‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Star Angela Bassett On The Power Of A Story Led By Women: “I Think We Are A Very Strong, Resolute Tribe”
Thirty years after her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It, Angela Bassett is once again a contender. But this nod, for her heart-wrenching turn in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, feels different. “I was just shell-shocked last time,” Bassett says. “It’s still very exciting. But last time, it was just mind-blowing.” Her second nomination is no less meaningful — it’s the first performance in a Marvel movie to be recognized by the Academy. Bassett talks about the historical and emotional nature of Wakanda Forever and finding the marrow in everything she does.
DEADLINE: Your Oscar nomination for Wakanda Forever is history-making. What kind of significance does that have for you?
More from Deadline
Chris Rock Has Jabbed At Will Smith, But Is Saving His Best Punch Lines For Saturday's Netflix Special
The Inclusion List: New Site Shows #OscarsSoWhite Movement's Impact & Marks Wins By Underrepresented Creators
India's Academy Award Nominees On Their Journey To Oscar Sunday: "Extremely Overwhelming... A Real Adrenaline High"
ANGELA BASSETT: I haven’t really concentrated on that, but I’m appreciative of being a first. Other than breaking that glass ceiling, I’ve never been a first before. It was a wonderful effort with wonderful creatives and filmmakers and, at the helm, Ryan [Coogler]. I’m just pleased and proud to be a part of a franchise, a movie, and a universe that is doing some great work and has been very successful.
DEADLINE: Re-watching the film, those first scenes are so impactful. It’s hard to imagine that the grief portrayed is much different from what you, as a cast, felt outside of the film. Onscreen, what was it like to say goodbye to Chadwick (Boseman, who passed away in 2020 from colon cancer)?
BASSETT: I think it went quite a long way in terms of the healing of saying farewell for now. A lot of us were in various places and couldn’t come together [when Boseman died]. We had built a family, and he had so expertly, and beautifully, led the way in the first Panther. It was very, very moving to each and every one of us to come together as a family and be able to tell this story, to pay homage and honor him in our way, in the way that we can as actors and filmmakers. It was beautiful. Calm and peace came over us. We were all going to put forth the full measure of our devotion for him in the making of this movie.
DEADLINE: Then, of course, the show has to go on. You say goodbye to a character, and the film has to tell another story. How was that transition for you?
BASSETT: You’re right. Life does have to go on. I guess that’s the nature and the glory of life. It does carry on. We expressed that with Shuri (Letitia Wright) coming into her own and the meeting of T’Challa’s son. It’s just ever hopeful. I think we definitely tried to impart the feeling of, ‘A good morning comes after a long, dark night.’
BASSETT: DEADLINE: In the film, you have a scene where you fear that you’ve lost both of your children. It plays out in front of a lot of people, but it feels like it’s between you and Danai Gurira’s character, Okoye. What do you recall about shooting that scene?
BASSETT: I remember being surrounded by all the other players, by the council, by the Dora Milaje, by the Jabari tribe and by the elders. I remember that glorious room. I remember rising from the throne and addressing her, being filled with such grief and sadness and righteous indignation and all those things — just emotions. Just being in the moment and being so pleased to be in the moment. Like you said, it felt very intimate between Danai and I, a real conversation, an understanding that had to be made known. She’s making hers known and I’m making my mine known. Yeah, I remember tears. I remember it all.
DEADLINE: If I had told you prior to Black Panther that there was a Marvel film that would offer you this type of material, would you believe me?
BASSETT: Well, anything is possible if you believe, and I’m a believer.
Did you have to be convinced that there is a meatier aspect to franchise films?
BASSETT: Oh, no, no. I’m always going to look for the nourishment. I’m going to look for the meat, the marrow.
DEADLINE: I imagine that Ryan Coogler has much to do with that. What’s unique about working with him as a director?
BASSETT: Oh, he’s such a comprehensive storyteller. He understands story, structure and character, intention, subtext and collaboration. There’s something about him where everyone shows up and wants to — and will — give their best effort. He’s just so respectful and honors what you do in your particular lane. He was the real deal in every aspect and respect.
DEADLINE: Do you recall those conversations where you two collaborated to open up the character even more?
BASSETT: There were many. He has stories like, “Can you apply this moment from real life with a mother and a daughter? Or a mother and a child?” Or, “Do you remember when?” He has all these memories that he will share with you. They’re so unique and helpful. I said, “No, I never thought about it that way.” He just has such an emotional intelligence.
DEADLINE: You have sat in this character now for a while. Was there a scene in this film that gave you an even better understanding of Ramonda?
BASSETT: I love those scenes with Shuri, whether it’s out in the wilderness or in her laboratory, where she’s interested in what her daughter does, but also, taking her away from her blanket of comfort — that lab and her intelligence — and trying to get her to settle into the heart of who she is, just for a moment. It may be painful, but it comes to pass. It won’t always remain. It will come to pass, but you have to be open and warm. I enjoy that.
