Very few women exude the poise, strength and charisma of Angela Bassett. The 54-year-old actress has continuously proven she’s a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Having blazed a trail for African-American actresses on screen, she is most notably known for portraying our characters and telling our stories. From Betty Shabazz and Tina Turner, to even Bernie Harris (the revenge seeking, scorned wife in Waiting to Exhale), Bassett proves that she is potent and powerful.
In her new film, Training Day director Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen (in theaters March 22), she is the director of the Secret Service during a terrorist attack on the White House, where the president is kidnapped. She spoke with EBONY.com about the upcoming role, portrayals of Black women and Getting to Happy, the Waiting to Exhale sequel.
EBONY: What made Olympus Has Fallen different than any other “end of the world”/doomsday flick?
Angela Bassett: I think Antoine’s attention to detail and the accessibility that he gave us to these security experts and tech advisors. They were there every step of the way with us and provided us insight, making it plausible and real even though it was fiction. He has a heightened sense of realism going on at the same time. That what makes it very edgy and draws you in.
EBONY: What drew you to this script in particular?
AB: It’s both heroic and tragic at the same time. Terrifically so. The tragedy is collective, and the heroism is each of the individual people. What my character had to do to rise to this level in terms of national security, the director of Secret Service. There are elements of commitment, compassion and integrity from each of the characters. Usually it’s the lead guy who is the hero and that’s it. This film has such an ensemble, and everybody rises to the challenges in their own particular way.
Also, I’ve been wanting to work with Antoine for a very long time. I was very pleased that he valued me for this position. For me to play in this role of national security is special. We know historically that certain offices have always looked one way, but they’re changing.
EBONY: You are someone known for the strength you bring to your characters. Do you choose those particular roles on purpose?
AB: The resilience of the human spirit is what interests me. I am attracted to going down, but then still rising up. Not staying there. I would like to play someone who’s half crazy one day. It would have to be a particularly well-written role where you descend, and it takes you under. It would have be very particular.
Sometimes when you look at the landscape and only one thing is being portrayed about you, you want to tell other stories.
I don’t know about choosing certain roles as a Black woman and what our history has been. Film lives forever, and images probably have to do with it. It’s about self-esteem and imagery when we have a variety of stories. Sometimes when you look at the landscape and only one thing is being portrayed about you, you want to tell other stories. That’s why I choose.
EBONY: What is your perception on the representations of Black women in the media?
AB: That’s all part of the landscape, of our image. Whether it’s reality TV or a video. Roles that I choose to play hopefully balance some of that. We’re all different: our upbringing, the way we see things. Some, they don’t recognize any ill in what they portray. Sometimes it remains to be seen, the impact that it will have. But as long as there’s some kind of counterbalance because of what I do. It really is about life, even though it’s entertainment, our mental/emotional spirit.
EBONY: Can you confirm a How Stella Got Her Groove Back or Waiting to Exhale sequel?
AB: Now Stella I hadn’t heard about. That’s a new one. Terry [McMillan] lives in L.A. now, I guess I need to ask her about that. But our producers from the original [Waiting to Exhale] were brought on. I think they’re working trying to get this script right. It makes me wish I recognized the impact and the weight of the movie early on. People are still asking about it, and it did so well. I wish there wasn’t such distance between the time that film was released and the sequel. Unfortunately, there’s a major missing component [Whitney Houston], and I don’t know how they will reconcile that. That’s the elephant in the room. We already had enough to deal with in losing Gregory Hines’s character. And then our dearest is now gone too.
Kimberly N. Wilson is a NYC-based entertainment writer and digital strategist. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park and completed her juris doctor from Howard University School of Law. Follow her on Twitter @kimberlynatasha.