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Bassett, Angela

Angela Bassett

1958—

Actress

"It's like Angela's not there anymore," actor Larry Fishburne told Entertainment Weekly, describing actress Angela Bassett's capacity to inhabit a character. "She becomes who she's playing." A Yale-trained actress, Bassett began her career on stage in the 1980s, performing on Broadway in such plays as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. At a time when women and African Americans in Hollywood struggled to find interesting, well-written roles, Bassett emerged as a powerful, technically accomplished performer in such highly regarded films as Boyz N the Hood, Malcolm X, Waiting to Exhale, and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. With her portrayal of rock survivor Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love Got to Do with It, she became a star.

Inspired by Theatre

Born on August 16, 1958, Bassett grew up in public housing in St. Petersburg, Florida. She was first truly electrified by acting when, in 1974, she went on a field trip to Washington D.C. There she saw the illustrious black thespian James Earl Jones in a Kennedy Center production of the play Of Mice and Men. "I just sat there after the play, boo-hoo crying, weeping," Bassett recalled to Barbara Jones of Premiere. "I couldn't move, and I remember thinking, ‘My gosh, if I could make somebody feel the way I feel right now!’" Upon her return home she immersed herself in plays and started "really concentrating." A very good student, she was admitted to Yale, thanks in large part to the encouragement of her mother, Betty, who raised Angela and her sister D'Nette without the help of a spouse: "After [high school] graduation I knew I wanted to act," the actress told Upscale magazine reporter Christie Smith. "I also wanted to play it safe, so I decided that I'd be a business woman. My mother suggested Yale. She even typed my application. Later, I changed my major to acting, and she supported me 100 percent."

It wasn't easy being a Floridian in the Ivy League. Bassett's southern drawl set her apart from most of her East Coast classmates. She told Smith, "I had a lot of regionalism and really needed…training." Fortunately, such training came from a supportive teacher. Lloyd Richards was head of the Yale School of Drama and had seen Bassett acting in some undergraduate productions. He later told Premiere he'd seen in the aspiring actress a "deep passion" and declared, "When she applied for admittance to the drama school, I was very pleased." Bassett spent a total of six years at Yale and earned a master's degree in drama in 1983.

Bassett began working in commercials in the early 1980s soon after graduation; she had a role for a time on the television soap opera The Guiding Light and took parts in some forgettable films, like Critters 4. Yet much of her work was, in the words of Entertainment Weekly's Ty Burr, "high-minded indeed." She made her Broadway debut in the August Wilson play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, was cast by Lloyd Richards in Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone in 1988, and landed a role in director John Sayles's 1991 urban epic City of Hope.

Earned Successful Leading Roles

But it was her performance in John Singleton's highly successful 1991 film Boyz N the Hood—about a group of African American teens growing to manhood in the midst of urban violence—that brought Bassett some real attention. She played Reva, the sophisticated mother of the film's young protagonist, Tre. Bassett's recollections of her own mother's dedication became a key to approaching the role of Reva, a woman who sends her son to live with his estranged father so that the youth might benefit from a strong male presence in his life. "When the role came up, I knew I wanted it," the actress related to Upscale. "I mean, there's a finite number of one-hour TV dramas you can do. I had been in L.A. for a while, and things weren't up to speed. When I got it, I was appreciative and felt blessed. I identified with [characters like] Doughboy, Tre and the rest of them because when I grew up, the big thing was heroin; now it's crack, guns and everything in between."

Co-star Larry Fishburne, a friend of Bassett's, recommended her to the director, and she felt an immediate bond with the young filmmaker. "I remember looking at John Singleton, thinking how sincere he was," she recalled. "He was only 21, making this massive film. I just had so much enthusiasm and love for what he was trying to do. After the audition, we sat around and talked to each other about great poets, like Langston Hughes. It seemed like we'd known each other before. I really just wanted to go over and hug him. He was just a baby."

Bassett had a supporting role in Sayles's well-regarded 1992 drama Passion Fish, but would garner much more attention that year for her portrayal of Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcolm X, in Spike Lee's film about the renowned activist's life and tragic death at the hands of assassins. Her audition for the part astonished Lee, who told Premiere's Jones that Bassett "was Betty. Betty Shabazz is the best work she's ever done on film. She makes you feel for this woman." In her interview with Upscale, Bassett noted: "Spike was surprisingly easy to work with. I mean we've all heard the rumors. He gave me a lot of room as an actress." She added that Lee "really respects actors, but he doesn't get credit for that. I found that I could really talk openly with him."

Lee's estimation of her work was confirmed by many viewers. "I watched as Angela Bassett reenacted Betty's reaction to Malcolm's assassination," Joe Wood of Rolling Stone recounted. "Take 1, take 2, take 3, and she wailed, screamed, really, and in that screaming I felt tears." Wood added that "Bassett's voice carried an essential portion of Malcolm, of his spirit." Reviewing the film for the same publication, critic Peter Travers referred to the actress as "the very fine but underused Angela Bassett." Co-star Denzel Washington, who played the film's title role, told Burr of Entertainment Weekly that Bassett is "one of the very few actresses, period, of any color, who are carrying movies of substance." The actress revealed in Upscale that she strove to "bring dignity to [the] performance." In a Premiere piece, she allowed some insight into this process of characterization: "Betty was just so calm, so I was calm. You just got to be about your plan. Be about your race and finish it. Because there're people who're going to applaud it and people who won't be impressed for one moment."

At a Glance …

Born on August 16, 1958; raised in St. Petersburg, FL, daughter of Betty; married Courtney B. Vance, 1997; children: son and daughter (twins). Education: Yale University, BA, Afro-American Studies, 1980; Yale University, MFA, drama, 1983.

Career : Stage, film, and television actress, 1982-.

