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“I guess I’ve joked about this,” said Angela Bassett with a note of laughter in her voice as we chatted on the phone, “But I am every woman. It’s all in me.”
As Bassett said those words I envisioned her as Bernadine Harris, confidently strutting away from a burning car in Waiting to Exhale and thought, “Yes, she is absolutely right.” The legendary actress can embody a jilted wife as easily a no-nonsense patrol sergeant, a musical icon, the queen of an African nation and a passionate civil rights leader. Not too many actors can pull off such convincing and powerful portrayals of these diverse characters—and of course, these examples only scratch the surface.
I had the great fortune of speaking with Bassett, who is now partnering with Know Diabetes by Heart, a joint initiative between the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association. During our chat, the 62-year-old actress and director opened up about her most iconic roles, her involvement in HBO’s Tina documentary and her thoughts on Black Panther 2.
As we discussed her most influential roles, Bassett revealed that she was drawn to these characters because of their inspiring strength and lasting impact. She told me, “All of these women, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz or Katherine Jackson, are about taking steps forward for our kids, to make a better world for our kids and for our people in our community. They’re women of amazing strength, integrity and dignity, and there’s a sense of loyalty they possess. Not breaking under pressure. Maybe nearly, but not breaking.”
As we’ve all seen, Bassett brought these characters to life in a way that was captivating and authentic, but the one that left the biggest mark? Her most famous role: Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It?
The critically acclaimed biopic, which follows Turner’s rise to fame and troubled marriage, earned Bassett her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. But this isn’t the only time the star was involved in a film about Turner. Earlier this year, HBO released an eye-opening documentary about the soul singer’s life and career, and when Bassett was asked to participate, she just had to say yes.
“Oh, my God, how could I say no? I feel so intertwined with [Turner] in a way, having portrayed her over 30 years ago,” she said. “She's such a resilient and talented and powerful woman in her own right. Full of such generosity of spirit and love and humility. When I was doing the film I had the opportunity to interact with her, sharing about her life just unapologetically and living her life apologetically.”
When Bassett watched the documentary, she revealed that seeing old scenes from her 1993 film felt like she was reliving the experience, adding that it’s “still fresh” and a “monumental moment” in her maturation as a woman and an artist. Considering the film's impact on her own life, I had to ask: Is there any chance that she'll play Turner again in the future? She told me, “I would be open to hearing anything that involves her. Sometimes it's someone else's blessing. If it's mine, then yes, I embrace it wholeheartedly.”
Aside from her work on Tina, Bassett also spoke with me about the influence of Black Panther, where she plays the strong-willed Queen Ramonda. The groundbreaking Marvel film proved to be a defining moment for people in the Black community and, as it turns out, Bassett’s two children, Slater and Bronwyn Vance, are also big fans.
To help them experience the cultural phenomenon, Bassett invited them to join her behind the scenes during the filming of part one, even if this meant holding their mother's gown or watching a “mountain top of beautifully adorned Black people.” She explained, “They come from majestic people and [they learn to] carry themselves that way, in relationships, in their dealings in their work, in their craft and in their career. That's always a mother's prayer, the best for her children. And sometimes it's giving them the exposure and experiences to the best of our abilities.”
The movie’s sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever , will be looking quite different, due to the heartbreaking passing of Chadwick Boseman. Still, Basset is confident that this follow-up will honor the late actor.
She told me, “We will do it with much love and respect to our dear Chadwick. No doubt, we are a spiritual people so we know that his spirit will permeate that set, even now, until it's presented to audiences. I'm grateful and thankful that we have at the helm producers who respect and support wholly and completely Ryan Coogler and his vision for this.”
As for the film’s storyline, Bassett doesn’t have many details just yet, but it sounds like she’s just as excited as the rest of us are about part two. She said, “I haven't been privy to a script yet, but it should be coming very soon. I'm excited and curious to see what direction we're gonna take. I know that everyone involved is going to give the full measure of their devotion to it.”
According to Marvel Studios, we'll have to wait until July 8, 2022 to see Queen Ramonda return in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but thankfully, we have Bassett’s riveting series, 9-1-1, to tide us over until then. The action drama, which currently airs on Fox, chronicles the lives of Los Angeles first responders, including Bassett’s character Athena Grant, an LAPD patrol sergeant.
While speaking about the show, she said, “I love that we bring in actors who we've seen over the years. We've appreciated their work and now we get an opportunity to bring them over and work with them, so that's always fun.”
As for the episode that stands out for her the most, it’s one that involves fire—and this makes total sense, considering how one of her most iconic scenes involves flames (see: Waiting to Exhale). She said, “I get to do, in this particular episode, a little more dangerous stuff. I’m always dealing with the stuff that happens in the home and with the heart. But this time, I'll get to deal with fire, so I'm a little nervous about that, but I'll do what I can.”
With regards to Know Diabetes by Heart, a cause that hits especially close to home with family members having diabetes, Bassett revealed that on May 25, she will be hosting a virtual night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She said, “Our next project brings together two things that I'm passionate about, and that's artistic expression and education. And as part of that event, I'll be hosting and performing an original monologue that is based on my family’s personal experiences.”
Playing countless iconic roles and speaking up about worthy causes? Angela, please teach us your ways.