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Nia Long: The Hardest Thing About Working With My Teen Son Was...

Mom, son, movie: Nia Long of Tyler Perry's "The Single Moms Club" merged her home and work life when she suggested her tween, Massai, audition for a role in the film.

"I read the script, and they said, '12-year-old son,' and I was like, 'He's 12. This is kind of perfect,'" Nia Long explained to Mom.me about encouraging her oldest kid to star on the big screen alongside her.

We met up with Long and her boys—Massai, who's now 13, and her 2-year-old Kez—to talk about the film, which opens March 14.

She and Massai were candid about what it was like to work together. Her teen even admits that he has more respect and appreciation for his mom's career now. Long also talked to us about her own single mom and why she wants her sons to know how to do their own laundry and take out the trash.

How did your son Massai get involved in the movie?

Nia: He auditioned. He worked with my acting coach, Betty Bridges, and then my mother videotaped him on my iPhone, sent it to me. I sent it to my agent, and then we sent it to [director] Tyler [Perry], and that's how he got the job.

He earned it. It was really important for me that he earned it. I think it's especially important for young kids to see how much power they can have in their own lives by doing the work to earn something. And just because I'm an actress and I'm his mom, this wasn't handed to him.

We had good talks about it. Were you nervous, Massai?

Massai: I was nervous a little bit. At the beginning I was nervous because I've never done it before. I started getting used to it. It was really helpful the fact that my mom was in the room with me.

You guys had emotional scenes. And, Massai, you were crying! How did you practice for that?

Massai: I didn't really practice that much because when it came up—the scene—I was asking my mom, "What am I going to do if this is a really emotional scene?" She said, "You have to cry," and then she taught me how. She said to just imagine it's a real-life situation, and it works.

Did you have any qualms about Massai getting into show business?

I think it's really super-important to expose your kids to all things positive and let them decide where their passions lie. For instance, right now he's talking about the film, but he's on his Web site for baseball equipment because it's baseball season.

The more you can expose your children to, the more options they have. And you give them the room to discover their passions, and hopefully they manifest into something wonderful.

What was the best thing about working with your son?

The selfish reason was he could come with me, and he didn't have to stay here, and we had a tutor on set. He got to see how hard I work.

Nia to Massai: Do you think you have a lot more respect and appreciation for the work that I do after being there?

Massai: Yes.

[To Massai:] What did you think it was like before? What did you imagine your mom doing before?

Massai: I just imagined her going in front of the camera and then just going off, like really quick. I didn't know the whole process. When she was out of town, she would say, "OK, they just called me. I have to go on. Bye." And then she'll call me 15 minutes later. I didn't really understand how it went.

Nia: That it takes hours in hair and makeup, and you have to do the same thing over and over again, and they want to retake and reshoot, and it's time-consuming.

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What was the hardest thing about working together?

Massai: The work.

Nia: The homework, yeah, because being able to get him on set, do his work, do his lines. But also when he wasn't in scenes with me, I had to make sure he was in school doing what he was supposed to do, so it was like being a mom on- and off-camera. So there were days when I was a little overwhelmed, but honestly, the greatest thing about this business is that it's crazy for a period of time and then it chills out. So you have to just take each of those moments with a grain of salt and know that you will get a reprieve.

Did you personally identify with your character in any way?

Nia: My mother's a single mom. By 22, she had a child and she was divorced, so I look back on what her life must have been like, making $14,000 a year. And I'm like, "How did you do it?" She had my grandparents, who were extremely helpful, but it can be really lonely when you don't have anyone. And she was in graduate school in Iowa City, and I was the only little African American girl in a town where it was just really white and the Midwest.

But the plus in all of that is I feel like I can go anywhere. I feel like my children can go anywhere, and we see the hearts of people and not where they're from or how much money they have or what they look like, but that you can genuinely look at a person's heart and kind of know if they're good people. And we're all flawed, nobody's perfect. And I certainly think that single moms have an extra gift of having the ability to plan, give and put themselves second. All moms—not just single moms—but I think single mothers have to take it a step further because the child solely depends on you.

The Single Moms Club is all about support. Nia, how do you support your single-mom friends?

I have a girlfriend who has five kids. We've been friends since junior high, and the best thing to do is to get all the kids together because the older ones tend to take care of the little ones, and then the moms can all hang out and have a glass of wine and an adult conversation.

Massai, how do you think you support your mom?

Massai: I don't know. I can't really answer that question.

Nia: That's OK. … I can tell you how he supports me. There are days when he's really helpful, and there are days when he's just a kid. And I want him to know how to do his own laundry, I want him to know how to take out the trash, I want him to understand accountability and responsibility, and sometimes that means allowing your kids to make mistakes where they can feel it rather than just hear you talk about it—the pitfalls, the wins and the losses.

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Photo via KC Bailey

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