In this age of endless revivals and reboots and adaptations, many questions must plague the minds of a project’s original stars and creative teams before they get on board with a remake: Will it live up to the original? Will it leave audiences’ memories of a classic unscathed? Can a different cast pull it off?
But Vivica A. Fox hardly hesitated when director Je’Caryous Johnson approached her to join the new stage incarnation of her 2001 cult-classic rom-com “Two Can Play That Game.”
“It was a blessing to return to this role because the movie absolutely changed my life,” the actress says. “It was my first starring role. I’ll never forget getting out of the limousine that [premiere] night and seeing ‘Starring Vivica A. Fox.’ ”
In the play “Two Can Play That Game” — which is currently on a national tour and hits D.C. this weekend for a five-show run at the Warner Theatre — Fox returns to the starring role that put her name in lights: the savvy and confident relationship guru Shante Smith, whose tables are turned when she tries to get her own straying boyfriend back in line (he’s played by Morris Chestnut in the movie and Columbus Short in the play). Fox says she simply couldn’t see another actress stepping into Shante’s shoes.
“I definitely had to do it because it was my film,” says Fox, who also serves as a co-producer of the play with Johnson. “I felt like absolutely no one else could play that part onstage except for me, you know? So that was definitely the No. 1 motivating factor. You own it. It’s mine.”
Since she first played Shante, Fox has made many more roles her own. Last year, she reprised her “Independence Day” character Jasmine for the epic sci-fi film’s sequel, and she has portrayed Cookie’s bougie older sister on TV’s “Empire.” In May, she’ll release a memoir/advice book, “Every Day I’m Hustling.”
Returning to Shante was easy, as Fox knows the character inside and out, so the bigger challenge was finding her footing as a live performer. Most missed cues can be concealed with ad-libbing and improvising, but with more obvious missteps, Fox prefers to be honest with the audience.
“The other night, one of the mics went out on us, and you just gotta turn to the audience and be for real,” she says. “I think it was Long Beach, [Calif.,] and I just said, ‘Long Beach, you deserve to see this scene as it’s supposed to play out. We’re going to start it over.’ And the audience appreciates that. … People go with it. So the realness and the rawness of the stage is definitely different.”
Though the writers retained much of the screenplay, the play’s script was updated to incorporate fresh material, including additions to the ensemble and all the latest rules of modern dating. “It has all of the things from social media, texting,” Fox says. As “Two Can Play That Game” is, at its core, a tale about romance and navigating relationships, the story has inspired some of Fox’s own dating wisdom.
“I always say to my girls, make sure that you take the time to get to know somebody before you just jump into the shallow end of the pool headfirst,” Fox says. “Find somebody that’s nice, treats you with respect and honors you as his queen. And then he earns the right to become your king.”