Actress Angela Bassett is not just a Black queen – for many, she is Queen Mother, the prototype of what a strong, sassy, smart, Black mother with just the right amount of sexy should look like, sound like and be like. Only an elite few Black actresses are held in such esteem and garner such respect and praise for taking on the role of mother, and Black mother, in television and film, and many would argue that with her breadth of roles throughout her illustrious career (cue up images of Bassett as Queen Mother Ramonda in last year's blockbuster Black Panther; Lena Waithe's on-screen mom in a celebrated episode of Master of None (2017); not to mention her unforgettable strong woman/strong mother roles in What's Love Got to Do With It, Waiting to Exhale, Boyz n the Hood, and many others), Bassett tops that prestigious list. Presently, Bassett stars in the FOX series 9-1-1 as an LAPD cop who saves lives and is fighting to save the integrity of her family after her husband and father of her two children (played by Rockmond Dunbar) comes out as a gay man. Bassett serves as producer of the television drama, a role that she once again steps into as executive producer of her new Netflix project, Otherhood.
Otherhood explores motherhood and the universal experience that many moms can relate to and struggle with — mastering the art of letting their children grow up, and ultimately letting them be adults. In the Netflix original movie, Bassett stars as Carol Walker, the mother of Matt Walker, played by Sinqua Walls (Power, BET's American Soul). Matt has grown up and is living his life in New York City, and like most mothers of oftentimes neglectful and self-centered 20-something-year-olds, Bassett’s character struggles with letting go and longs to find herself again.
Prior to the August 2 premiere, we caught up with Bassett, the mother of twin teenagers in real life, to discuss how she manages to stay connected to her children, her relationship with her own mother, how not to lose one's self-identity while mothering, and why having girlfriends is so important as a mother.
BET: You and your husband, Courtney Vance, are the proud parents of twins, Bronwyn and Slater. How is motherhood treating you?
Angela Bassett: This is a good period right now. You know, children change. They’ll do something different, become something different in 30 days [laughter] then cling to you, release you, run away from you. But they’re in a good little spot right now. I wouldn’t mind if this period stuck around for a little while. You ask them to do something—or you don’t have to ask. They get up and wash the dishes, or you only have to ask once. I remember there was a time when you had to ask five or six times before it got done. Now it's like I ask once and they do it. Or there was a time they'd do it, but do it grudgingly. Now it's like, OK mom. They do it with a good attitude.
BET: In Otherhood you grapple with having a 20-something-year-old son who is independent and living his own life. How are you dealing with your own 13-year-olds becoming more independent and requiring less “mom time”?
Bassett: They want to be with their friends. They have their school friends, they have their sports friends, church friends, and they want to spend time with them. You know what? I want to spend time with my friends too [laughter], so I get it, but I know what they like! So I just try to find a moment, something that we can enjoy together that I know that they would really appreciate. Recently I took my son to a three-day music festival, just he and I, and we just hung out, and he just got to see me, his mom, relaxed, cool... you know, I’m going to bed, you stay up and watch Trevor Noah if you want to [laughter], but giving them that sort of independence. I went off to do a movie in Germany for six weeks, but before leaving—because I know my daughter, she misses me a lot, she’s a mommy’s girl—I gave her a ticket and said, 'Why don’t you meet me in Paris for the weekend?' Because she’s been talking about that for maybe about three years—“mom, let’s do that, I want to go to Paris, I want to see that.” So just knowing what they like and surprising them, and then just spending that quality time together to chill, like friends, you know? Because there’s enough times when we’re home and we’re putting the parental demands down—be in the bed by 9:30, turn those cell phones off, as a matter of fact, give them to us, you know.
BET: To cope with the harsh reality of your grown sons “divorcing” you and being demoted from "Mother to Other" status in your sons’ lives, you and your girlfriends Helen and Gillian, played by Felicity Huffman and Patricia Arquette, come together in support of one another. Do you have any real-life good girlfriends on speed dial who you call and vent to or cry to when motherhood gets to be too much?
Bassett: Of my girlfriends I do have a couple who have kids going through it and whose kids are right along or a little older than mine. You know, college age or just about to go off to college. And I have girlfriends who are empty nesters, and some who are single and don’t know the whole parenting thing—their great auntie. But yeah, I can call them up. It’s important to have someone to express your vulnerabilities to, or be affirmed in the fact that you’re not crazy or you’re not looking at the situation incorrectly.
BET: Did you get to swap any real-life mom stories with your Otherhood costars, Arquette and Huffman?
Bassett: We had a great time working in New York City, filming all over the city. There’s a lot of downtime on the set, so we would often find ourselves in a little clutch talking about a variety of things—talking about kids, talking about husbands, talking about boyfriends, talking about growing up. Teaching one another, learning from each other on the set, in the makeup trailer... we had a ball together.
BET: For mothers who are struggling with striking the balance between being a mother and not losing sight of who they are as individuals, what advice would you offer?
Bassett: You know, it’s so easy to be hard on yourself. Don’t be so, so hard on yourself, because being hard on yourself is just you trying to be perfect, trying to be the best that you possibly can be. You know, take stock and remember those things that really ignite your passion. That make you happy. I didn't get a real clear sense of who my mother was until after she passed away, and would read letters, or people came up to me how she spoke into their lives and what she meant to them, or how enthusiastic she was. I knew she could be fun in those moments that I would hear her laugh laboriously until her tears ran down her cheeks. I really sort of loved that. But you want so much for your kids when you're a single mom on a fixed income and with a 12th grade education... it's that that you don't want for your kids, and that's why she pushed us, but when you're in it as a child you really don't understand these things about your parents. So enjoy who you are, enjoy your kids, and realize they're gonna do some good things, they're gonna make some mistakes, but it'll all turn out as it's supposed to.
BET: We recently spoke to Taye Diggs about reuniting with you on a How Stella Got Her Groove Back sequel, and he said he'd love that! How do you feel about that?
Bassett: I bet he would [laughter]. Why not? Absolutely. I'd be down.
BET: Would you stay with Winston or switch things up with somebody else?
Bassett: Well, why not stay with what works? Don't get off a winning horse.