ANGELA BASSETT reel talk, real-life, real mom

ANGELA
BASSETT



reel talk, real-life, real mom

alt

Images and Story by: Jacinta Howard

Sitting
in a snazzy hotel room at the W in New York, Angela Bassett looks
relaxed. That’s an accomplishment, considering she’s just finished a
few hours of intense interviews for a film that’s practically destined
to become a cult classic, Notorious. She smiles easily and giggles before quietly cracking a joke, then the phone rings, interrupting her interview.

“Sometimes you just have to roll with it,” she says with a laugh,
waving her hand at the troublesome phone. “You just have to roll with
the punches and push on through.”

She
chuckles richly again, a smile dancing in her eyes. Actually, the idea
of rolling with the punches has been Bassett’s philosophy for her life
as well as for her lengthy career. No doubt it’s helped her to not only
get to where she is today, but to maintain her sanity in an
ever-changing Hollywood landscape.

While everyone remembers Bassett’s breakout role in the acclaimed John Singleton gangster narrative, Boyz N the Hood, and her stellar, Academy Award-nominated performance as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It, people aren’t aware of the frustration that she experienced while searching for exciting subsequent opportunities. 

In a 2003 interview with rolling out,
Bassett adamantly declared Hollywood a barren land for black actresses
— and although she vented her frustration about Tinseltown’s
marginalization of the African American experience and its use of
talents like herself, instead of wallowing, she kept it moving.

“I think the single biggest challenge is to deal,” says Bassett
reflectively, the light from the naturally lit hotel room bounces off
her, as if agreeing with her remarks. “And that’s in life and on
screen.”

Redefining the image of black beauty, and the true essence of what it
means to age gracefully, Bassett starred in a slew of films that
highlighted her sensuality and displayed her unique intelligence
simultaneously. She was a feisty, sexy woman who fell in love with a
man half her age in How Stella Got Her Groove Back and a scorned but strong beauty in Waiting to Exhale.
Although those roles are undoubtedly etched into her fans’ minds as
among her most memorable, Bassett is perhaps most celebrated for her
passionate portrayals of real-life women. From Rosa Parks in The Rosa Parks Story; to Betty Shabazz in both Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and in Mario Van Peebles’ Panther; and Katharine Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream, Bassett’s ability to morph into familiar faces is her calling card. Her most recent role as Voletta Wallace in Notorious is an expansion of the legacy she’s built.

“I’m still passionate about my first love,” says Bassett, who graduated
from the Yale School of Drama. “I work hard at it. I work hard at
expanding. I still have such an appreciation for the craft and the
tremendous opportunities and the wonderful things that it’s brought to
my life.”

This go-around, hip-hop is what her career brought into her life —
well, sort of.  No, you shouldn’t expect to see Bassett around town
blaring Lil Boosie, but she did learn a few things while filming Notorious.

“I don’t think I walked away with a deeper understanding of hip-hop,”
she shrugs dismissively. “I recognize that there’s some [hip-hop]
that’s very good and there’s some that’s not so good. There’s some with
a depth and complexity to it, there’s some that’s just rough, just like
filmmaking.”

As Bassett continues her assessment of hip-hop-meets-art, and the
various levels in between, the passion that she regularly reveals on
screen slowly beings to make an appearance, causing everyone within
earshot to pay full attention.

“There’s some [hip-hop] where there is complexity, there’s some where
there’s a hobbling together of pieces we’ve seen and heard from this
that and the other and boom! There’s the movie,” she says, with an
incredulous laugh. “Because it’s on a record is it music? Does it
endure? Art endures. So there is some hip-hop that endures and there’s
some that I really don’t need to subject my ears to.”

In the end it’s really the humanity of Voletta Wallace that drew
Bassett to the role. While Wallace has expressed her excitement for
Bassett’s willingness to portray her on the big screen, Bassett says
she’s really the one who admires Wallace.

“No matter how bad life gets, we as human beings have the capacity for
resiliency if [we] choose,” Bassett reasons. She pauses for a moment,
seeming to collect her thoughts. “I don’t know if it’s your choice or
how you’re made up. But every day is a struggle for [Voletta Wallace].
Every day [she] is longing  [for] and missing her son. But she found
the good and praised it.”

So does Bassett. With her current role on “ER” as Dr. Cate Banfield
(where her real-life husband of 12 years, Courtney B. Vance, guest
starred as her spouse) she’s found a way to navigate her talents into a
television gig, like so many of her peers have decided to do lately.

“I endeavor to make my actors comfortable, whoever I’m working with,
whether I know them or not,” says Bassett of her acting strategy in
both film and television. “I endeavor to put them on the same page
because I know the camera is going to catch something. And I do it
honestly, just to make them feel comfortable, whatever I have to do. I
try to figure out [what makes them comfortable] without them knowing
it.”

As a mother and wife, you’d better believe that putting people at ease
is a skill that she’s had more than enough practice perfecting. The
mother of toddler twins — Slater Josiah and Bronwyn Golden — Bassett
says that stepping into motherhood wasn’t hard for her. Nor was it a
hokey moment of super sweet realization. It was natural.

“I’ve always felt protective,” she says of her motherly instincts.
“Motherhood didn’t make me say, ‘Oh! It’s a brand new day! I have a
brand new perspective!’ ”

Bassett laughs, shaking her head at the thought.

“I’ve always felt like that. I’ve always had that feeling of motherly protection and love,” she affirms.

Mama Angela
Angela Bassett may have just become a mother two years ago, but she has plenty of experience playing one.
Reva Devereaux –
Boyz N the Hood, 1992

Sassy, no-nonsense and sophisticated, Bassett ruled with the memorable one-liner: “Furious, sit yo’ ass down!”

Katharine Jackson –
The Jacksons: An American Dream
,
1992

After she finished telling off Laurence Fishburne, she took on the role
of the docile, yet strong mother of the most famous group of siblings
music ever spawned. She even coddled 8-year-old Michael when he decided
to make the household pest his pet.

Betty Shabazz –
Malcolm X
, 1992

The silent partner to one of the most articulate, passionate and
visionary men in black history, Bassett gave life to the quiet “mother”
of the movement.

Betty Shabazz –
Panther, 1995

It was pretty cool to see Bassett return to her role as Betty Shabazz
in Mario Van Peeble’s Panther. The role was minimal, but the effect was
full throttle.

Rosa Parks –
The Rosa Parks Story
, 2002

The mama role doesn’t get much bigger than playing the mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

Voletta Wallace –
Notorious
, 2009

Bassett admits that she didn’t know much about Biggie’s catalog beyond
radio’s rotation (surprise, surprise), but still managed to pull off an
impressive performance as the passionate mother of one of rap music’s
greatest artists.

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