"Hello, my wife," jokes Sean Combs, welcoming the beautiful Audra McDonald to the executive floor of his Sean John and Bad Boy headquarters in New York City. They haven't seen each other in about a year, since filming wrapped on A Raisin in the Sun, the ABC TV-movie version of Lorraine Hansberry's classic tale of domestic strife during the fledgling civil rights era (Feb. 25 at 8 pm/ET). The film reunites the cast of the hit 2004 Broadway revival — Combs, McDonald, Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan — as a family nearly torn apart over how to spend a $10,000 insurance check. Combs' Walter Lee Jr. wants to open a liquor store, while McDonald's Ruth and Rashad's Lena want a new home — that happens to be in a white neighborhood.
TV Guide: In today's integrated times, why is this story still relevant?
Audra McDonald: Because there's economic segregation still going on. Also, I think it's part of the human condition to struggle and to hope for something and dream. Especially if you have less than you think you should have.
Sean Combs: I don't think this movie could have come at a better time. No matter where [you live], you have poor men and women going through exactly what this family is going through. I went through those moments Walter Lee did…. Growing up in a house filled with women, all of the different feelings that a young black man has when he's frustrated and seeing no way out, but he's still dreaming.
McDonald: Also, Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier [the original stars] are geniuses, but they seem like elders that we bow down to. This generation absolutely identifies with Sean in the most personal way.Therefore, this story has more relevance for them. They will think about what this movie has to say, because they connect to Sean.
TV Guide: You're following in the footsteps of Poitier and Dee. Talk about pressure!
Combs: This is the craziest thing I've ever done. When I announced I was doing it on Broadway, the critics… it was cracking them up.
McDonald: In the beginning, people thought I was crazy. You're doing what? And with who? I was unconvinced until I met with Sean and we worked on a scene. I was like, "He can bring it."
TV Guide: How did you meet?
McDonald: He'd already signed on when they asked me to do it. I was doing Henry IV at Lincoln Center and…
Combs: See what I had to deal with?! She says [Haughtily], "I was doing Henry IV at Lincoln Center" [Laughs].
McDonald: Oh, shut up. That's what I do. You were like [Puffs up her chest], "I'm running my big empire." Please. He kicked people out of the entire floor of the hotel where we met. But then we just got down to brass tacks and worked through the scene, like two actors would do.
TV Guide: Sean, with this cast, you're the novice. Was there any scene you did over and over to make sure you got it right?
Combs: Well, there were a couple of times when I held the production hostage. One of them was the scene [with Bill Nunn] on the stoop. I couldn't really get it. I did it so many times that by the time I got it right, it was because I was exhausted.
TV Guide: Raisin is set when $10,000 was like a million. Did one check ever mean so much to you?
McDonald: The summer after my freshman year in college, I did summer stock. They paid $175 a week, cash, under the table. I look back at that and I go, "That was illegal." But when they handed me that first $175, I felt like I had more money than I knew what to do with.
Combs: A lot of people don't know about my starving times at Howard University. I was getting evicted and running out of ramen noodles. So I went to apply for $5,000 in financial aid. And I waited for that $5,000 check. And when it came, boy, we was ballin'. I bought up 7-Eleven. I had ramen noodles for years!
TV Guide: Now that you're rich and famous, have you experienced that other discrimination — where people don't want you on the block because you'll draw too much attention?
McDonald: Me, my dog and my kids live in the woods. I think maybe the squirrels and raccoons had some issues with us moving in. But I did experience [discrimination] in New York City, before I was anybody, and I was trying to rent an apartment. I'd call about an ad and they'd say, "Why don't you come down and take a look." And when they saw my face, suddenly it was, "Oh, it's not available."
Combs: I had to go through a co-op board for an apartment, and they tried to put in certain stipulations. Anything you heard about black rappers: no entourages, parties or loud music. It was offensive because I have six kids and when I'm at home, I'm raising my kids like anybody else.
TV Guide: But Sean "Diddy" Combs, you are known to bring the party.
Combs: Tom Cruise is known for blowing up stuff [in movies]. We're not telling him not to bring no guns up in the joint. It was in the tone in which it was said to me. It was in the tone of prejudice.
TV Guide: After Raisin, what's next?
McDonald: Private Practice.
Combs: I'm looking at other films. I'll probably be moving out to L.A. to pursue acting. And I get my star in Hollywood, probably in March.
TV Guide: Audra, did you learn any mogul moves from Sean?
McDonald: Let's put it this way: There was an issue on set and we were not getting what we needed. And Sean taught us, in a few moments, how to make sure you get what you want and still be respectful. I just sat agape like, "Oh, that's how you do it."
TV Guide: Sean, what did Audra teach you?
Combs: Oh, man. All you hear in acting class is to be in the moment. She's the greatest example I've ever seen as to how to remain focused and be in the moment.
McDonald: Sean is such a cheerleader. He took care of us and kept our spirits up.
TV Guide: This is the same hard-nosed, fire-your-friends guy we see on MTV's Making the Band?
McDonald: That's a TV show.
Combs: When I'm on Making the Band, that's another role.
TV Guide: So you're acting on your reality show?
McDonald: That's showbiz.
Check out Raisin in the Sun clips in our Online Video Guide.
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