Monday, April 7, 2008

Angela Bassett: The Meet the Browns Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Angela Gets Her Groove Back

Born in New York City, but raised by her single-mom, Betty, along with her sister, D’nette, in St. Petersburg, Florida, Angela Evelyn Bassett studied acting at Yale University, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in African-American Studies and a Master’s in Theater. She began her professional career on stage, performing both on and off-Broadway in productions of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Colored People’s Time,” “Henry IV, Part I,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “Antigone,” “Pericles” and “Black Girl.”

Angela later landed what might be described as her breakout role as Reva Devereaux in John Singleton’s BOYZ N THE HOOD, and she received additional critical acclaim for her moving performance as matriarch Katherine Jackson in the ABC mini-series “The Jacksons: An American Family.” Nominated for an Oscar in 1994 for her unforgettable portrayal of Tina Turner in WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, Angela is also a thirteen -time NAACP Image Award-nominee, winning for that picture along with THE ROSA PARKS STORY, SUNSHINE STATE, THE SCORE, HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK, MUSIC OF THE HEART, WAITING TO EXHALE, RUBY’S BUCKET OF BLOOD and MALCOLM X..

The embodiment of dignity, pride and grace, she invariably electrifies audiences via her emotionally-charged characterizations. Away from the set, with her husband, actor Courtney B. Vance, she co-wrote FRIENDS: A LOVE STORY, a best-seller published on Valentine’s Day last year. The inspirational autobiography chronicles the real-life love story of Bassett and Vance, who were friends for many years before marrying.

In 2006, the couple became parents, celebrated the arrival of twins, daughter Bronwyn Golden and son Slater Josiah. Here, Angela talks about life, career and her new movie, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, where she stars opposite former NBA star Rick Fox.

KW: Hi Angela, this is an honor. Thanks for the time.
AB: Sure.
KW: How was it being directed by Tyler Perry?
AB: It was great, even though there were some long, hot days in Atlanta. [Chuckles] But, they weren’t long enough.
KW: How about working with Rick Fox?
AB: It was absolutely delightful. He was a joy to work with.
KW: Even though you’re such an accomplished actress, and he didn’t have nearly the same amount of experience?
AB: That’s true enough, but he has life experience, and he certainly brought all of himself to the moment. He wasn’t afraid of hard work, and he was open and emotionally available. So, he won me over as a co-star.
KW: Where did you channel your character from? Have you ever known a single-mom at the end of her rope like Brenda?
AB: Oh, absolutely! My mom raised my sister and me single-handedly in Florida. So, day-to-day, I saw the struggles of doing it on your own without help, and how tired that makes you, and the dreams and aspirations you have for your children.
I know that she pushed us in regard to getting our education, finding advocates in our principals and teachers at school.
KW: And she was quite successful, given your graduating from Yale.
AB: Yeah, it was a wonderful victory and accomplishment for her, especially since she wasn’t able to go to college herself. Education was something stressed almost to my chagrin growing up, at times. Since we were toddlers, she stressed, “You’re going to college! You’re going to college! You’re going to college!” So, it was a happy moment for her.
KW: I can remember how my mother always made me finish my homework before I was allowed to go out to play.
AB: Yeah, all that extra-curricular stuff came to a screeching halt, if your grades weren’t up to par. And par was at least Bs or better. If you wanted to keep your good thing going, then you took care of your job, and that was getting those grades together.
KW: What sort of message do you want people to get from Meet the Browns?
AB: To persevere and keep on moving forward. Just put one foot in front of the other, whatever the obstacles may be. Hold out for hope, because you will turn a corner and find a situation that’s a whole lot better.
KW: Is there any question that no one has ever asked that you wished someone would ask you?
AB: Oh no, no question’s been off-limits. [Laughs] I can’t say I’ve ever thought to myself, “Oh, I wished they’d ask me this or that.”
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
AB: Ecstatic!
KW: “Are you ever afraid?” I got that question from Tasha Smith.
AB: Oh really? Am I ever afraid? Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’m human, so...
KW: Who are you supporting for president?
AB: Barack Obama.
KW: Jimmy Bayan, “Realtor to the Stars,” wants to know where in L.A. you live.
AB: Hancock Park.
KW: Congrats on your many NAACP Image Awards. You might not know that I’m on the nominating committee.
AB: Oh, are you? I wondered who voted. Where are you based?
KW: I’m in Princeton, New Jersey. You have quite an impressive body of work. Which of your roles has been the most satisfying?
AB: I love all my “children” but I would have to say What’s Love, because it was the most challenging and the most fulfilling, because it resonated with so many people, and because it has stood the test of viewing again and again. It was the role that pushed me and pulled me more than any other.
KW: You’ve been everyone from Tina to Katherine Jackson to Betty Shabazz to Rosa Parks in bio-pics. Do you enjoy playing real-life icons?
AB: Yeah, I absolutely do, and I’m always humbled and I’m grateful for each opportunity.
KW: Have you ever gotten any feedback from a person you’ve portrayed?
AB: Yes, Tina was very, very pleased. I got very positive feedback from her.
KW: How about Rosa Parks?
AB: I was able to meet her, but she was elderly at the time, and had other priorities in her life. I also got positive feedback from Katherine and her children, and from Betty Shabazz and her family.
KW: Do you have any plans to work with your husband soon?
AB: We did a play a couple of years ago, His Girl Friday. And we’re always holding that out as a possibility.
KW: I hope to be able to catch you and Courtney again up on the screen. Well, thanks for the time, Angela, and good luck with Meet the Browns.
AB: Thank you so very much.

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