101 Facts about Nona Gaye
(a long list, or a short biography)
1) Full name: Nona Marvisa Gaye
2) …though for the first twelve years of her life, Nona thought her middle name was Aisha. “One day, we were driving in the car and my mom’s like, ‘Honey, Aisha’s not your middle name. It’s Marvisa,’“ Nona recalls. “And I’m like, It’s what?”*
3) Nona's thoughts on her middle name? "I guess my dad wanted me to have a piece of his name, and I like that, but I don't care for the name itself...[but] it could’ve been Marveletta, Mervetta, Marvita, Marvelina. My dad wanted to go with Marvelous and my mother was like, 'Absolutely not.'"*
4) Birthdate: September 4th, 1974
5) …which makes her a Virgo
6) Birthplace: Columbia Hospital, 12:18 a.m., Washington, D.C.
7) Family: Grandfather is Cuban jazz great Slim Gaillard; parents are Marvin and Janis Hunter Gaye; godfather is Rick James; brothers are Marvin III and Frankie (Nona is younger than Marvin and older than Frankie); son is Nolan...
8) ...and for a brief time, her in-laws included the famous Jackson family. When Nona was born, father Marvin was married to the sister of Berry Gordy, who was the father-in-law of Jackson brother Jermaine.
9) On Nona’s birth, her mother Jan remarks, "Nona was born with her eyes open. She was looking around, very aware, very alert. A friend of mine said 'This baby has a very old soul.' She was so sure that Nona's soul had been here before.”*
10) Contrary to popular belief, Jan did not name her daughter after LaBelle singer Nona Hendryx. She explains to NonaNet: "I wanted a name with four letters, like Gaye. I knew a girl in school named Nona, and when I first saw my daughter, I thought, 'Oh, she looks like a Nona.' That's about all."
11) As a child, Nona dreamed of becoming an ice skater or a ballerina, but had two problems. One was her height - young Nona was always heads and shoulders above everyone else, and would eventually grow to become 5 feet 10 ½ inches tall...
12) ...and the other was her weight. “I was chubby when I was little,” she says. “Then I got taller, and it evened out. Luckily, I have a good metabolism.”*
13) The advantage of being the daughter of the king of Motown? "It’s been fun being who I am and going to places I’ve always wanted to go to. I think I’ve been meeting celebrities since I was very, very small." Nona told The New York Times in 1992. "When we were in Hawaii, [Michael Jackson] came to the house. I answered the door. So I freaked out."*
14) Nona’s first television appearance was at the age of seven, when she introduced her father Marvin to a Soul Train audience. After his performance, Marvin told the crowd, “This is my little girl, Nona, and she also sings quite well.” *
15) The fact that Nona is a daddy’s girl is no secret. "I didn't have a lot of time with my dad," Nona says, "but the time that I did have is fixed in my memory…My dad was very silly, a total goofball. I realize that wasn't exactly his image. But let's just say we had a lot of whoopee cushions around our house."*
16) Unfortunately, it’s common knowledge that Nona’s father, Motown legend Marvin Gaye, was shot and killed on April 1st, 1984. “We turned on the TV and there was my father being rolled out in a body bag,” Nona somberly recalled to People magazine.* “That never goes away.”
17) Certainly, Nona’s father’s murder overshadowed her turbulent teenage years. By age 14, Nona was a substance abuser; she dropped out of Redondo Union High School her sophomore year...
18) ...and was signed to Third Stone/Atlantic records, which was partially owned by actor Michael Douglas. Her first demo? Her father's "That's The Way Love Is".
