Angela Bassett isn’t simply a powerhouse of entertainment, but of the world. Perhaps that is why For Your Sweetheart, a campaign that seeks to make Americans aware of the critical link between heart disease and diabetes, chose her to be its ambassador.
Bassett’s mother passed away from heart disease, so she has a very personal vendetta against the illness.
“Unfortunately, about three years ago, she died from heart disease,” the star details in an exclusive interview with EBONY. “Up until that time, the family and I, we weren’t aware of the connection between the two. Her brother also has Type 2 diabetes, so this issue is still very much a family matter to me.”
We spoke with Bassett on her life and legacy, as well as the importance of African-Americans being proactive when it comes to maintaining their health.
EBONY: You have a career that literally spans decades. How’d you get your start in acting?
Angela Bassett: I became interested around 15 years old. As a young teenage girl, you’re writing in your diaries, you’re crafting plays, but in all of that, you’re trying to express yourself. My mom was my sweetheart. She was just very encouraging of it. You know she applauded it and paved the way. She had a little bit of that [acting] in her past so she really appreciated. She saw my love for the arts and what I was doing so she was a real advocate for me.
EBONY: That’s great that you had a parent who actually nourished your passion. A lot of kids can’t say that.
AB: She didn’t consider it frivolous you know?
EBONY: And she got a chance to witness your dream come to fruition.
EBONY: I feel like every actor has a role that defined them. What’s yours?
AB: Without a doubt, that role would be “Tina Turner” in What’s Love Got to do with It? It was real career-defining for me as a person. It was also just a big part of my maturation. Everything came to bare for that moment. You’re either going to sink or swim (laughs). It was one of the most difficult journeys, but it was one that I had to go on and it still resonates today with so many audiences and with myself. Not to say it was the easiest because it certainly wasn’t the most joyful role, but it was the most gratifying and satisfying overall.
EBONY: I’ve always wondered what you thought about that role. Tina Turner is not only a legend, but she’s somebody who went through a whole lot of hell.
AB: She is someone who is immensely talented, who stood up for herself and made changes you know not too late or when she was ready to. I mean, she was just an example of what we are all capable of. The resilience that lies in each of us. We just need to awaken that.
EBONY: Yes. Speaking of capabilities and what we have to contribute to the world, when I think of your acting portfolio, you have played such diverse roles. How do you manage to remain consistent with your acting, but bring something different to each role?
AB: Well, I just try to look at each role with fresh eyes and to come with fresh enthusiasm and do whatever is required. Whatever research, whatever it needs. Each situation is different. You’re working with new actors, young actors, established actors, directors, crew, etc., so as that 15-year-old girl, I still have love for it. It still burns.
EBONY: That makes a lot of sense. Now, February is Heart Health Month and your mom, sadly, was affected by both heart disease and diabetes. Can you detail what your partnership with For Your Sweetheart means for you personally?
AB: Yes. When this campaign was brought to me, it just seemed, for me, like it was a fitting tribute to my mom. I chose to become involved because she had Type 2 diabetes and, unfortunately, about three years ago, she died from heart disease. Up until that time, the family and I, we weren’t aware of the connection between the two. Her brother also has Type 2 diabetes, so this issue is still very much a family matter to me. I had a conversation with my uncle about his heart disease risk and you know I just wanted to encourage him, as well as others, to do something about it. Once you understand the risks, you have more of an opportunity to take action.
EBONY: I 100 percent agree. You’ve been working out for as long as you’ve been in the spotlight, and I imagine that you have always prioritized your health.
AB: I have, and perhaps a lot of it probably has to do with the position that I’m in as an actor with my body being my instrument. Mine is the body, the voice. So, I think I’m very fortunate in that, but it’s a real blessing that I was able to get involved and to really get this message out. With Type 2 diabetes, you are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease. That’s a huge number, so I was really fortunate to be apart of For Your Sweetheart and the nationwide movement to get the word out.
EBONY: Encouragement is just a portion of solving the problem. What are some things that people can do to be proactive regarding heart health?
AB: Well, definitely talk to your doctor immediately about the risks and what you can do to manage those risks. Learn how you can take action, then take action. I would also like to encourage people to go to foryoursweetheart.com and take the “Heart You” quiz. So it’s very simple. Sign up to receive more information about the link between Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
EBONY: Great. Any last words of encouragement?
AB: If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for the loved ones who want you around. There are very simple things that you can do, but a big motivator is those who care about us.
Catch Angela Bassett in Black Panther in theaters on Friday, Feb. 17.