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Q & A with the incomparable angela bassett

Angela Bassett. We know her. We love her. We relish in her on-screen success as if it were our own. We’re proud of her many accomplishments as a seasoned actress, producer, director, wife and mother. We stop dead in our tracks the moment she lights up the big screen with such elegance and grace because she makes us feel what she feels. Yes, she’s that good and we know it. And yet we always want to know more… more about her life, more about her family, more about what fuels her desire to achieve such greatness as one of the industry’s premier leading ladies. Angela Bassett is one of those exceptional women that will always be revered.

Angela and I talked just the other day about her new movie, ‘Jumping the Broom,’ opening in theaters across the country on May 6, Mother’s Day weekend. We also talked about her career on stage, in films and on the other side of the camera as a producer and director. We shared stories about life, passion and about her 14-year marriage to her husband, phenomenal award-winning actor and producer, Courtney B. Vance. And finally, we talked about their adorable five-year-old twins, Slater and Bronwyn.

Grab a cup of tea and a comfortable front row seat and read below to share in my conversation with the incomparable, Angela Bassett.

LeslieWrites: Angela, I have always had a great deal of respect and admiration for you as a woman who has never been afraid to take professional risks in her career as an actress, producer and director. What has been your motivation for pursuing such rich roles as Tina Turner in ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It,’ Betty Shabazz in ‘Malcolm X,’ Bernadine Harris in ‘Waiting to Exhale’ and now, Claudine Watson in ‘Jumping the Broom?’

Angela: I think what has motivated me is the joy that I receive. When I was fifteen I fell in love with acting. I found that it was a wonderful means of expressing myself as a shy girl growing up in Florida. As most young girls do, I wrote poetry and I wrote in my journal but sometimes it was difficult for me to express myself. I got a lot of positive affirmation from others when I would perform so I guess I would say that was my motivation. Performing is still a first love for me. I never want to take it for granted and I have never been one to just take a role for money’s sake. That’s not always the best reason to do something.

LeslieWrites: You’ve had such a wide array of roles in your career. What was it about the Claudine Watson character in your upcoming film, 'Jumping the Broom,' that interested you? And what was it like to work with such a talented, eclectic ensemble cast including Brian Stokes Mitchell, Loretta Devine, Paula Patton, Meagan Good, Romeo Miller, Mike Epps, Laz Alonso, Tasha Smith and Pooch Hall?

Angela: I liked the script a great deal when I first read it. As with any script, the end product to a large degree depends on the vision of the director and making movies is so dicey anyway until they are completed. I infuse all of my characters, I think, with a good deal of dignity but I had never portrayed a woman of financial means. You know, an upper class woman. It wasn’t my background. It wasn’t the way that I grew up at all so I thought it might be a challenge and in pursuing that challenge I really wanted to make her believable and accessible. I also wanted to make her relatable and recognizable to the audience, and funny too.

In ‘Jumping the Broom’ we have so many truly talented actors. It was a joy to work with them and Mike Epps kept me laughing. My little twelve-year-old nieces were like, “Ooh Meagan Good! Ooh Pooch Hall! Ooh Lil Romeo!” [Laughter] It’s going to be fun for everybody, for all of our various audiences.

LeslieWrites: ‘Jumping the Broom’ does indeed look like a lot of fun. The film also appears to have many touching and trying moments as well. It’s an experience to be shared with the whole family. It’s not a chick flick, right?

Angela: No it’s absolutely it’s not a chick flick. [Laughter] It’s a very elegant movie and it definitely shows the African American community across the range of socioeconomic and class differences. We have folks who have visited Martha’s Vineyard every summer and their families have done so for many, many years. As a matter of fact, my children’s Godparents have been going to Martha’s Vineyard every year. That is a sojourn for them that they dare not miss but it’s a new experience for me. But no, it’s not a chick flick. I would say it’s not a straight urban flick either. What I love about it is that it’s for everyone. It’s about family. It’s about weddings. It’s so relatable. It’s so gorgeously shot. We look beautiful.

LeslieWrites: Angela, there have been rumors that there will be a ‘Waiting to Exhale 2.’ Is this true?

Angela: It is true. It’s true, absolutely.

LeslieWrites: Will you be reprising your role as Bernadine Harris?

Angela: Yes! They better not go forth without me. [Laughter] But yes, there is a script that it’s in pretty good shape and Forest (Whitaker) has come on board just recently as director. He directed the original film. We’re hoping to start production maybe next year in the beginning of 2012.

LeslieWrites: So many people have been waiting for the ‘Waiting to Exhale’ sequel and I suspect that women will come out in droves like many of us did when the ‘Sex & the City’ films came out. Is Whitney Houston going to reprise her role as television producer, Savannah Jackson?

Angela: I know. It’s such an iconic film. Well, I don’t know all of the details yet. I know Loretta (Devine) is looking forward to it. We were together recently and we talked about it. Lela (Rochon) has always been excited about the possibility. And I did see Whitney about four months ago when we were on the program together for Celebration of Gospel and we talked about it. She was looking forward to it happening also. She was very positive about it. So at this point I would say we’re all looking forward to being a part of it.