Awards : Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, for What's Love Got to Do With It, 1994; NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, 1993, 2002; NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture, 1993, 1996; NAACP Image Award for Best Actress, 2001; NAACP Award for Outstation Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries, 2002; Soul Train Lady of Soul Award: Lena Horne Award for Outstanding Career Achievement, 2002; Chapman University, Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Dream Maker Award, 2007.

Bassett finally broke through to stardom in her first truly splashy screen role: playing Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It. Time's Richard Zoglin called it "the kind of star-making turn that every actress dreams of—and practically every black actress in Hollywood wanted." Bassett went into serious training for the role of the singer, whose tumultuous relationship with her husband, Ike—according to the film's source, Turner's autobiography I, Tina—included both emotional and physical abuse. "I had a dialect coach, a singing coach, a choreographer and a personal trainer for 30 days before the filming began," Bassett told Deborah Gregory of Essence. "I lifted weights for two hours a day, six days a week, and went on a high-protein, no-sweets diet—egg whites, tuna without mayo, vegetables—to get Tina's incredibly muscular physique. If I had had two months to prepare, I think I would've been able to enter a bodybuilding contest afterward."

Won Praise for Turner Portrayal

Larry Fishburne agreed to accept the role of Ike Turner only after he knew for sure that Bassett would play Tina. "She's a bad motherf—er," Fishburne exclaimed to Premiere. "Angie B. is all that and the Sunday papers. I sat down and thought, ‘I could just go and do this movie just 'cause Angie's in it.’" He further commented to Burr of Entertainment Weekly that Bassett "is 100 percent committed" to the projects on which she works. The two actors managed to recreate the scenes of violence between Ike and Tina to a harrowing—and sometimes dangerously real—degree. Bassett suffered a broken hand during shooting and explained to Burr why she endured the physical strain of those scenes over repeated takes: "I'm the type of person who doesn't want to kid it. I have to really go there, or I feel like I'm cheating. It's painful to go there, but, hey, it's painful not to go there."

Best of all, Bassett had one other important figure for support during the making of the film: Turner herself. The singer flew in from Germany to see Bassett's audition. "When I walked into the room," Bassett recalled to Gregory of Essence, "she immediately hugged me and told her manager that she thought I was ‘beautiful,’ and then she started showing me some of the dance routines from her days with [musical group] the Ikettes." Bassett added: "When I walked out of that room, I was flying on cloud nine and I knew I would give the part everything I had!" The actress told Burr that Turner "did my makeup. She was my biggest fan. Can you imagine?"

Bassett noted in Time that she considered the role of Tina Turner "the biggest challenge of my career." She further described her hopes for the project in an Ebony interview: "I wanted to convey that [Tina] is a bright woman, a survivor and a fighter." Apparently Bassett succeeded in her aim. Los Angeles film critic Rod Lurie predicted that she "is going to be a bigger star than Lady Tina herself." Rolling Stone's Travers, who had serious reservations about the film, nevertheless praised the actress's "fine, sexy strutting portrayal of Tina," calling her "a dazzler; she commendably resists playing Tina as a victim even when the script keeps pushing her down that familiar path." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly insisted that Bassett "captures the erotic youthquake that was Tina Turner in the '60s and early '70s." Bassett's work in What's Love Got to Do with It earned her an Oscar nomination in 1993, and in 1994 a Golden Globe award for best actress in a musical or comedy.

Played Strong, Dramatic Women

Following her success in What's Love Got to Do with It, Bassett appeared again as Betty Shabazz in the 1995 film Panther, which detailed the history of the Black Panther Party. She also co-starred opposite Eddie Murphy in the film Vampire in Brooklyn. Bassett played the role of Rita, a police officer who is unaware that she is a vampire. Along with Ralph Fiennes, Bassett co-starred in the 1995 science fiction thriller Strange Days. In the film, she played the role of Lornette "Mace" Mason, a rugged, independent woman who teams with Fiennes's character to rescue his ex-girlfriend from a group of gangsters.

Perhaps Bassett's greatest triumph in 1995 was her work in the film Waiting to Exhale. Directed by Forest Whitaker and based on the novel by Terry McMillan, the film chronicles the lives of four African-American women as they search for lasting romance and love. In the film, Bassett plays the role of Bernadine, a woman whose husband is having an affair with his secretary and abandons her and her two children. Waiting to Exhale, which also co-starred Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon, and Loretta Devine, was a huge commercial success and earned accolades for Bassett. Stephen Holden, writing in the New York Times, remarked that "Bassett's fuming performance is the movie's riskiest and most compelling and gives the movie its dramatic backbone."

In 1997 Bassett played the role of Rachel Constantine, a deputy chief of staff to the president of the United States, in the highly acclaimed science fiction film Contact. The following year, she starred in the box office smash How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Bassett played the role of Stella, a successful stockbroker and single mother. Stella is singularly devoted to raising her son, and has little time for dating and romance. Encouraged by a friend to take a trip to Jamaica, she meets a handsome Jamaican man who is 20 years her junior. The film follows their relationship as it progresses from mere physical attraction to a deeper romantic love. How Stella Got Her Groove Back provided yet another example of Bassett's talents as an actress. Kevin Rodney Sullivan, who directed the film, told Jet magazine "Angela as an artist is all 88 keys. She's a virtuoso, and I'm astounded by her range, depth and ability to bring so many nuances to the role. When I ask her for chartreuse, she gives me chartreuse. When I ask her for lavender with peach highlights, she gives me exactly that." Like Stella, Bassett's life and career were in a wonderful groove. As she remarked to Ebony, "What's being in a groove? It's being self-assured, confident, growing, continually growing. My life is joyful! I think that's pretty groovy."

