The Oscar-nominated actress explains why you will only see her in "dignified" roles.
Angela Bassett’s omnipresent portrayals of strong black women in both movies and TV have become her hallmark. The 52-year-old actress has singlehandedly turned playing the matriarch role into an enigmatic art form. For years she depicted real-life mothers in Malcolm X, The Jacksons: An American Dream and Notorious, and now she’s playing the mother-of-the-bride in the new wedding comedy, Jumping the Broom.
Bassett spoke to BET.com about her latest film amd her upcoming roles in Green Lantern and the ABC pilot Identity—plus, why she’s always been ultra-selective about choosing projects throughout her career.
Jumping the Broom has a great ensemble cast, and you all have a very realistic onscreen chemistry. Was that something you had to work at?
When you start out you don’t know. You read the script, it’s nice and you try to picture it in your mind. But I think the chemistry was pretty immediate. I worked with Loretta Devine and Bryan [Stokes Oliver] before. And when you get actors like Paula Patton and Laz Alonso, they bring their unique voices and talents to it. And I remember meeting [director] Salim Akil for the first time. He told me his vision for the film and I immediately got a good feeling about him.
You’ve played a lot of mom characters in your career, why did you want to play this one?
I thought my character Claudine had a real presence in this movie, she had something active to do in this story. I liked that whenever my she felt like cussing she’d get as close as she could in French.
When Black films like Jumping the Broom are released, I always hope they’ll get recognized the way some lighter mainstream films do during awards season.
Some roles are going to get nominated and some roles are not going to get nominated. They’ll probably be no nominations coming out of Jumping the Broom, but thank goodness for the work. That’s good. I mean if we could do The King’s Speech… I was sent [the script for] The King’s Speech.
Wow. You were? Who did they want you to play?
You tell me. I don’t think it was for real. Sometimes people just send out scripts—like these are the new scripts now. But let’s be real, if you can’t find anything for us to do in that world why [bother]? We can’t populate that world. There are some worlds you can be apart of and some you can’t. But I’ve always wanted to play the Queen. I was fortunate to play Lady Macbeth on stage [with Alec Baldwin at New York City’s Public Theater in 1998], and I enjoyed that tremendously. In some fantasy, in some fantastical world, the Queen could look like us. She could look like anybody.
That's true. Well, the next time we see you at the movies, it will be in summer blockbuster, The Green Lantern.
I play a scientist named Amanda Waller. She’s part of the comic book series and she’s a very capable, brilliant woman who wields a gun when need be. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being part of it ... seeing a black woman in this magnificent world that they created. I don’t kick too much butt in this film, but the potential to kick butt is there.
And tell us more about the pilot you shot for ABC called, Identity?
It’s based on the British series of the same title. It’s about identity crimes and I play Martha Drake, the head of an identity crime unit. I was recently a little bit of a victim of it—more of a stealing money or getting things based on me [kind of thing].
Like Sidney Poitier, you’ve chosen to do roles that represent African-Americans—especially black women—very well. Has that been a conscious and deliberate choice on your part throughout your career?
I don’t mind looking ugly for a part. I wouldn’t care if my character has issues or if she’s vulnerable, poor, or oppressed. But I never wanted to be oppressed or stereotypical just for stereotype’s sake. I’m too in tune and aware of black women, how we are perceived and our place in this culture. Fights have been waged to break down doors and barriers [for us.] I march when I have to march or I go and protest when I have to protest. But in the work, I don’t have the leisure to "do just whatever and it doesn’t matter" and have it tear down at the work that has been done. I’m always going to give dignity and humanity to the characters that I play. If I feel if it’s trying to maintain a negative stereotype about black women or women in general, then I’m just not interested in it.
Jumping the Broom opens in theaters on Friday, May 6.
(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)