LeslieWrites: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently in your career? Do you feel that you’ve made the right choices as you’ve progressed as an actor, producer and now director?

Angela: I think I most definitely made the right choices for me. I can only do what I enjoy doing or what I have the talent to do. If I were a different kind of person, if I were a more ruthlessly ambitious person, I would have done something different in terms of more directing or just trying to do it all, you know, film, television, stage. But it was a different time then. I was living in New York and doing stage. I flew to LA to initially spend six months doing whatever I could do in six months and head on back to New York. But you know, here it is, I stayed. LA was good. [Laughter] I’ve done less theater than I would have liked but I have no complaints and I wouldn’t change a thing.

LeslieWrites: When we talk about acting in films or on stage, theater is your first love, right?

Angela: That’s right and theater is where you really tighten your chops. You really perfect your game in theater. Honestly, I think theater would take down a lot of film actors because they are just two different mediums. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to go back and forth but that was my definitely first love. I’m pretty good on the stage. [Laughter]

LeslieWrites: Do you have any stage performances coming up in the near future?

Angela: No, I was just reading a script last night but I don’t know if I’ll take advantage of it. I don’t think I’m right for the character. I guess they can change the character if they like, but we’ll see. I also just filmed a pilot and it may get picked up in May then it will shoot in July so I’m hesitant to audition for the theater and get my hopes up. That will be a sure bet that it will come through and I can’t do it all at once. It’s hard to do it all. I also have to put other irons in the fire and we can get disappointed so often. For example, you don’t know how long we’ve been waiting for ‘Waiting to Exhale 2’. We’re just happy to get green lit and to go. So you can’t wait for it, you have to keep doing other things, you know?

LeslieWrites: Can you tell me about your directorial debut with the film, ‘United States’?

Angela: Yes, the film ‘United States’ is based on a book by Percival Everett entitled Erasure. About three or four years ago our friend Dwayne Johnson-Cochran adapted it for the screen. Courtney and I have been persevering for the last two years or so to get it made and it’s a struggle in these economic times. You hear of waiting ten years to get a film made but I almost don’t have that kind of stamina so thank goodness for Courtney and Dwayne. [Laughter] It’s difficult raising independent money and I think that has been the biggest challenge but people love the idea and the script is really good. We’re working on it and it keeps us motivated. It’s about being in the right place and crossing paths with the right person. It’ll happen at the right time, when it’s supposed to and not a moment before.

LeslieWrites: Which character, whether on stage or in film, has touched you the most or has had the greatest impact on your life?

Angela: Absolutely I have to say portraying Tina Turner in ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ has had the greatest impact in terms of my career. It provided recognition of my ability in the industry and put me in the public eye. During the filming it was just so very difficult physically, emotionally and spiritually but I got through it. That experience affirmed for me that I am a very strong person. It showed me that when I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything.

LeslieWrites: My friend Carol and I read your book, Friends: A Love Story, co-authored with your husband, Courtney and Hilary Beard. We laughed, we cried, literally, and we reveled in the love you and your husband developed slowly and carefully over some years. Why did you decide to share your story of friendship and love with the world and in telling your story, how did it change you?

Angela: Courtney sort of dragged me into it kicking and screaming. [Laughter] I’m a very private person so telling my business in a book is not anything I would have chosen to do. But Courtney is very playful, open and engaging. He met our literary agent at the time, Manie Barron, who recently passed on. They met at a get together and Manie thought writing the book was a great idea so he broached it with Courtney. Courtney thought writing the book was a great idea so they ambushed me. [Laughter]. I began to think, well, if I were to pursue this it would give me an opportunity to speak in my own voice. Over the years I’ve done countless interviews and have had articles written about me. What I found is that sometimes you’re misquoted and the story is often written from the interviewer or the writer’s perspective so it can be positive or negative, you never know until it comes out. Sometimes it’s truncated or shortened and doesn’t really tell the whole story so I thought that it would really be a marvelous opportunity to share a bit of who I am with others in my own words.

LeslieWrites: What has been the most important thing to you in terms of building and maintaining a successful marriage? What’s the glue that holds you and Courtney together?

Angela: It’s what we put it our wedding rings: ABVGODCBV. This symbolizes that it’s just the two of us and God is definitely in between. And then it’s commitment. You know, you have to have a made up mind. We made up our minds that it’s us together. We disagree from time to time and there are times when we don’t see eye to eye. Sometimes I have to allow him to have it and sometimes he has to allow me to have it when we come to an impasse. My feeling is, “Just let me have it. It’s more important to me this time.” That’s the negotiation that goes on. But being committed to each other, committed to family and committed to our marriage is most important.

LeslieWrites: How are your five-year-old twins, Slater and Bronwyn?

Angela: They are doing great. They’re just precious. They are graduating from preschool this year and we’re watching them learn and grow and learn how to read and how to take care of themselves and each other. Courtney and I are just trying to instill in them a love of God and a healthy self-esteem.