Adding to the joy she found in her acting career, Bassett wed longtime friend Courtney B. Vance in 1997. The couple had known each other for nearly 14 years before beginning to date seriously in 1996. They recorded their unique journey to finding themselves and each other in a sort of dual autobiography entitled Friends: A Love Story, published in 2007. Happily married, the couple added twins to their family via surrogate mother in 2006.

Meanwhile Bassett maintained a steady schedule of work, landing a wide variety of lead and supporting roles on stage and screen. She returned to the New York stage in 1999, appearing in Macbeth with Alec Baldwin, and appeared in Pasadena, California, in August Wilson's play, Fences, with Laurence Fishburne, in 2006. In the early 2000s, Bassett also tried her hand at producing made-for-television movies with The Rosa Parks Story, the story of the civil rights heroine, and Ruby's Bucket of Blood, a dramatic look at racial tension in the South when a black bar owner hires a white singer to entertain. For both she also gave award-winning performances as the lead character. She gained further critical acclaim for Boesman and Lena, in which she portrayed Lena, a South African woman who, with her husband, finds herself homeless and struggling to make sense of her desperate situation. Bassett offered audiences a fresh side of her strong character, playing a tough sports journalist in Mr. 3000 opposite the comedic actor Bernie Mac. The role may have led to Tyler Perry casting her as his leading lady in Meet the Browns, a film scheduled for release in 2008; the movie is an adaptation of Perry's stage play in which a single mother living in the Midwest takes her children to the funeral of her father in the South, where she meets his family for the first time. No matter her role, Bassett exuded a rare strength of character that consistently appealed to viewers.

Selected works

Books

(With Courtney B. Vance) Friends: A Love Story, Harlequin, 2007.

Films

F/X, 1986.

Boyz N the Hood, 1991.

City of Hope, 1991.

Passion Fish, 1992.

Malcolm X, 1992.

What's Love Got to Do with It, 1993.

Panther, 1995.

Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995.

Strange Days, 1995.

Waiting to Exhale, 1995.

Contact, 1997.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 1998.

Music of the Heart, 1999.

Supernova, 2000.

Boesman and Lena, 2001.

The Score, 2001.

Mr. 3000, 2004.

The Lazarus Child, 2004.

Akeelah and the Bee, 2006.

Meet the Robinsons (animated film), 2007.

Plays

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Broadway, 1985.

Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Broadway, 1988.

Macbeth, Joseph Papp Theater, 1999.

Fences, Pasadena Playhouse, 2006.

Television

Doubletake (made-for television movie), 1985.

The Cosby Show, 1985.

The Jacksons: An American Dream (miniseries), 1992.

Ruby's Bucket of Blood, (made-for-television), 2001.

The Rosa Parks Story (made-for-television), 2002.

Alias, 2004-.

Sources

Periodicals

Daily Variety, February 16, 2007, p. 12.

Detroit Free Press, March 29, 2007, p.

Ebony, July 1993, pp. 110-12; September 1998, pp. 68-72.

Entertainment Weekly, November 13, 1992, pp. 66-68; June 25, 1993, pp. 37-38.

Essence, December 1992; July 1993, p. 52.

Jet, August 17, 1998, p. 28-32.

Los Angeles magazine, June 1993, p. 123.

New York Times, December 22, 1995.

Parade, February 14, 1993, p. 2.

Premiere, December 1992, pp. 39-40; July 1993, pp. 50-51.

Rolling Stone, November 26, 1992, pp. 34-40, 80; June 24, 1993, p. 89.

Time, February 8, 1993, p. 71; June 21, 1993, p. 65.

Upscale, February 1993, pp. 76-77.

Woman's Day, March 6, 2007, p. 60.

On-line

"Angela Bassett Interview: Mr. 3000," About.com,http://movies.about.com/od/mr3000/a/mr3000ab090204.htm (July 26, 2007).

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Bassett, Angela 1959(?)–

Angela Bassett 1959(?)

Actress

At a Glance

Stood Out in Boyz

Made Her Mark in X

The Challenge of Portraying Tina Turner

Sources

Its like Angelas not there anymore, actor Larry Fishburne told Entertainment Weekly, describing actress Angela Bassetts capacity to inhabit a character. She becomes who shes playing. At a time when women and African Americans in Hollywood struggle to find interesting, well-written roles, Bassett has emerged as a powerful, technically accomplished performer in such highly regarded films as Boyz N the Hood and Malcolm X; with her portrayal of rock survivor Tina Turner in the biopic Whats Love Got to Do With It, she became a star.

This may have surprised purveyors of conventional show business wisdom, but it certainly came as no shock to those who have worked with her. Angela can do anything, Fishburne insisted. Thats the way it is. Whether or not anybodys willing to accept that, thats something else. Producer Doug Chapin, part of the creative team that brought the Turner story to the screen, told Premiere, Angela has really shaped a career like [versatile American actress] Meryl Streeps. Money is a secondary question, celebrity is a secondary questionits all about wonderful work.

Born in the late 1950s, Bassett grew up in public housing in St. Petersburg, Florida. She was first truly electrified by acting when, in 1974, she went on a field trip to Washington D.C. There she saw the illustrious black thespian James Earl Jones in a Kennedy Center production of the play Of Mice and Men. I just sat there after the play, boo-hoo crying, weeping, Bassett recalled to Barbara Jones of Premiere. I couldnt move, and I remember thinking, My gosh, if I could make somebody feel the way I feel right now! Upon her return home she immersed herself in plays and started really concentrating. A very good student, she was admitted to Yale, thanks in large part to the encouragement of her mother, Betty, who raised Angela and her sister DNette without the help of a spouse: After [high school] graduation I knew I wanted to act, the actress told Upscale magazine reporter Christie Smith. I also wanted to play it safe, so I decided that Id be a business woman. My mother suggested Yale. She even typed my application. Later, I changed my major to acting, and she supported me 100 percent.

