The Zanucks first brought a project about Bessie Smith to Queen Latifah 22 years ago, Latifah said today at Winter TV Press Tour 2015. She was just 22 years old. She is in a much better position to play the role now, she insisted. “If anything I came to have a little more story,” at age 44, Latifah explained. “When the project came my way, I don’t think I had the life journey that went along with it. I got to live more of the blues.”

HBO’s film about iconic blues singer Smith is written and directed by Dee Rees, the filmmaker behind the Sundance- and Indie Spirit Award-winning Pariah. Based on the life story of Smith, the film chronicles how Smith overcame her tempestuous personal life to become one of the most acclaimed performing and recording artists of the 1920s and ’30s, earning the nickname Empress of the Blues. Smith died at age 43 after suffering injuries in a car accident.

The project is produced by HBO Films in association with Latifah and Shakim Compere’s Flavor Unit Entertainment and Lili and Richard Zanuck’s the Zanuck Company.