LeslieWrites: How would you describe their personalities? Is one more like you and the other more like Courtney?

Angela: They can be a mix but I think Slater is more like me. He’s silly and dramatic. He’s a real ‘Type A’ boy but he’s kind. He’s sweet. And Bronwyn is ‘girly girl.’ She is gentle and a great student and just gets along with everyone but she can be shy sometimes. Like today she said, “Mom, I’m nervous, I’m embarrassed.” I told her, “There’s nothing for you to be nervous about, I got you. All you have to do is be you. Don’t worry about anything else.” Bronwyn did something good and told me, “I was on blue today” (referring to their reward system based on colors.) I said, “Oh that’s wonderful, Bronwyn.” Slater was on green, the next color just beneath blue. Slater put his head down and I told him, “You put your head up. You can’t do anything about it today. You can do something about it on Monday but you can’t do anything about it today. You lift your head.”

LeslieWrites: Self-esteem begins with Mommy and Daddy, right?

Angela: That’s right.

LeslieWrites: What’s a typical day like when you are at home with your husband and the twins?

Angela: Let’s see... Courtney wakes up early and gets them dressed and ready for school. [Laughter] and I sometimes take them to school. They’re at school for half a day. I may do some ADR (automated dialogue replacement or ‘dubbing’). I’ve been doing a lot of ADR this week because I have another movie coming out, ‘Green Lantern.’ Or there may be other requests that I have to fulfill. I did an Independent Lens, a film on PBS entitled 'Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock.' (The film tells the story of her life and public support of nine black students who registered to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, which culminated in a constitutional crisis.) Daisy Bates really was a driving force in getting the Little Rock Nine together. She was trying to bust down the doors of segregation in Little Rock in 1957. I did a voice over for the film. You know, that’s a part of our history. That’s fighting the good fight but it wasn’t all good and they suffered because of it. But it’s what I tell the kids, that people have fought, died and suffered so you can have an education and be whatever it is you need to be. So I do those kinds of things and I might read scripts hoping that they’re good. And then there’s travel. I travel to see my mom who’s aging. That is upon me.

LeslieWrites: Do the children travel with you often?

Angela: I may decide to take one with me. I was going every five weeks to check on her so I may take one and that becomes bonding time for me and Slater or me and Bronwyn.

LeslieWrites: What makes you laugh? What do you do for fun?

Angela: Hanging out with my girlfriends is good fun. I love hanging out with them and traveling. This is something that’s fairly new. About two years ago I was invited to an event and Courtney couldn’t go. He said, “Why don’t you take your girlfriends.” I invited a group of great girlfriends to spend some time together because I thought their personalities would mesh. We had a really good time. One of the last trips we took was to Anguilla. It’s a good time to bond, share, laugh, commiserate, moan or do whatever we need to do.

LeslieWrites: For so many African American women, you are a real source of inspiration. So many women look to you for cues on what it means to live with integrity and to find your own truth. Have you fully embraced the title of de facto role model?

Angela: Well, I accept it and I think I’m trying everyday just to walk my talk. And we all have it in us to be a role model and an inspiration to others. Each of us possesses that. Sure, I appreciate it and I’m glad it’s worked out that way. I certainly could be another type of individual but I am who I am and I try to do the best most of the time.

LeslieWrites: What inspires you?

Angela: Just the joy of life, you know. I love the Lord. I recognize my blessings. I’m grateful for each and every one of them. I’m inspired by and grateful for the joy that I have in my life, for the journey that I’m on, for the place I’ve come from to the place I’m in right now and excited about what else is in store. I’m inspired by my will to appreciate this journey and be joyful.

When they were two-years-old, we would say our prayers with the kids and I thought it was amazing how they could understand the idea of a God that they cannot see but they sensed it and knew it in their spirit. It’s phenomenal. We would ask them, “What are you grateful for?” and it changes. It may be their toys [Laughter] or their friends and of course, their family. I’m just so grateful that we’ve instilled a love of God in them and so thankful for what I’ve been able to do with my life.

LeslieWrites: What’s the one thing you’ve learned throughout your career that you can share with those who are pursuing their dreams and reaching for success?

Angela: I guess I can’t say too much about passion. I mean possessing it and maintaining reverence for it. Don’t sell out your passion. Do what you need to do to make it happen but it takes passion. You don’t want to end up at the end of your days saying, “Oh I really loved that, I wish I had gone for it but I was too fearful.” Unfortunately that will be a lot of people's statement. When I was in college I wanted to do what my aunt thought would be good for me and what my mom thought would be good for me. But finally in my junior year I prayed and I just took a leap of faith and said I’m going to go for it. I loved performing. I said to myself that if it doesn’t work out I could always to get back to something else that I’m equally as good at but maybe not as passionate about. I had to follow my dreams. We’re all good at something but we have to follow our passion.

LeslieWrites: Is passion the one word that best describes you?

Angela: Passion. Yes, truly, truly. Loudly so. I am passionate.

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