It’s been a crazy, sexy, cool ride for TLC’s Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas from the rise, the fall, and the rise again of pop music’s most celebrated female trio. Twenty years later, TLC proves that the group’s triumphs and struggles were all “meant to be,” making a return to the spotlight with their VH1 biopic, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story and soundtrack to the film, their new album 20. Entertainment Weekly sat down with cast members Lil’ Mama — who portrays the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes — Keke Palmer, and Drew Sidora, and the ladies of TLC to discuss their feelings about the film, former manager Peri “Pebbles” Reid, and their most challenging moments during filming.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on a wonderful movie. TLC, what did you two consider to be the most challenging moment during this process?
Rozonda ’Chilli’ Thomas: Probably reliving some of the not so fun things, like the death of Lisa.
Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins: The funeral and the personal sad moments between Chilli and I.
Would you want to elaborate?
Watkins: Hospital. Abortion. Both hospitals, so hospitals. [Laughs] Sickle-cell crisis and abortion.
In May, when it was announced Lil’ Mama, Keke Palmer, and Drew Sidora were slated to play the roles, and the picture of you all in-character rolled out, what was your reaction to everyone else’s reaction?
Keke Palmer: I ignored it. The reason why I ignored it was because when we first started doing the film we got such negative feedback for no reason at all. It was like the craziest thing any of us ever really experienced, because usually you would expect people to be happy for you when you’re given such a blessing. So during the course of the film, the girls and I made an unsaid pact to let that go and focus on us. And I think that’s what brought us close within our own little group while we were filming. So when the first picture came out, I was like “I don’t care what nobody says, we happy, we love it.” We were tweeting it out, and I left it at that.
Lil’ Mama, how did it feel to not have someone there to advise you, as opposed to Keke having Chilli and Drew having T-Boz?
Lil’ Mama: It was very sad at times. But whether it was a sad moment due to a scene or whether Lisa wasn’t present, it was a very vibrant and fun shoot. The energy of TLC and my two castmates are so silly that we had so much fun. All of them had a great sense of humor so we had a really great time. But just reflecting on Left Eye not being there, I wanted to make sure that I portrayed her in the best light possible. I knew that it was my responsibility to bring her to life and to protect her as well. Since it was a job, I had to dust the sensitivity off my shoulder and get into character and do my research, and do the best job possible.
Keke Palmer: Drew and I had a conversation about this. This thing about Lil Mama is that she always has a positive outlook on things. She always turned the negatives into a great thing. We always felt good and confident that she wasn’t feeling left out in any other way. As far as me having Chilli, with me she was very very open about the personal things in her life. Even the stuff that wasn’t in the script, she was willing to share with me in order to help me get into character and understand a lot of her challenges.
TLC, Peri “Pebbles” Reid is portrayed in the film as the cause of a lot of legal, personal, and financial drama. What’s your relationship with her? Do you guys still talk with her?
Thomas: First of all, we’re going to put it out there. We have no problems with Pebbles. We got to a place where we are all cool, and I was the one who told her, that we’re going to tell this TLC story, that we’re so excited. And then after that conversation, I never heard from her again. The thing is, we just want to tell the truth, what we went through.
Watkins: She put us together. She taught us a lot of things.
Watkins: You don’t have to like how it feels or how it happened. You can always respectfully agree to disagree. People grow apart, they get divorced, they go their separate ways. But if something bad happens or you didn’t like the way somebody did something, it doesn’t mean that you hate that person or you can’t speak.
Thomas: And I don’t think she sees how it came across to us. I don’t know how she’s feeling, but when you’re in a relationship with someone and they tell how what you just said or what you did made you feel, they’re like, “Why you take it like that?” She doesn’t see herself the way we saw her.
Watkins: This is from our perspective. You can’t tell us how we perceived you and how we felt when you said or did something to us that offended us or hurt our feelings.
How did L.A. Reid and Clive Davis feel about their depictions in the movie?
Thomas: L.A. was so excited!
Watkins: L.A. told me even if it’s something bad… tell it! I don’t care, it’s press, it’s me, it’s what happened! Tell it! So he was so open and so supportive. With Clive Davis, we were cool, but we didn’t have a relationship with him like we did with L.A.
How did you two feel watching yourselves on film?
Watkins: It was surreal, I can’t believe this is happening. But this is great, and it’s a blessing at the same time.
Thomas: It’s just amazing to see a dream come true. More importantly, I’m just happy that we spent that time with the girls because it was important for us to be portrayed in the right way and they did it.
You two served as executive producers on the movie, but do you really feel that the cast did an accurate portrayal?
Watkins: Can we just say that we were on this project from the rootie-to-the-tootie-to-the-bootie! From the script, finding writers, picking writers. VH1 was so amazing letting us collaborate with them and it was a joint effort. We were in auditions, we put on dance clothes, we was up there dancing with each girl.
Thomas: We wouldn’t have done this had we were not able to be involved. We went to them [VH1]. They didn’t come to us.
If Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes was here, how would you think she would feel right now?
Thomas: She would totally be on board. Sitting right here next to me, talking to you about this interview. She knows. She knows.
TLC’s biopic, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story airs on Monday, October 21 at 9PM ET/PT on VH1.