It wasnt easy being a Floridian in the Ivy League. Bassetts southern drawl set her apart from most of her East Coast classmates. She told Smith, I had a lot of regionalism and really neededtraining. Fortunately, such training

At a Glance

Born c. 1959; raised in St. Petersburg, FL, by mother, Betty. Education: Received masters degree from Yale University, c. 1982.

Stage, film, and television actress, 1982. Principal stage appearances include roles in August Wilsons plays Ma Raineys Black Bottom and Joe Turners Come and Cone. Principal motion picture appearances include roles in Boyz N the Hood, 1991; City of Hope, 1991; Passion Fish, 1992; Malcolm X, 1992; and Whats Love Cot to Do With It, 1993. Television appearances include roles in The Guiding Light, Tour of Duty, and miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream, ABG-TV, 1992.

Selected awards: Golden Globe Award for best actress, 1994; two NAACP Image Awards, 1994.

Addresses: Agent Ambrosio/Mortimer, 165 West 46th St., Suite 1214, New York, NY 10036.

came from a supportive teacher. Lloyd Richards was head of the Yale School of Drama and had seen Bassett acting in some undergraduate productions. He later told Premiere hed seen in the aspiring actress a deep passion and declared, When she applied for admittance to the drama school, I was very pleased. Bassett spent a total of six years at Yale and earned a masters degree.

Bassett began working in commercials soon after graduation; she had a role for a time on the television soap opera The Guiding Light and took parts in some forgettable films, like Critters 4. Yet much of her work has been, in the words of Entertainment Weeklys Ty Burr, high-minded indeed. She made her Broadway debut in the August Wilson play Ma Raineys Black Bottom, was cast by Lloyd Richards in Wilsons Joe Turners Come and Gone, and landed a role in director John Sayless 1991 urban epic City of Hope.

Stood Out in Boyz

But it was her performance in John Singletons highly successful 1991 film Boyz N the Hood about a group of African American teens growing to manhood in the midst of urban violencethat gave Bassett some real attention. She played Reva, the sophisticated mother of the films young protagonist, Tre. Bassetts recollections of her own mothers dedication became a key to approaching the role of Reva, a woman who sends her son to live with his estranged father so that the youth might benefit from a strong male presence in his life. When the role came up, I knew I wanted it, the actress related to Upscale. I mean, theres a finite number of one-hour TV dramas you can do. I had been in L.A. for a while, and things werent up to speed. When I got it, I was appreciative and felt blessed. I identified with [characters like] Doughboy, Tre and the rest of them because when I grew up, the big thing was heroin; now its crack, guns and everything in between.

Costar Larry Fishburne, a friend of Bassetts, recommended her to the director, and she felt an immediate bond with the young filmmaker. I remember looking at John Singleton, thinking how sincere he was, she recalled. He was only 21, making this massive film. I just had so much enthusiasm and love for what he was trying to do. After the audition, we sat around and talked to each other about great poets, like Langston Hughes. It seemed like wed known each other before. I really just wanted to go over and hug him. He was just a baby.

Made Her Mark in X

Bassett had a supporting role in Sayless well-regarded 1992 drama Passion Fish, but would garner much more attention that year for her portrayal of Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcolm X, in Spike Lees film about the renowned activists life and tragic death at the hands of assassins. Her audition for the part astonished Lee, who told Premieres Jones that Bassett was Betty. Betty Shabazz is the best work shes ever done on film. She makes you feel for this woman. In her interview with Upscale, Bassett noted: Spike was surprisingly easy to work with. I mean weve all heard the rumors. He gave me a lot of room as an actress. She added that Lee really respects actors, but he doesnt get credit for that. I found that I could really talk openly with him.

Lees estimation of her work was confirmed by many viewers. I watched as Angela Bassett reenacted Bettys reaction to Malcolms assassination, Joe Wood of Rolling Stone recounted. Take 1, take 2, take 3, and she wailed, screamed, really, and in that screaming I felt tears. Wood added that Bassetts voice carried an essential portion of Malcolm, of his spirit. Reviewing the film for the same publication, critic Peter Travers referred to the actress as the very fine but underused Angela Bassett. Costar Denzel Washington, who played the films title role, told Burr of Entertainment Weekly that Bassett is one of the very few actresses, period, of any color, who are carrying movies of substance. The actress revealed in Upscale that she strove to bring dignity to [the] performance. In a Premiere piece, she allowed some insight into this process of characterization: Betty was just so calm, so I was calm. You just got to be about your plan. Be about your race and finish it. Because therere people whore going to applaud it and people who wont be impressed for one moment.

Bassett took on the role of Katherine Jackson, mother of the famous musical clan that includes Michael, Janet, and LaToya, in the ABC-TV miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream, which aired in 1992. As the programs producer Suzanne de Passe told Burr, I watched Angela Bassett disappear into the role of Katherine Jackson. De Passe added that merely seeing the actress run lines during rehearsal caused her to weep. Usually, the producer noted, that doesnt happen. The drama begins when Katherine is 15 years old and ends when shes 55. Bassett got some positive notices for her performance, though Entertainment Weekly complained that her character is made to seem blandly noble and nothing more.

The Challenge of Portraying Tina Turner

Bassett finally broke through to stardom in her first truly splashy screen role: playing Tina Turner in Whats Love Got to Do With It. Times Richard Zoglin called it the kind of star-making turn that every actress dreams ofand practically every black actress in Hollywood wanted. Bassett went into serious training for the role of the singer, whose tumultuous relationship with her husband, Ikeaccording to the films source, Turners autobiography /, Tina included both emotional and physical abuse. I had a dialect coach, a singing coach, a choreographer and a personal trainer for 30 days before the filming began, Bassett told Deborah Gregory of Essence. I lifted weights for two hours a day, six days a week, and went on a high-protein, no-sweets dietegg whites, tuna without mayo, vegetablesto get Tinas incredibly muscular physique. If I had had two months to prepare, I think I wouldve been able to enter a bodybuilding contest afterward.

