We Will Always Love Her
One of Hollywood’s finest leading ladies is sharing the story of a musical icon who inspired and impacted a countless amount of women throughout her career. We’re a few days away from the release of the first official Whitney Houston biographical movie since the pop princess passed away unexpectedly at a Beverly Hills hotel in February 2012. As we’d expect, the Internet is buzzing steadily with talk about the film. Lifetime’s portrayal of the singer we affectionately knew as “The Voice” commits to taking us through the early years of Houston’s career, her rocket launch-like rise to stardom, and the story behind the story of her famously tumultuous marriage to R&B singer Bobby Brown. Yaya DaCosta (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) plays the role of Whitney alongside Arlen Escarpeta (Final Destination 5), who portrays Bobby Brown. The Grammy-nominated, multiplatinum artist Deborah Cox sings Houston’s vocal performances.
It’s a potentially seminal moment for actress Angela Bassett, whom we’ve all come to know and love for her critically acclaimed and powerful performances in movies like, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. For Whitney, Bassett has traded in her actress cap for a director’s chair. And this Saturday night, Lifetime will unveil her capability and talents behind the camera. She admits the alternative vantage point and experience brought forth challenges she hadn’t initially anticipated, but she also expressed a sense of honor, privilege, and reverence for the opportunity to capture, shape, and share the story of her former screen mate.
Shortly before Bassett headed to London to complete filming for her role in the sequel to Olympus has Fallen with costars Gerald Butler, Arron Eckhart, and Morgan Freeman, Hope for Women spoke with her about the release of the biopic in the midst of early online chatter.
Hope: What was your motivation to move into the directing aspect of the film business? Is this something you’ve been thinking/praying about?
Bassett: I thought about it before, but it’s not something that I really put concerted effort toward. There was a moment when I tried to, but it just didn’t work. Trying to pull together money for independent films—it’s more than a notion. It’s just like pushing a boulder up a hill. You know, it rolls back over you. So, when this came about, instead of me going out for it, it came to me, which was a blessing and a grace. It rarely happens like that. That’s just one of those magical moments where I think I’m just having lunch with a friend, talking about what we’re doing, and I just said, “Oh, I wish I could direct it.” And you just go on about your day in life, and something in him heard that, and he took steps to make it possible behind my back, and then he called me up and said, “Did you mean that when you said that? We can do that.”
And I thought, my goodness, can I read the script first? (chuckles) I love this woman, Whitney Houston, and I don’t want to do anything to tear her down. I read the script and thought it was a fair and honest narrative to be told and that I could tell it, because it’s a love story, and I love a love story. It’s about choices, and choices lay before each and every one of us…some of them good, some of them not. It’s about being in the public glare, and I know a little bit of something about that.
Hope: What are the top three things you feel helped you prepare for your debut as a director?
Bassett: (1) Prayer. Definitely. (2) Experiences on set…on various sets in various roles and assembling a great support team. (3) Reading and reading the script and letting it settle…thinking and remaining open to ideas.
Hope: Now that you’ve had experience on screen as well as behind the camera, what would you say is the most difficult—preparing for a role or directing a film?
Bassett: Directing. As an actress, you take ownership of that one character. There is nothing else that you can control—not your actors, not your directors, the book, the editing process, none of that. You can just hope to give a performance that, however they edit it, you can be pleased with it. The responsibility is a greater responsibility when you are preparing, directing, and presenting. It’s your baby—you just labored over it, and pretty soon, it will be seen by others.
Hope: Were there any scenes you felt were more difficult to direct than others?
Bassett: They were all hard to direct, I think. You know, you show up every day, and the actors and everybody and this whole machine and the crew and the extras are ready to go, and you have a short amount of time to do six pages of whatever it is, and you don’t feel like you can move on until you’ve got it. But, you’ve got to make your day. You’ve got to shoot everything you had slotted. Sometimes you go a little bit over your day. Every day had its challenges, but it was just about trying to find that truth. I quickly realized that you can’t control everything.
Hope: You shared the screen with Whitney Houston in Waiting to Exhale, and it’s been noted that the two of you had a great working relationship during that filming. Which parts of her personality fascinated you the most, and how did you try to bring those attributes to life in this biopic?
Bassett: I tried to bring her joy, laughter, and fun-loving nature to life. She cared about family, her friends, and her husband. She just let him be him, you know? She just loved him and let him. I remember seeing this interesting picture—to me—as I filmed. And, I tried to get the feeling of that picture in the movie. It was a picture of her, and she’s dressed up, and they’re obviously out and about. She looks very serene, and Bobby is next to her on her side, and he is licking her neck! And, she is just looking straight ahead with a smile on her face like, “He’s just holding my hand.” (giggles) I tried to convey the fun they had and the great chemistry they shared.
Hope: Describe the Whitney you want audiences to see. What do you want them to know about her?
Bassett: We already know she was amazingly talented, that she had a regal-ness about her, and she also had a regular-ness about her. She enjoyed herself too much, but she was who she was, and she allowed you to be who you were. She wanted the best for herself and her daughter, and she tried to stay in the fight and make it. They journeyed, and they loved, and I hope people come away with a compassion for the passion they shared for one another. Very few of us mature while we’re superstars.
Hope: Compared to the way Bobby has been portrayed by the media in the past, this movie shows an alternative portrayal of the R&B star. Do you think viewers will be more sympathetic toward him after seeing this film?
Bassett: I hope so. He was a star from the time he was 13 years old. And, when he left the group [New Edition], we were like, “What?” And, then he put it on us, and we were like, “Oh my gosh! That boy is bad!” That album [Don’t be Cruel, 1988] came out, and it was infectious. Then, he was the bad boy of New Edition. And, then he hooked up with the princess, and we were like, “You’re too bad for her.” But she said, “No—just right.”
He was 19 at the time they met. You mean this bad ole monster of a 19-year-old can corrupt a 24-year-old? He was up to what 19-year-olds are up to, but he didn’t have any malice in his heart about that woman. He had nothing but fawning love. When he saw her, he had met the woman of his dreams. To me, he didn’t bring her down. He went to rehab a couple of times. But, I think in the movie, there’s a decision we all deal with. Either you are going to walk out that door toward your own sobriety without her, or you’re going to climb in this bed with the woman that you love. So, he had to make a decision. He tried to deal with it, and he dealt with it.
Hope: Do you know if Bobby has seen the movie?
Bassett: Yes. I think that he was pleased. I think as the movie opened up and was revealed, I know he saw the real compassion and loving tribute that was behind the movie.
Hope: What’s next for you as an actor and a director?
Bassett: I’m just finishing filming for the fourth season of American Horror Story [airs on the cable television channel FX]. Hopefully, I’m invited back for the next season. I’ve been privileged to be a part of it for the past two seasons. It has gone very well. So, we’ll see what happens.
Whitney is coming out, which is exciting. We’ll see what other directorial offers I may get. We’ll see if folks think I can tell a pretty good story. That remains a mystery to me.
I’m getting ready to go to London to act in the sequel to Olympus has Fallen [a 2013 action thriller also starring Butler, Eckhart, and Freeman]. I’m looking forward to that.
Hope: What are your ultimate hopes in terms of the number one takeaway you want audiences to glean from this weekend’s airing of Whitney?
Bassett: I just hope people will appreciate this couple’s journey and their love in spite of all their obstacles. I really want people to walk away with a genuine compassion for all they had to endure.
Tune in to the Lifetime Network this Saturday, January 17, 2015, at 8 p.m. ET/PT for the world premiere of Whitney.
Photo Credits: A+E Networks