took a six-month stint starring as Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway, but the quarrel over royalties left her recording career in limbo.
"Id be on VH1s where-are-they-now show. And I kept telling myself, I dont want to be a where-are-they-now on VH1," Miss Braxton says. "I cant go out like that. Its a great show, but maybe when Im 50. Not now."
Compounding matters, Miss Braxton began sensing a split between her parents, whose marriage of more than 30 years ended in divorce last fall.
"I never thought my parents would ever, ever get a divorce," Miss Braxton says. "It was like I was 12 years old again. All the emotions you see on the Lifetime channel, that really happens. With everything else going on, I was a little cuckoo there."
LaFace and Miss Braxton worked out their differences, and she roared back with the best-selling "The Heat" last year, an album that continued her trend toward hipper, sultrier music. The single "He Wasnt Man Enough" earned Miss Braxton the Grammy for female R&B; vocal.
After releasing just three albums in seven years, Miss Braxton now is revving up the pace. She plans to release the first single off her next record in August, with a fourth album to follow late this year.
Miss Braxton always had thought about acting, but she really caught the bug doing "Beauty and the Beast." "Kingdom Come" allowed her to ease into Hollywood in a small but colorful role.
The cast includes Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Vivica A. Fox in a farce about a dysfunctional family gathering for a funeral. Miss Braxton plays a materialistic relative who has married well and likes to flaunt it.
"Im not an actress. I dont even want to take the title. But Im trying to become one," Miss Braxton says. "I need to learn, and this was a great place to learn with all these established actors."
"Kingdom Come" director Doug McHenry said Miss Braxton hurled her self into the part, working with her acting coach on set and developing good rapport with the other actors.
"Toni doesnt act like your typical diva. If everyone has to bend over and scoop up dirt with her hands, shes willing to do it," Mr. McHenry says. "She had a respect for the acting profession, and the other actors wanted to give to her, because she was not a diva in the worst sense. In the best sense, she is a diva, and she wanted to work and was hungry to learn."
There was talk of putting Miss Braxton on the movies gospel-themed soundtrack. But Miss Braxton wanted the focus to be on her acting.
"I wanted people to know I was serious, that I wasnt playing games, Miss Braxton says. "People might be like, 'Oh, shes on the soundtrack; thats why shes in the movie. My manager said, 'We dont want to be on the soundtrack. People know she can sing. Lets let people look at her as an actress."
Miss Braxtons sister Tamar does contribute vocals to one song in the film.

The oldest of five sisters and one brother, Miss Braxton had a strict religious upbringing. Her father is a Methodist minister, and Miss Braxton was not allowed to listen to secular music or wear anything but simple dresses until her mid-teens.
"We couldnt go to the movies. It was a sin. Even rated G. It was thought that it promoted witchcraft, certain G-rated movies. We couldnt go roller skating," Miss Braxton says. "We had to wear dresses all the time. Hats a lot, long dresses, no open-toed shoes. Show no nakedness."
Miss Braxton says she remains deeply spiritual and will always be a "P.K." preachers kid. The racy outfits she wears now are not a reaction against her upbringing but an effort to compensate for her 5-foot-2 height, she says.
"Showing skin makes me feel taller," Miss Braxton says. "As a little girl I always wanted to be like the black Marilyn Monroe. She was so sexy. I always wanted to be sexy because I wasnt when I was younger.
"I think when youre short and you show skin it makes you look taller, and it gives you the illusion that youre like Cindy Crawford, that youre sexy and grand like that."
Miss Braxton has been busy planning her wedding Saturday to Keri Lewis of the group Mint Condition, whom she met when his group opened for her on tour in 1996. She says she wants to have children right away.
"Im very happy," Miss Braxton says. "Financially, things are great. As horrible as I thought things were, theyre just as great now. So no bankruptcy, got a great pay raise, got a great guy in my life, my parents unfortunately divorced, but theyre here. Theyre still here.
"And Im in a movie."

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