Larry Fishburne agreed to accept the role of Ike Turner only after he knew for sure that Bassett would play Tina. Shes a bad motherfer, Fishburne exclaimed to Premiere. Angie B. is all that and the Sunday papers. I sat down and thought, I could just go and do this movie just cause Angies in it. He further commented to Burr of Entertainment Weekly that Bassett is 100 percent committed to the projects on which she works. The two actors managed to recreate the scenes of violence between Ike and Tina to a harrowingand sometimes dangerously realdegree. Bassett suffered a broken hand during shooting and explained to Burr why she endured the physical strain of those scenes over repeated takes: Im the type of person who doesnt want to kid it. I have to really go there, or I feel like Im cheating. Its painful to go there, but, hey, its painful not to go there.

Best of all, Bassett had one other important figure for support during the making of the film: Turner herself. The singer flew in from Germany to see Bassetts audition. When I walked into the room, Bassett recalled to Gregory of Essence, she immediately hugged me and told her manager that she thought I was beautiful, and then she started showing me some of the dance routines from her days with [musical group] the Ikettes. Bassett added: When I walked out of that room, I was flying on cloud nine and I knew I would give the part everything I had! The actress told Burr that Turner did my makeup. She was my biggest fan. Can you imagine?

Bassett noted in Time that she considered the role of Tina Turner the biggest challenge of my career. She further described her hopes for the project in an Ebony interview: I wanted to convey that [Tina] is a bright woman, a survivor and a fighter. Apparently Bassett succeeded in her aim. Los Angeles film critic Rod Lurie predicted that she is going to be a bigger star than Lady Tina herself. Rolling Stones Travers, who had serious reservations about the film, nevertheless praised the actresss fine, sexy strutting portrayal of Tina, calling her a dazzler; she commendably resists playing Tina as a victim even when the script keeps pushing her down that familiar path. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly insisted that Bassett captures the erotic youthquake that was Tina Turner in the 60s and early 70s.

With her performance as Turner, Bassett entered the spotlight for good. Her combination of hard work, keen intelligence, and a willingness to become completely absorbed in her characters had earned her not merely respect but admiration from her peers; at long last, movie audiences were being let in on the secret. In the Upscale profile, the actress offered advice to those who hoped to follow her career path: You have to have self-respect and that comes from within. Be ready to go up against some hard forces. I mean directors and producers can discount you for strange reasons. You look like my ex-girlfriend or Were gonna go with the actress with the body. Its hard, but Id do it all over again.

Sources

Ebony, July 1993, pp. 110-12.

Entertainment Weekly, November 13, 1992, pp. 66-68; June 25, 1993, pp. 37-38.

Essence, December 1992; July 1993, p. 52.

Los Angeles magazine, June 1993, p. 123.

Parade, February 14, 1993, p. 2.

Premiere, December 1992, pp. 39-40; July 1993, pp. 50-51.

Rolling Stone, November 26, 1992, pp. 34-40, 80; June 24, 1993, p. 89.

Time, February 8, 1993, p. 71; June 21, 1993, p. 65.

Upscale, February 1993, pp. 76-77.

Simon Glickman

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"Bassett, Angela 1959(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 30 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bassett, Angela 1959(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/bassett-angela-1959

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Bassett, Angela

BASSETT, Angela



Nationality: American. Born: Harlem, New York, 16 August 1958. Education: Attended Yale University, B.A., 1980; Yale School of Drama, M.F.A., 1982. Career: 1980s—appeared on Broadway in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Joe Turner's Come and Gone; TV appearances include A Man Called Hawk, The Cosby Show, Guiding Light, Tour of Duty; 1986—first on-screen film credit in F/X; 1992—in TV mini-series The Jacksons: An American Dream. Awards: Golden Globe Award, for What's Love Got to Do with It, 1994; Black Women of Achievement Key Honoree, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1994. Agent: ICM Artists Ltd., 40 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019–4001, U.S.A.


Films as Actress:

1985

Doubletake (Jud Taylor—for TV)

1986

F/X (Mandel) (as TV reporter)

1990

Kindergarten Cop (Reitman) (as stewardess); Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer (Satlof—for TV) (as Carla Peters); In the Best Interest of the Child (David Greene—for TV) (as Lori); Family of Spies (Gyllenhaal—for TV); Challenger (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Cheryl McNair)

1991

Boyz N the Hood (Singleton) (as Reva Styles); City of Hope (Sayles) (as Reesha); One Special Victory (Stuart Cooper—for TV); Line of Fire: The Morris Dees Story (Korty—for TV) (as Pat); Fire! Trapped on the 37th Floor (Robert Day—for TV) (as Allison)

1992

Innocent Blood (Landis) (as U.S. Attorney Sinclair); Malcolm X (Spike Lee) (as Betty Shabazz); Passion Fish (Sayles) (as Dawn/Rhonda); Critters 4 (Harvey) (as Fran); Locked Up: A Mother's Rage (Rooney—for TV) (as Willie); The Heroes of Desert Storm (Ohlmeyer—for TV) (as Lt. Jeter)

1993

What's Love Got to Do with It (Brian Gibson) (as Tina Turner)

1995

Panther (Van Peebles) (cameo as Betty Shabazz); Vampire in Brooklyn (Craven) (as Rita); Strange Days (Bigelow) (as Mace Mason); Waiting to Exhale (Whitaker) (as Bernadine)

1997

Contact (Zemeckis) (as Rachel Constantine)

1998

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (Sullivan) (as Stella); Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery (Bagwell, Bellows—mini for TV) (as Narrator)

1999

Wings Against the Wind (Palcy) (as Bessie Coleman); Music of the Heart (Craven) (as Janet Williams); Whispers (Beverly and Dereck Joubert) (as Groove); Our Friend, Martin (Smiley and Trippetti—anim) (as voice of Miles' mom)

2000

Supernova (Hill) (as Kaela Evers); Boesman and Lena (Berry) (as Lena)

2001

The Score (Oz) (as Actress)



Publications


By BASSETT: articles—

"Angela Bassett Takes on Tina Turner," interview with Theresa Sturley, in Interview (New York), June 1993.