19) In 1989, Nona had her first movie role in Harlem Nights. “[I]t ended up on the cutting room floor. I gave Richard Pryor some extra [poker] chips,” Nona laughs.*
20) On October 13th, 1992 Nona released her debut album, Love for the Future. It featured Top 20 R&B hit, “I’m Overjoyed,” as well as the love ballad-turned-cult-classic “The Things that We All Do For Love”…
21) ...but was still only considered a moderate success in the U.S., despite its positive reviews. In Esquire magazine, Nona explained why she felt the reception was lukewarm: “I had just turned seventeen when I started it, and I didn't have any creative control. The record label [Third Stone/Atlantic] wanted to go with crossover pop. I wanted to come with the funk. I knew people wouldn't accept bubblegum from Marvin's daughter, and they didn't. It frustrated me, and after it happened I kind of lost my fire and gave up for a little while.”*
22) In 1993, Nona was named one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People at age 18…
23) ...and also made her runway modeling debut in Paris for Versace in the summer of 1994.
24) A short time later, Nona was signed to the prestigious Ford Modeling Agency. This was a short-lived stint, however, as the curvy Gaye battled bulimia for over three years. Eventually, Nona was forced to make a choice between her health and her modeling career. Nona summed her experience up quite nicely: “I couldn't keep my weight down, and I was like, whatever.”*
25) But Nona’s health-conscious decision didn’t exactly stop her drug use. To make matters worse, her mother Jan was battling a prescription drug problem as well, causing household turmoil. “It was always ‘What are you on?’” Nona admits. “And I’d say, ‘What are you on?’”*
26) That same year, Nona teamed up with then-boyfriend Prince on his LP 1-800-New-Funk, lending her vocals to the duet “Love Sign”, which was used in a public service announcement supporting gun control.
27) With the hit single came a video, and an unlikely producer - former gang member turned gun control advocate Ice Cube. Though Nona was happy to have the talented rapper aboard the Love Sign project, the two of them clashed when it came time for Nona to handle a real gun for the video. "I was like, 'I can't do it, I can't,'" Nona told Hello magazine in 1994. "And he said, 'You gotta handle it, you gotta make people understand.' It was very difficult - but the end result I think made people understand why I had a .357 in my hand. To show people that guns aren't a symbol of power, a symbol of being cool. They just destroy people's lives and...kill. And that's all they're good for." *
28) On the same album, Nona also remade Bobby Womack’s “A Woman’s Gotta Have It”…
29) …and in 1995, covered her father Marvin’s hit “Inner City Blues” for the Motown tribute album Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye.
30) By age 21, Nona and Prince, who was sixteen years her senior, were no longer making beautiful music together. Nona describes the relationship as “a whirlwind of head trips and mind screws.” But in Essence magazine, she admitted that neither she nor Prince were “very stable”, and notes her drug abuse as a factor to the failed relationship.* Nona told Esquire, “…that was a long time ago, and I wish him well. I have nothing but forgiving and warm feelings to send his way.”*
31) Around this time, Nona was nearing the end of another long-term relationship. In 1996, her mother Jan entered a drug-rehab program. Feeling abandoned, a devastated Nona attempted suicide by swallowing pills and champagne. “I was so angry with her for leaving me because she was my using buddy…It was a cry for help.”*
32) The attempt failed (obviously), and Nona entered a drug rehab program the very next day. "I think my dad would tell me to be really, really careful to steer clear of the demons that are in my bloodline… I'm doing everything I can do to stay away from what I know could destroy me."*
33) Does Nona ever long to go back to her wild, partying days? Not a chance. “I’m so past feeling like I need to alter my mind to have a good time. My son alters my mind; he makes me high.”*
34) That son would be Nolan Pentz Gaye, born in June of 1997 to Nona and her then-boyfriend, Justin Martinez. Chalking the failed relationship up to “puppy love”, the high school sweethearts remain good friends. “As long as he takes care of Nolan, I’m happy,” says Gaye.*
35) Two years after Nolan's birth, Nona returned to the William Morris Agency to get back to work on her musical career. After a brief discussion with Nona, her agents discovered that she was also interested in acting as well...
36) ...so they suggested that Nona go out for an audition to get a feel for the audition process, even though many well-known actresses were auditioning for the same part in the same movie. "...they told me, ‘You don’t have experience and won’t get the part, but don’t be upset. Just get your feet wet.’ And that audition was for Ali.”
