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March 2008
An Interview with Angela Bassett


An Interview with Angela Bassett
By Tarice Gray

March 17, 2008

It’s been a long time since we last saw Angela Bassett in a pivotal, leading role. Although she was featured with Laurence Fishburne in ‘Akeelah and the Bee’, it was a supporting role. Throughout the early ‘90s Bassett played some of the most famous African America women most of her colleagues would crave for. From Betty Shabazz to Katherine Jackson to Tina Turner, Bassett proved that she as equal to Meryl Streep in many ways. Coming up soon is a role that puts Bassett back on the spotlight as she headlines ‘Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns’.

A single mother living in inner city Chicago, Brenda (Bassett) has been struggling for years to make ends meet and keep her three kids off the street. But when she's laid off with no warning, she starts losing hope for the first time – until a letter arrives announcing the death of a father she's never met. Desperate for any kind of help, Brenda takes her family to Georgia for the funeral. But nothing could have prepared her for the Browns, her father's fun-loving, crass Southern clan. In a small-town world full of long afternoons and country fairs, Brenda struggles to get to know the family she never knew existed…and finds a brand new romance that just might change her life.

In speaking to blackfilm.com, Bassett talks about her role, working with Tyler Perry and her upcoming role as Voletta Wallace, the mother of slain rapper Biggie Smalls in ‘Notorious’.

How did you like playing a mom with three different fathers for her kids?ab

Angela Bassett: I know. I said let me see how we make this, (laughs) you gotta look like this one. (Laughs) But you're not familiar with two of them. There was just one, you know just trying to come up with the history of his character. Mistakes that she's made. The first one who we do have some connection with I said well she probably really, really loved him and he didn't want to just be the bad guy. Gary Sturgis,the actor who portrayed the debeat dad, and I talked about it. He's really a wonderful actor. You know so it's just not like Simon Legre. I had to say I really loved you and if he had been right in this relationship I wouldn't have looked at a Harry (laughs). You know because when you love who you love you know you can't really explain it, it just happens. You go for it, it happens. If he treated her better it would have been a different movie.

Did you get to advise any of the young, less experienced actors?

I love being on the set, I love doing it and I love the collaborative process. Some have been good and kind to me and my mom always said 'work hard and be nice' so it was part of it. You have a good time you spend too much time together, 16, 18 hours a day. And I want it to be as good as we can make it. I want us all to give the very best that we have this day. Now a year from now we know more we can give more but we're not there, we're here today so that's the way I feel about it. If this is, with Lance and the baby girl in the middle, it's like these are my children and I want the audience to feel a relationship, and the kinship between them. You're sitting there and you're agreeing to go on this ride and to believe. So it's like I gotta believe more.

How do you like being a mom, and playing a mom on screen?

Angela Bassett: I always thought kids were precious and amazing even before mine but, now it's not just in my head. I have real knowledge about how precious and unique and brilliant from the start they are.

Can you talk about working with Tyler Perry?ab

Angela Bassett: I didn't know him before. We've seen a couple movies and I saw one of his plays, 'Madea Goes to Jail'. That evening is when I actually met Tyler Perry and he said that wanted to work me. I was a fan of the first movie 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' and saw what Kimberley Elise brought so vividly to the scene. I was jealous (laughs). I said I'd like to have that experience also; a good role, a chance to travel, and just the whole spectrum.

Did you know that Tyler wrote the film for you?

Angela Bassett: I was in Atlanta doing something and he came to meet me at the hotel where I was. [They were] filming 'Why did I get Married?'. One of my friends, Tasha Smith, was in it and they came to say hello. And he said he had 30 pages and he was writing it and it was for me. I was like, ' Well hurry up.' So at that point I was aware. A lot of people say to me,'I'd like to work with you or we should work together. Yeah we should.' Will it happen, does it happen, will circumstances, will paths really cross, will you get to it? A lot of times it doesn't. But this time it did. You hear people say they have you in mine. I'm getting ready to do 'Notorious' and she didn't write it but Ms. Wallace said 'you're the only one I want to play me'. You know so she had me in mind.

What did you think when Voletta Wallace asked you to portray her in 'Notorious'?

Angela Bassett: I was yeah mortified (laughs). No it was a great complement, a great complement and scary because you want to do it justice and she has this accent that she doesn't think she has (laughs). To work on that is so it's scary, and unreal.

How familiar were you with Biggie Smalls?ab

Angela Bassett: A little bit not, I saw documentaries and 'I love it when you call me big papa'. I was into that song but not the whole discography but that's alright because she said she wasn't familiar with all he was doing, all that was his world out there.

How was working withj Sofia Vergara?

Angela Bassett: We had a good time. She’s funny, she’s very funny. She would say ‘I don’t get it. What is the joke?’. I’d try to explain it to her and we're mic’d, but she’s not aware that we’re mic’d so we can be heard and I’m like, 'Okay Sofia it’s not that funny (laughs).' I had a good time with everyone really did.

Can you talk about being a Black woman role model?

Angela Bassett: He [Lance] was precious, he was just so, you know what it makes me feel like, I'm doing something right. I just love that Al Jarreau song, 'Somebody's watching you, somebody's always got there eye upon you'. So when you least expect it, when you're doing good or whether you're not somebody's watching you and taking note. So endeavor to be professional and giving and sharing 'cause I get as much from them. The enthusiasm that Rick has, he somebody ready to talk about it all, the history of the character all day. He just thought about it and thought about it that's who I was you know, looking at the script and the back of the pages you know the whole history and biography of the character all the extra stuff you throw away when you settle on who you are. You know somebody like Lance who's just starting out, just that fresh love it's so wonderful. He's really a unique young man and I really hope that my little boy is you know just a tenth of who he is as a young man. He's very, very impressive as an actor and as a person as a young man and how he carries himself.

What did you think of David Mann's style?ab

Angela Bassett: I tried to insinuate myself into the pauses into his commas. But it was great working with him too and it was one of his first times on film also. He is wild but he's absolutely delightful and just love him, and by the time we got to the dinner scene which actually fell on my birthday it was like it was a show just for me. 12 hours of David just let it go on and on and Jenifer Lewis (laughs), so we had a good time.

What other roles do you have left to do?

Angela Bassett: It has crossed my heart lately that I'd like to get back to theatre, and perhaps the great roles available there. Just jumping off a cliff, just taking flight with that. I remember Courtney and I did 'His Girl Friday' and Laurence and I did 'Fences' and I was able to do 'Lady Macbeth' that was a role that I really wanted to play, just larger than life characters and I got a wonderful compliment from John Guere who said 'Angela you are a theater animal.' (Laughs) Thank you for the high, high complement.

What are some of you future projects?

Angela Bassett: 'Nothing but the Truth' with Rob Laurie directing. I play the editor of a newspaper, and Kate Beckinsale plays the lady with the sources, revealing your sources and the consequences of that. It be out later this year. And I got 'Gospel Hill' work with Danny Glover again, Giancarlo Esposito's directorial debut we shot that in South Carolina.




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