Interview with James Ryan, in GQ (New York), September 1995.

"Angela Bassett Is Not a Diva!," interview with Karen Grigsby Bates, in Essence (New York), December 1995.


On BASSETT: articles—

Zoglin, Richard, "Out of the Shadows at Last," in Time (New York), 21 June 1993.

Collier, Aldore, "What's Love Got to Do with It: Larry Fishburne and Angela Bassett Portray Ike and Tina Turner in New Movie," in Ebony (Chicago), July 1993.

Testino, Mario, "Just You Wait," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), October 1995.

Webster, Andy, filmography in Premiere (New York), December 1995.

Als, H., "A Crossover Star," in New Yorker (New York), April 29/May 6, 1996.


* * *

When Angela Bassett was 15 years old, she went on a field trip to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with the Upward Bound program for gifted students. It was here that she saw James Earl Jones in a production of the play Of Mice and Men, and she knew that she wanted to act. In talking about the performance, she said, "I just wept. I thought, if I could make someone feel the way I feel right now. . . ." Bassett grew up in a single-parent household in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her sister D'Nette and her mother Betty, where she was the first African-American student accepted in her high school's National Honor Society. She credits her mother with instilling in her a strict work ethic, a firm grounding, and a strong sense of self. These traits are evident in the roles she has chosen—many of which are strong mothers—and in the intensity and commitment she brings to the acting process.

Her acting career began on the stage for which she was trained at the prestigious Yale School of Drama under the tutelage of veteran director Lloyd Richards. She acted in two August Wilson plays on Broadway before making her foray onto the screen. Her first screen credit is an unmemorable small part with one line of dialogue in the thriller F/X. Shortly after, she migrated to California, and while guesting on numerous television shows, she also began making screen appearances. The first role that got her noticed was as Reva, the driven mother of the film's protagonist Tre, in Boyz N the Hood. Bassett obviously identified with the strong-willed mother who sends her son to live with his father so he has an adult male role model. She forged a friendship with co-star Laurence Fishburne on the set, and this bond would prove to serve her well later.

Bassett had supporting roles in two of John Sayles's small-budget, but well-regarded films, City of Hope and Passion Fish. The next role that garnered her attention, however, was as Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcolm X, in Spike Lee's film about the widely known activist. She brought a sense of dignity to the role, and in the process helped the film transcend a script calling mainly for large doses of humbleness. Bassett played a legendary figure again when she took on the role of Katherine Jackson in the television mini-series The Jacksons: An American Dream. The drama spans Jackson's life from age 15 to 55. Bassett received mainly positive notices for her performance, but her next role is the one that catapulted her to fame.

She won the coveted star role of Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love Got to Do with It over numerous other popular actresses. To prepare for the role, Bassett physically trained for more than a month. She worked with dialect coaches, and studied hours of videotape of Turner's performances. Bassett's rigorous work ethic paid off. She won the Golden Globe for her riveting portrayal, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Once again, Bassett was able to bring a sense of dignity, vulnerability, and mercy to a character who could have been seen purely as a victim of domestic abuse. It was of utmost importance that the audience understand why Turner—through years of violence—would stay with Ike (played by Fishburne, who accepted the role in large part because Bassett was playing Turner). Bassett accomplished this by showing Turner's sense of loyalty and grace. Bassett seems to have an uncanny knack at showing opposite emotions in her characters, a skill essential to good acting. It is also to her credit that the film is never about an actress playing Tina Turner. Bassett seemed to become Turner. This is most evident at the end of the film when Turner herself appears in a stage number, and the illusion of reality of the film is not broken.

In 1995, Bassett was seen in two major films in very different roles. She was cast opposite Ralph Fiennes in the action-adventure Strange Days, set at the end of the millennium amidst racial wars. Her heroic character—another single parent—carries equal emotional heft to Fiennes's lead role. Her most recent film is Waiting to Exhale, which has been strongly criticized for male bashing. Bassett has said, however, that was not her or the director Forest Whitaker's intention. The film also received praise for its strong, black female roles. In a time when there are more, but still too few good, female roles, Bassett seems to find them, and to be able to cross racial boundaries.

—Anita Gabrosek

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Bassett, Angela 1958–

Angela Bassett 1958

Actress

At a Glance

Sources

Its like Angelas not there anymore, actor Larry Fishburne told Entertainment Weekly, describing actress Angela Bassetts capacity to inhabit a character. She becomes who shes playing. At a time when women and African Americans in Hollywood struggle to find interesting, well-written roles, Bassett has emerged as a powerful, technically accomplished performer in such highly regarded films as Boyz N the Hood, Malcolm X, Waiting to Exhale, and HOW Stella Got Her Groove Back. With her portrayal of rock survivor Tina Turner in the biopic Whats Love Got to Do With It, she became a star.