37) Did Nona feel that she'd nailed the audition? Not hardly. "When I went to read with the casting director, I was so completely terrified, I couldn't make my lip stop quivering," Nona admitted to Good Housekeeping.* In fact, Nona felt that she had done so poorly, that she broke down sobbing in her car after the first reading. "As sure as the seasons change, I was sure I didn't have the role. So I waited a few days, thinking, forget it, no way."
38) But Ali director Michael Mann had other thoughts. "Nona had something that I saw on the very first audition tape," remembers Mann. "Not only does she have a real presence, but she also has that rare quality of being able to let an audience know what she's thinking even as she's trying to repress it."* Intrigued by the rookie actress, Mann called Nona back to read for the role again...and again...and again. "I went in, read again, waited a few more days, and then they called and wanted me to meet with Will [Smith]. I read with Will and then I read for Michael again, by myself. I think the total was about six times that I went, and by that time I was half-crazed."*
39) Small comfort would come in the form of divine intervention. After one of the audition readings, Nona decided to ask her father for a sign to know whether or not she would get the role. "I always do this. I'll turn on the radio and I'll give him a five or ten minute period--'Alright, Dad, if you come on in five or ten minutes then I'm going to go with that.' If I don't hear him, then I know it's not going to happen. So when I asked him about this part, I turned on the radio and the first song I heard was "Let's Get It On." So, it was like, O.K., I got the role."*
40) Apparently, Father knew best. Three months after the audition that was just meant to get her face seen by a casting director or two, Nona was the one who was chosen to play Belinda, the second wife of boxing champion Muhammad Ali. How did Nona react to the news? According to Housekeeping, Nona screamed so loudly when she received the congratulatory call that her son (who was then four) came running to his mother's side, fearing that she was hurt.*
41) Acting put Nona in foreign territory. Even more nerve-wracking, she was the only rookie actress in Ali, and not just by a little bit. Just about every member of the main cast had been working in Hollywood for at least ten years! "I worked with some heavy hitters, and I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't intimidated and nervous when I first started," Nona said. "I'd never really acted before and didn't have any real training. I was watching Will Smith and Jon Voight, these veterans, and it took them telling me, 'You wouldn't be here if you didn't have the juice' for me to relax."*
42) Will and Jon weren't the only ones who welcomed the nervous Nona with open arms. "[Will] was awesome, he was so sweet. He made it really easy. And there was [co-stars] Jamie [Foxx] and Jeffrey [Wright]-it was a bunch of really great, fun loving people. It was really hard to stay introverted and scared when I was surrounded by all this wonderful, positive energy."*
43) Of course, there was one more person who Nona was eager to please - Muhammad Ali himself. "I first met him as a little girl with my father, and when I saw him again after I’d gotten this part, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘You look just like your daddy,’* Nona recalls.
44) To play the role of a young, Muslim woman, Nona did more than just read a few books on the tenants of Islam. "I studied and went to mosques and wore the head scarf...I put my own feelings as a modern liberal woman aside and almost wanted to convert because I found a lot of things in it that I respected."* Nona also met with the mother and sisters of Khalilah Ali (nee Belinda Boyd), along with Muhammad and Khalilah's children. "I think the hardest thing about the part is playing someone's mother and having the children watching. I want to make sure I'm doing a decent job and am giving an accurate portrayal. They say I'm doing all right, and it's important to me that they feel that way."*
45) Around this time, a project would send Nona back into the recording studio and behind the microphone. During the first week of September 2001, scores of musical stars - including U2's Bono, The Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige and many more - would join Nona and make an updated version of her father Marvin's thought-provoking hit "What's Going On" to support the organization Artists Against AIDS Worldwide. Originally, all the proceeds of the single would go to AAAW...
