Courtney B. Vance is probably best known for his dramatic work on TV (The Closer, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, ER), but for his latest film project he’s stepping out of his comfort zone into the world of horror. In the movie Final Destination 5 Vance plays Agent Block, one of a group of people who treads life carefully in an attempt to cheat death.
Vance spoke to BET.com about his latest film, his and wife Angela Bassett’s new production company, and how they make family life a priority over their Hollywood careers.
Final Destination 5 and the horror genre is new territory for you as actor. Are you a fan of these types of movies?
I’m not a horror-film watcher. I wouldn’t go see Fright Night or Friday the 13th; those aren’t my kind of movies. But it helps us as artists to stretch ourselves and to go into different directions. I was attracted to the film because of its director Steve Quale. Steve got his chops with James Cameron [by working] as his second-unit person. I’m also a huge fan of James, Steve and Avatar. So I was like, “Steve’s doing this? He’s gonna do something special.” He’s a top-flight filmmaker in his own right.
When you signed on to be in the film were you afraid you’d be a part of the horror genre’s the "Black man dies first" curse?
That’s a thing not just in horror films, but in all films. With FD5 they’re breaking new ground; they’re doing some new things. It’s all about managing the audience’s expectations. We know everybody has to go in these things. But the idea of "when" is the joy. Let’s just put it this way, I was very pleased when I saw the film.
You and Angela recently started a production company. Can you tell us about what kind of projects you want to create?
We have a small production company called Bassett Vance Productions, and we’re starting off by doing a film adaptation of our No. 1 passion—the book Erasure [about an Ivy League author who assumes a street persona in life and work when he’s not considered Black enough] by Percival Everett. It’s a very dense and literary tour de force we’ve been developing with T.D. Jakes and the team that put together Jumping The Broom. They’re shooting Sparkle, and we’re in negotiations now, but hopefully when they’re finished with Sparkle we’re going into preproduction in January. This will be Angela’s directorial film debut and we hope to get in front of the cameras in mid-April 2012.
Will you both star in it as well?
Angela will have a small role in it but I’m just gonna produce. It’s a lot to do a movie and have twins. One of us has got to be home and be available when needed, so that will be me when she’s 24-7 wrapped around the film.
You bring up a great point about being a working couple that balances career with family life. It seems to be a hard thing to navigate in Hollywood, with Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony being the latest casualties. How do you and Angela make it work?
The family is the focus, not the business. Sometimes you’ve got to pause and somebody has got to take a backseat for a minute just so the family can survive, so the fabric can bend, because if you put too much on it the fabric will tear. When you’re in the middle of monster music and monster acting and as many things as Jennifer and Marc were doing, you just got to tell people, "You guys have to leave us alone for a minute. Yeah, I know it’s a great thing for my career but I’ve got a set of twins and my husband and I need some time—just back off." That gives you the opportunity to talk it through and play out what’s important and what’s not important. You've got to work out something.
What about the pressure on performers to stay active in showbiz first because you’re only given a short window to be hot and happening?
You still have to do it [put family first], otherwise, you know what’s going to suffer? Everything. At the end of the day, the awards are going to be sitting on the wall, kids are going to be gone and you’ll be saying, "I shoulda, woulda." I’m not doing that. If you don’t put in the time to make sure that young person is set up you’ll feel terrible. Angela and I have had 40 to 45 years to do our own thing, and we can share a little bit of it now.
That’s a refreshing point of view to hear. So overall you don’t think marriage, career and family is still a tricky balancing act to pull off in the public eye?
Angela and I are about each other, and if that’s unusual in Hollywood, so be it—it’s not unusual in the world. People have been married 40, 60 years, and it’s work. There are no cameras on them; they’re just working [at it]. Most of the time the camera is not on Angela and me; we’re just in here by ourselves. Ain’t no camera up in here. Let’s be real.
Final Destination 5 is in theaters today.
(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)