Born on August 16, 1958, Bassett grew up in public housing in St. Petersburg, Florida. She was first truly electrified by acting when, in 1974, she went on a field trip to Washington D.C. There she saw the illustrious black thespian James Earl Jones in a Kennedy Center production of the play Of Mice and Men. I just sat there after the play, boo-hoo crying, weeping, Bassett recalled to Barbara Jones of Premiere. I couldnt move, and I remember thinking, My gosh, if I could make somebody feel the way I feel right now! Upon her return home she immersed herself in plays and started really concentrating. A very good student, she was admitted to Yale, thanks in large part to the encouragement of her mother, Betty, who raised Angela and her sister DNette without the help of a spouse: After [high school] graduation I knew I wanted to act, the actress told Upscale magazine reporter Christie Smith. I also wanted to play it safe, so I decided that Id be a business woman. My mother suggested Yale. She even typed my application. Later, I changed my major to acting, and she supported me 100 percent.

It wasnt easy being a Floridian in the Ivy League. Bassetts southern drawl set her apart from most of her East Coast classmates. She told Smith, I had a lot of regionalism and really needed training. Fortunately, such training came from a supportive teacher. Lloyd Richards was head of the Yale School of Drama and had seen Bassett acting in some undergraduate productions. He later told Premiere hed seen in the aspiring actress a deep passion and declared, When she applied for admittance to the drama school, I was very pleased. Bassett spent a total of six years at Yale and earned a masters degree.

Bassett began working in commercials soon after graduation; she had a role for a time on the television soap opera The Guiding Light and took parts in some forgettable films, like Critters 4. Yet much of her work has been, in the words of Entertainment Weeklys Ty Burr, high-minded indeed. She made her Broadway debut in the August Wilson play Ma Raineys Black Bottom, was cast by Lloyd Richards in Wilsons Joe Turners Come and Gone, and landed a role in director John Sayless 1991 urban epic City of Hope.

But it was her performance in John Singletons highly

At a Glance

Born August 16, 1958; raised in St Petersburg, FL, daughter of Betty; married Courtney B. Vance, 1997. Education: Received masters degree from Yale University, c. 1982.

Career: Stage, film, and television actress, 1982-. Principal stage appearances include roles in August Wilsons plays Ma Raineys Black Bottom and Joe Turners Come and Cone. Appeared in the films Boyz N the Hood, 1991; City of Hope, 1991; Passion Fish, 1992; Malcolm X, 1992; Whats Love Got to Do With It, 1993; Panther, 1995; Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995; Strange Days, 1995; Waiting to Exhale, 1995; Contact, 1997; and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 1998, Television appearances include roles in The Guiding Light, Tour of Duty, and miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream, ABC-TV, 1992.

Awards: Oscar nomination for best actress for Whats love Cot to Do With It, 1993; Golden Globe award for best actress in a musical or comedy for Whats Love Got to Do With It, 1994.

Addresses: Agent Krost/Chapin 9911 W. Pico Blvd. Ph I. Los Angeles, CA 90035-2715.

successful 1991 film Boyz N the Hood -about a group of African American teens growing to manhood in the midst of urban violence-that gave Bassett some real attention. She played Reva, the sophisticated mother of the films young protagonist, Tre. Bassetts recollections of her own mothers dedication became a key to approaching the role of Reva, a woman who sends her son to live with his estranged father so that the youth might benefit from a strong male presence in his life. When the role came up, I knew I wanted it, the actress related to Upscale. I mean, theres a finite number of one-hour TV dramas you can do. I had been in L.A. for a while, and things werent up to speed. When I got it, I was appreciative and felt blessed. I identified with [characters like] Doughboy, Tre and the rest of them because when I grew up, the big thing was heroin; now its crack, guns and everything in between.

Costar Larry Fishburne, a friend of Bassetts, recommended her to the director, and she felt an immediate bond with the young filmmaker. I remember looking at John Singleton, thinking how sincere he was, she recalled. He was only 21, making this massive film. I just had so much enthusiasm and love for what he was trying to do. After the audition, we sat around and talked to each other about great poets, like Langston Hughes. It seemed like wed known each other before. I really just wanted to go over and hug him. He was just a baby.

Bassett had a supporting role in Sayless well-regarded 1992 drama Passion Fish, but would garner much more attention that year for her portrayal of Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcolm X, in Spike Lees film about the renowned activists life and tragic death at the hands of assassins. Her audition for the part astonished Lee, who told Premieres Jones that Bassett was Betty. Betty Shabazz is the best work shes ever done on film. She makes you feel for this woman. In her interview with Upscale, Bassett noted: Spike was surprisingly easy to work with. I mean weve all heard the rumors. He gave me a lot of room as an actress. She added that Lee really respects actors, but he doesnt get credit for that. I found that I could really talk openly with him.

Lees estimation of her work was confirmed by many viewers. I watched as Angela Bassett reenacted Bettys reaction to Malcolms assassination, Joe Wood of Rolling Stone recounted. Take 1, take 2, take 3, and she wailed, screamed, really, and in that screaming I felt tears. Wood added that Bassetts voice carried an essential portion of Malcolm, of his spirit. Reviewing the film for the same publication, critic Peter Travers referred to the actress as the very fine but underused Angela Bassett. Costar Denzel Washington, who played the films title role, told Burr of Entertainment Weekly that Bassett is one of the very few actresses, period, of any color, who are carrying movies of substance. The actress revealed in Upscale that she strove to bring dignity to [the] performance. In a Premiere piece, she allowed some insight into this process of characterization: Betty was just so calm, so I was calm. You just got to be about your plan. Be about your race and finish it. Because therere people whore going to applaud it and people who wont be impressed for one moment.