46) ...but just one week after vocals were being laid down, four planes would crash in what would be the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil - two into the World Trade Center (New York), one into the Pentagon (Washington, D.C.) and one into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (85 miles outside of Pittsburg). On September 20th, it was announced that half of the proceeds from the single would now go to the United Way's September 11th fund.
47) The next day, a video showing the artists making the song, along with World Trade Center rescue efforts, would be played on MTV's Total Request Live (TRL) The video would be the #15 video of the year on TRL's video countdown, as well as a top 20 favorite on MTV. Along with the nine-mix single, - which included a 'main mix' by Jermaine Dupri and a 'rock mix' by Fred Durst - video for the single was shot in California in early October. Widely acclaimed, "What's Going On" went on to win 2002 MVPA Video Award for Best R&B Video, the 2001 My VH1 Award for Best Collaboration, and a televised tribute on the 2001 Billboard Awards.
48) As buzz around Ali began to grow, the question of Nona's acting ability began to come into question. Dissenters began to question Mann's decision of hiring an unknown actress - who'd done no more than a couple of music videos in terms of acting - to play such a large role. A general opinion was that Nona's last name and family lineage was being used to fill seats. But Nona wasn't fazed - she'd heard it all before. "People still sometime make those kind of, 'oh she's getting to do this or that because of who her father is' type of comments," Nona told The Scoop in 1994. "But you have to just keep moving right along, work hard and harder and keep proving yourself. I'm usually just myself and I do the best that I can with what God gave me."*
49) Naysayers were forced to eat their words, however, when Ali premiered on December 12, 2001. Released nationwide on Christmas day, Nona's performance of Khalilah Ali drew passionate acclaim from critics. Though reviews of the movie itself were mixed, it was generally agreed that Nona's presence was both strong and refreshing, and comparisons were made to Hollywood great Angela Bassett (who also portrayed a Muslim wife in 1992's Malcolm X). USA Today went as far as to call for an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Nona. "In a movie full of actors earnestly striving to pretend to be famous figures, Gaye chose instead to portray Belinda in only the clearest human light," the newspaper praised.*
50) Not only did Nona establish herself as a force to be reckoned with on the silver screen, but the 27-year-old established herself as a fashionista to boot. Nona stepped on the red carpet dressed in a snow-white, floor-length gown designed by Ralph Lauren. "Khalilah is, after all, a Muslim, and I want to be respectful," she joked the day before the premiere. "But if it was up to me, I'd be wearing hot pants."*
51) Though Nona didn't receive an Academy Award nomination, she was award the 2001 Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actress, her first award for acting.
52) In early 2002, the buzz was that Nona would be called to replace singer/actress Aaliyah in the role of Zee, the wife of a ship commander, in "The Matrix Reloaded". Aaliyah was killed in a plane accident, which would also take the lives of two of Nona's friends. Nona originally auditioned for the role, but lost it to Aaliyah. "If I wasn't going to do it, at least they gave it to someone who is beautiful and talented and could do it properly," Nona warmly acknowledged. With Aaliyah's untimely death, however, the role had to be recast, and the audition process was started over. It eventually came down to Nona and two other actresses, with Nona receiving the role.
53) Nona's fondness of Aaliyah was anything but fake. Two weeks prior to the singer's death, she happened to spot Aaliyah while she was out shopping with her mother. "They recognized each other", Jan tells NonaNet, "and they kept smiling at each other, and [Aaliyah] gave this little wave. So finally, Nona told me, 'I'm going to go over and talk to her.' And she went over and introduced herself and told Aaliyah how much she loved her music. Aaliyah had re-recorded one of Marvin's songs ("Got to Give It Up"), and Nona thought it was wonderful. They talked for a pretty long time and exchanged contact information, and then the next thing we heard was that she was gone, along with two friends of Nona's who were also on the plane. Nona was devastated - she truly was. I know that Aaliyah was originally picked to play Zee, and Nona was disappointed when she didn't get the part. But there was no bad blood between her and Aaliyah at all."
