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Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah:
Larsen & Talbert/USA WEEKEND

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When Queen Latifah enters the room, heads turn. Even when she’s dog-tired. In sweats. Hair slicked under a trucker’s cap.

She has arrived at the Hollywood photo studio not-so-fresh from a red-eye flight from New York, hours after attending the funeral of her friend Heavy D, the rapper.

Still, someone cranks up the jams, and the actress, singer and occasional MC gets down to business: She flashes an infectious smile and transforms herself from Everyday Dana Owens into a perfectly coiffed, platform-heel-strutting diva shaking her booty to Jay-Z as cameras click. Her skinny jeans work every angle.

Still, both incarnations command attention. Her skin glows; she could give J. Lo a run for her money. And while the stilettos heighten the lady’s already tall presence — she’s 5-foot-10 without them — it’s her unassailable comfort in her own skin that radiates a magnetic energy.

“I accept that I’m me,” says Latifah, who co-stars with Dolly Parton in the new movie Joyful Noise, opening next Friday.

Latifah, 41, unwittingly shares what she believes is the secret for her success. “I am me. I don’t have a choice! From the time I really accepted myself, everything got brighter. People were attracted to me for me."

We wanted to know more about exactly how a girl from Newark, N.J., stays Queen Latifah, the heading-turning film star, Cover Girl and future talk show host (set for 2013). Latifah, or “La” as friends call her, is the first to acknowledge how literal her makeover can be as she is made up. “You look in the mirror and go, ‘I look fly!’ I start walking differently and feel differently. When I put my heels on, it turns on.”

Always a “plus-size” — a term she hates — Latifah didn’t begin her career with the label of being model-beautiful. “There were no cover girls who looked like me when I was growing up, other than on Essence magazine,” she muses. Exploding onto the hip-hop scene before she turned 20, she was celebrated first for her rhymes, not her curves. Then her acting career took off, with TV hits such as Living Single and an Oscar nomination for playing Matron Mama Morton in Chicago.

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Suddenly her fuller figure and photogenic face were redefining American beauty. Along the way, she picked up tips from stylists, fashionistas and fitness gurus on how to maximize her assets.

Her daily routine? Latifah says she usually starts around 8 a.m. when rousted out of bed by her two beloved Weimaraner dogs.

“The first thing [I do] is to get on the treadmill for a mile,” says Latifah, who has used a personal trainer for years. “Then it could be circuit training. Sometimes we’ll walk 3 or 4 miles outside, come in and do strength training. Sometimes it’s just yoga. Yoga’s great for calming your mind, loosening up, stretching and strengthening. And allowing you to feel pain and move through it. All things you need in life.”

Her weight has famously fluctuated over the years — and she’s OK with that. The former Jenny Craig spokeswoman says: “I know what to eat and what not to eat. But I just like doing what I want, you know? I’m rebellious like that!” (Her fave foible: mac and cheese.)

She lets out her big laugh, then adds her formula for having a healthy body: “It’s really simple: You do cardio. You eat smaller portions. You drink a lot of water. You try not to eat three hours before you go to bed.

“And you work out a lot. I’m not a dieter. I’m also not trying to be a size 2.”

It’s one reason she launched her own line of clothes of knitwear up to size 24. Says Latifah: “I don’t care if you’re a slimmer girl or a bigger girl. You have to do what works perfectly for you.”

For Latifah, that also meant breast reduction surgery in 2003 to alleviate back pain. Still, she’s not a fan of plastic surgery. “What do you need to Botox your face for at age 25? Really? If you’re doing that at 25, what are you going to do at 50?”

In her new movie, Joyful Noise, Latifah’s character even takes some hilarious potshots on the subject of plastic surgery toward co-star Parton, who has never been shy about flaunting nips and tucks. “I was fine with it,” Parton laughs. “I’m a good sport!”

Latifah, who calls Parton “a hero of mine,” says the country music singer/songwriter “made me some nice chicken and dumplings. C’mon, how can I deny myself homemade chicken and dumplings? She makes ’em so good!”

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