Grandma, it's Hollywood calling

Baltimore woman helped launched Mo'Nique's career

now the actress returns the favor


If you're looking for Sandy Watters this weekend, she's in Los Angeles, personally invited by Baltimore comedian Mo'Nique to attend tomorrow night's premiere of the star's new movie Phat Girlz.

The invitation and the Hollywood trip alone might have been thrilling enough for Watters, but this local lady is starry-eyed for another reason.

Watters is actually in the new movie, which comes out April 7. Her name is right there in the credits, but, truth be told, she isn't really acting. Watters is just doing on film what she does best in real life.

In Phat Girlz, Watters plays Mo'Nique's grandmother, a wise and loving, gray-haired woman who comforts the school-age Mo'Nique when cruel children tease her about being overweight.

Watters, 65, didn't have to dig too deep to find the motivation to portray such a character. After all, she's a grandmother of four and a great-grandmother to six. And she's a plus-sized woman herself.

"I just worked one day and ad-libbed the scenes," says Watters, from her home on the corner of Baker and Dukeland streets. "We were done in two takes."

New to the screen

Such ease in front of the camera is uncommon, Watters says the movie's producers told her after her scenes wrapped. Even more so, when you consider that Watters didn't audition for the part, and she has a fairly short, and fairly recent, list of acting credits.

The movie bug bit Watters late in life; the Baltimore native was well into her 40s when a talent agent noticed her uncanny resemblance to actress Nell Carter and encouraged her to enter a look-alike contest. Watters won first place.

Though she had a natural vivacity and presence, Watters had no entertainment experience. She had spent 20 years pushing papers in the central records division of the Baltimore City Police Department. Before that, she was a wife and stay-at-home mother. And before that, she was just your average Baltimore teenager at Dunbar High School.

To her, Hollywood might as well have been Jupiter.

"When we're little girls, we dream a lot," says Watters. "But in my wildest dreams, I never dreamed I'd come anywhere near it."

Watters retired early from the police department because of severe carpal tunnel syndrome, and found herself in a bit of a midlife limbo. She was depressed about leaving the only career she'd ever known. She was going through a divorce.

Then her only child, Melvin, died suddenly of an aneurysm at age 32. Watters had no idea at that point what her dreams even were.

"When he passed, my life was unbearable," Watters says. "I didn't know who or what I was for two years. I couldn't function."

Building confidence

But then a modeling agent who had seen the Nell Carter look-alike contest called and asked Watters to do some full-figure modeling.

Soon after, an agent who got ahold of some of her modeling work, started sending her out on small print and television jobs.

The money wasn't much, but each job was worth gold in terms of confidence-boosting.

A happier Watters then decided to start her own company, Just Us Plus Models - an agency for full-figured women.

One of her models: a 21-year-old Mo'Nique.

"She's like my baby," Watters says. "She still calls me `Mom.' "

As Mo'Nique's celebrity grew, she and Watters stayed in touch. The comedian even started her own full-figured modeling company, and Watters - ever ready to work - did some jobs for her.

Watters was enjoying every tiny moment she could get on the runway or on screen. Still, she figured it was "not that big of a deal."

"Oh it was a ride," Watters says. "It was just fun the whole time."

Even after scoring bit parts on Homicide, both the movie and the television show; America's Most Wanted; The Wire; Something the Lord Made, with rapper/actor Mos Def; Clara's Heart with Whoopi Goldberg and Men Don't Leave with Jessica Lange, Watters still felt like this was as good as it got.

And she was thrilled about it.

Until several flashback scenes during the filming of Mo'Nique's movie Phat Girlz called for pictures of a doting grandmother. And Mo'Nique asked specifically for Watters.

"They could have called Cicely Tyson or Ruby Dee," Watters says. "But [Mo'Nique] told them to call Momma Sandy."

Watters sent in pictures - posed in front of her church, or gathered around a slew of children - and left it at that. One day, the director called her and said, "You've haunted this picture. Now I've got to have you in it."

`Proud of Aunt Sandy'

So off she flew. The "big time" had shown up on her doorstep.

"No one would ever believe that you would get up in age like I am and all these wonderful things would start happening to you," she says.

Family members beg to differ. They always knew Watters had it in her.

"We're all so proud of Aunt Sandy," says Deborah Pride, 50, of Pikesville, one of Watters' many nieces. "She's just so talented and she's absolutely beautiful."

Pride says at least six carloads of family members are preparing to caravan to a local movie theater to see Watters on the day Phat Girlz is released. If past outings in support of Watters are any indication, there's bound to be plenty of hollering, Pride says.

It might disturb the other moviegoers, but the family has got to get it all out now before Watters returns from Los Angeles. She's too humble, Pride says, to enjoy too much hoopla.

"She'll go out there and do what she's got to do," Pride says, "and then she'll come back and be just the grandmommy again."

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