54) Before Nona signed up to play Zee, she would seek the blessing of the Haughton family to replace Aaliyah, ready to walk away from the Matrix movies if they didn't want Nona to play the part. "...I lost my father at a young age and I know what it’s like not to be able to mourn properly," Nona told Venice magazine. "So knowing what that feels like I wanted to make sure they were okay with it. And after a couple of days her brother got back to me and said, ‘My mother and I talked and we feel Aaliyah would have wanted the film to be finished.’ Afterwards, when they said it was okay, it was so bittersweet because no one wants to land a role this way."*
55) Because of Nona's sudden casting, Nona would arrive in Australia in the middle of shooting, leaving her with nothing to do right away. "I just sat in my hotel room alone and going crazy and Keanu asked me what I wanted to do because he saw I was bored. I said, 'I've always wanted to learn how to speak French,' and he said, 'Oh, that's nice.' Then his assistant called back and said, 'We've set up six weeks at Berlitz (language school) for French lessons.' That’s how kind he is...he’s a very generous person."
56) Once it was time for Nona to shoot, she would learn that her "non-physical" role was anything but. "They said the character doesn't have much physically to do," Nona remembers." We're hanging from the ropes, and there are cushions and pads for us to fall on...*Jumping and diving, tripping and falling - it was pretty hardcore. Those 'ows!' and 'ughs!' are real."*
57) Luckily, Nona didn't have to fight the pain and the boredom by herself - her family accompanied her to Australia. "I would go back to the hotel and my mother would run a bath and just sort of coddle me. I'm very serious when I say I don't know what I would do without her."
58) Though Nona was a newcomer and the cast had to adjust to having a new Zee, she was once again embraced
on-set. "In comes Nona, and she brings with her this enormous presence - this loving, giving and also a forceful
presence," stated Harold Perrineau, who played Zee's husband, Link. "'Cause she's like, you know a warrior in this thing, and she's no joke." Nona added, "They embraced me and made me part of the family. Carrie-Anne, Jada, Harold, Keanu, Laurence -- everybody. They all made me feel a part of it."*
59) The character of Zee was a young, human-born Zionite who experienced the pain of losing her brothers Dozer and Tank (from the original "Matrix" films) killed on the Nebuchadnezzar. Unbeknownst to her, Zee's husband Link had a pact with Dozer that he would take over the Neb should anything happen to Dozer. It's a constant thorn in the side of their marriage, with Zee demanding that Link switch to another ship, and Link refusing to break his promise to his wife's deceased brother. Ultimately, she supports her husband's decision, and even takes up arms in the siege on Zion (as shown in The Matrix Revolutions). "Zee is strong and determined to accomplish what needs to be done without letting fear get in her way. She feels very protective of Zion, and Link is all she's got left. She wants to make sure that they can have a life together."*
60) When it became time for Nona to tap into her inner Zee and do scenes where she would risk her life for a slim chance to see the man she loved again, ..."[i]t was a little bit more difficult for me, because I don't have a man in my life that I could think about and go to...it took me a minute to figure out what I was going to go to to get that fire. So I used my baby, and I kind of figured if I was in that situation, he was in trouble, of course I would go and shoot bazookas and kill Sentinels. So I figured it out, but it took me a second."*
61) There was another important person who helped Nona throughout the shooting of the films: "The first few scenes that I did, they brought up Aaliyah for continuity for a shot. At first, I remember thinking 'Okay, I don't know how to deal with this because I'm seeing her image and I'm seeing what she had done," Nona said on The Matrix Reloaded Revisited DVD. "So it was hard. Then I started, y'know, getting really affected and upset about the fact that she isn't able to stand where I'm standing and say these lines and do this role. And it made me cry on set during a couple of scenes. So then I realized later that it was her helping me, for some reason or another...I choose to think that she connected me."
62) Nona would receive praise for her role as wife-turned-warrior Zee, and an NAACP Image Award nomination in 2003.
to be continued