Bassett finally broke through to stardom in her first truly splashy screen role: playing Tina Turner in Whats Love Got to Do With It. Times Richard Zoglin called it the kind of star-making turn that every actress dreams ofand practically every black actress in Hollywood wanted. Bassett went into serious training for the role of the singer, whose tumultuous relationship with her husband, Ikeaccording to the films source, Turners autobiography I, Tina -included both emotional and physical abuse. I had a dialect coach, a singing coach, a choreographer and a personal trainer for 30 days before the filming began, Bassett told Deborah Gregory of Essence. I lifted weights for two hours a day, six days a week, and went on a high-protein, no-sweets dietegg whites, tuna without mayo, vegetablesto get Tinas incredibly muscular physique. If I had had two months to prepare, I think I wouldve been able to enter a bodybuilding contest afterward.

Larry Fishburne agreed to accept the role of Ike Turner only after he knew for sure that Bassett would play Tina. Shes a bad motherfer, Fishburne exclaimed to Premiere. Angie B. is all that and the Sunday papers. I sat down and thought, I could just go and do this movie just cause Angies in it. He further commented to Burr of Entertainment Weekly that Bassett is 100 percent committed to the projects on which she works. The two actors managed to recreate the scenes of violence between Ike and Tina to a harrowingand sometimes dangerously realdegree. Bassett suffered a broken hand during shooting and explained to Burr why she endured the physical strain of those scenes over repeated takes: Im the type of person who doesnt want to kid it. I have to really go there, or I feel like Im cheating. Its painful to go there, but, hey, its painful not to go there.

Best of all, Bassett had one other important figure for support during the making of the film: Turner herself. The singer flew in from Germany to see Bassetts audition. When I walked into the room, Bassett recalled to Gregory of Essence, she immediately hugged me and told her manager that she thought I was beautiful, and then she started showing me some of the dance routines from her days with [musical group] the Ikettes. Bassett added: When I walked out of that room, I was flying on cloud nine and I knew I would give the part everything I had! The actress told Burr that Turner did my makeup. She was my biggest fan. Can you imagine?

Bassett noted in Time that she considered the role of Tina Turner the biggest challenge of my career. She further described her hopes for the project in an Ebony interview: I wanted to convey that [Tina] is a bright woman, a survivor and a fighter. Apparently Bassett succeeded in her aim. Los Angeles film critic Rod Lurie predicted that she is going to be a bigger star than Lady Tina herself. Rolling Stones Travers, who had serious reservations about the film, nevertheless praised the actresss fine, sexy strutting portrayal of Tina, calling her a dazzler; she commendably resists playing Tina as a victim even when the script keeps pushing her down that familiar path. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly insisted that Bassett captures the erotic youthquake that was Tina Turner in the 60s and early 70s. Bassetts work in Whats Love Got to Do With It earned her an Oscar nomination in 1993. In 1994, she won the Golden Globe award for best actress in a musical or comedy for her work in Whats Love Got to Do With It.

Following her success in Whats Love Got to Do With It, Bassett appeared again as Betty Shabazz in the 1995 film Panther, which detailed the history of the Black Panther Party. She also co-starred opposite Eddie Murphy in the film Vampire in Brooklyn. Bassett played the role of Rita, a police officer who is unaware that she is a vampire. Along with Ralph Fiennes, Bassett costarred in the 1995 science fiction thriller Strange Days. In the film, she played the role of Lornette Mace Mason, a rugged, independent woman who teams with Fienness character to rescue his ex-girlfriend from a group of gangsters.

Perhaps Bassetts greatest triumph in 1995 was her work in the film Waiting to Exhale. Directed by Forest Whitaker and based on the novel by Terry McMillan, the film chronicles the lives of four African American women as they search for lasting romance and love. In the film, Bassett plays the role of Bernadine, a woman whose husband is having an affair with his secretary and abandons her and her two children. Waiting to Exhale, which also co-starred Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon, and Loretta Devine, was a huge commercial success and earned accolades for Bassett. Stephen Holden, writing in the New York Times, remarked that Bassetts fuming performance is the movies riskiest and most compelling and gives the movie its dramatic backbone.

In 1997 Bassett played the role of Rachel Constantine, a deputy chief of staff to the president of the United States, in the highly acclaimed science fiction film Contact. The following year, she starred in the box office smash How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Bassett played the role of Stella, a successful stockbroker and single mother. Stella is singularly devoted to raising her son, and has little time for dating and romance. Encouraged by a friend to take a trip to Jamaica, she meets a handsome Jamaican man who is 20 years her junior. The film follows their relationship as it progresses from mere physical attraction to a deeper romantic love. How Stella Got Her Groove Back provided yet another example of Bassetts talents as an actress. Kevin Rodney Sullivan, who directed the film, told Jet magazine Angela as an artist is all 88 keys. Shes a virtuoso, and Im astounded by her range, depth and ability to bring so many nuances to the role. When I ask her for chartreuse, she gives me chartreuse. When I ask her for lavender with peach highlights, she gives me exactly that. Like Stella, Bassetts life and career are in a wonderful groove. As she remarked to Ebony, Whats being in a groove? Its being self-assured, confident, growing, continually growing. My life is joyful! I think thats pretty groovy.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, July 1993, pp. 110-12; September 1998, pp. 68-72.

Entertainment Weekly, November 13, 1992, pp. 66-68; June 25, 1993, pp. 37-38.

Essence, December 1992; July 1993, p. 52.

Jet, August 17, 1998, p. 28-32.

Los Angeles magazine, June 1993, p. 123.

New York Times, December 22, 1995.

Parade, February 14, 1993, p. 2.

Premiere, December 1992, pp. 39-40; July 1993, pp. 50-51.

Rolling Stone, November 26, 1992, pp. 34-40, 80; June 24, 1993, p. 89.

Time, February 8, 1993, p. 71; June 21, 1993, p. 65.

Upscale, February 1993, pp. 76-77.

Simon Glickman and David G. Oblender

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