The Surprising Way 'Girls Trip' Stars Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah First Met — as Teenagers

The stars of Girls Trip open up about how their 30-year friendship started in a club

Turns out Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah go way back!

The pair play close girlfriends in the upcoming summer comedy Girls Trip, in theaters July 21, which marks 21 years since the two shared the big screen in 1996’s Set It Off. But truth be told their friendship began long before Hollywood.

“I remember the first time I met her,” Pinkett Smith tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, sitting down with the pal of 30 years whom she affectionately calls La, for an interview during this year’s Essence Fest in New Orleans, where their new movie takes place.

“It was in Baltimore at a club where she was performing. I’d never seen anyone like her before, this female rapper named Queen Latifah. I convinced the promoter to let me introduce her.”

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Daymon Gardner

At the time, the two future mega stars weren’t exactly club-age. “My mother was with me,” recalls Latifah, 47. “That’s how young I was. I was 17.” Pinkett Smith, 45, was even younger, and admits with a laugh, “I had no business being in that club!”

Thinking back to their first movie together, Set It Off, where they played close friends and ill-fated bank robbers, the two say their worlds are completely different now. Asked what has been the biggest change, Pinkett Smith says, “Shoot, everything, literally.” Adds Latifah, “We were babies, we were young’uns. I didn’t even have my woman body yet. She got knocked up shortly after that.”

For more on Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith’s 30-year friendship, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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“I had two babies [Jaden, now 19, and Willow, now 16] and got married [to Will Smith],” says Pinkett Smith. “My life went in a whole other direction. A lot of ups and downs. But yet here we are.”

The two remain close to this day. “Jada and I can have whole conversations where we haven’t really said anything, but we’ve said a lot,” says Latifah. Thus, when they both received the script for Girls Trip, also starring Regina Hall and hilarious newcomer Tiffany Haddish, they made the decision to sign on together.

“I haven’t seen women of color portrayed like this in a long time,” says Pinkett Smith, “but it has universal themes. La and I were like, ‘We’re in!’ ”

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Next up for these two is having a girls’ getaway in real life. “We are super-overdue for that! She invites me to a lot of girls’ peace [get-togethers], like, ‘La, come to the spa, chill out, find your Zen.’ I’m ready to drag her out of the house.”

Says Pinkett Smith, who has more free time these days, “I’m ready to be dragged out of the house!”

Girls Trip opens nationwide in theaters on July 21.

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