DEADLINE: As a mother, is that something you relate to, opening your children up to the world?
BASSETT: Absolutely. It’s important to preserve yourself and your energy. It’s important to protect yourself, your mind, your heart, but it’s important not to be rigid and immovable as well. It’s a balance. It must be struck.
DEADLINE: I get the sense that this film feels very personal, and there’s a lot to draw from real life.
BASSETT: Much has been said, and it’s true, there’s a story here that is led by women — and by Black women, by and large. I think we are a very strong, resolute tribe, so I’m very proud of that and just proud of what we’re able to do onscreen and proud of the impact that we’ve had with audiences. It’s an honor when the movies you make, the entertainment you give, is also helpful to the lives of some. This movie was about grief and loss, family, a remembrance, a legacy and moving on. That’s something that’s so very human. To actually connect with audience members who have gone through some of this, and it being a source of comfort and conversation for them and their families, that really is quite an honor that you’re not expecting. But it’s an unexpected benefit and blessing.
DEADLINE: There’s been a huge cultural impact in having five women lead a film like Black Panther. There has to be an impact behind the scenes as well. What is it like to surround each other with this level of talent and support?
BASSETT: It was nice to come back again for it and carry on the journey of Black Panther. You feel like a family. That familiarity is a beautiful, comforting thought and experience. It’s great to see each other shine and to watch each other shine.
DEADLINE: You’ve experienced this before with Waiting to Exhale, American Horror Story…
BASSETT: Gunpowder Milkshake, where we were assassins, Michelle Yeoh and I. Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to show the world that we’re bad; we’re awesome and amazing.
DEADLINE: Is the Wakanda Forever experience different from being the sole female lead on a film?
BASSETT: Yes, the sisterhood is beautiful. It’s very, very supportive — you have your cheering section. You’re cheering each other on. You can feel the support, most definitely.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about the physical challenges of a film like Black Panther. What were those underwater scenes like?
BASSETT: It was deep, but at least it was warm. That’s the one thing that you appreciate [laughs]. They kept it at a nice, warm bath temperature. But it was deep and would’ve been a bit daunting and scary had we not had the freediving instruction to be able to learn to hold our breath for as long as the take entails, and the swim lessons. I appreciate that because that was not my forte. I hadn’t been in the water in an awful long time, since I was in, I don’t know, third grade or something. I could do one little doggy paddle, you know.
DEADLINE: It looks so impressive. Are you always that physically fit?
BASSETT: No. No. No, it ebbs and flows to this thing called life. I try not to get too far out of pocket; maybe a month or two and you’re back to your fighting weight. I enjoy it. It’s a challenge. I’m happy at this stage of the game to be called upon to do any manner of stunt.
DEADLINE: With Black Panther, is there a challenge unique to these films that maybe isn’t physical?
BASSETT: To craft, to draw, to act in and be in this world together, this world of Wakanda… It’s an understanding beyond the words in the subtext of the script. I lay that in the hands of Ryan Coogler and his vision to get us all, literally, on the same page of something that we’ve never seen before. To get us on the same page emotionally, spiritually, physically — I think that’s pretty daunting.
DEADLINE: I read that you pushed back against your character’s death. Was that because you’d like to join the gang again, or was there another reason?
BASSETT: Of course, I love being queen. Who doesn’t? I adore and appreciate this character. I didn’t push very hard because I’m ultimately there to serve the vision of the filmmaker, but I was shocked when I saw how he drew me. I was shocked. I was surprised, but I trust him wholeheartedly. I think I got over it pretty soon.
DEADLINE: Isn’t it your character that says that there’s another plane?
BASSETT: Right, we said, “He’s dead, but it doesn’t mean he’s gone.”
DEADLINE: Do you feel like this is a universe you will be able to join again?
Well, with the impossible that we were able to create with Wakanda Forever, I think anything is possible.
DEADLINE: What’s next for you?
BASSETT: Damsel (for Netflix) is in the works. Got to finish that up. Also, the sixth season of 9-1-1. Looking forward to Heist 88, which is a movie starring Courtney B. Vance coming out of Bassett Vance Productions and getting geared up to start a limited series that we’re also producing about the “Black Wall Street”. A number of exciting things are happening.
DEADLINE: It feels like you are at the pinnacle of your career. How do you feel about the material available to you and the opportunities you have?
BASSETT: Well, it feels great. It feels great, but let’s see what’s opportunities await tomorrow. We’re always looking ahead. We have our bird in hand, and we’re looking toward that next one. But there are more possibilities in this day and time for me — and not only for me, but for so many. It’s a very exciting time.
Best of Deadline
Oscars: Every Best Supporting Actor Oscar Winner Back To 1937
Oscars Nominees Luncheon Photos: Brendan Fraser, Tom Cruise, Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Williams, Ke Huy Quan & More
Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.