In her long and varied career, Angela Bassett has walked in the shoes of many historic women — from civil rights trailblazers Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King to rock music icon Tina Turner to legendary voodoo queen Marie Laveau.
“I’ve really had some success with the live folks, so I guess that’s my forte,” Angela, 62, who earned an Oscar nomination for 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It, exclusively tells Closer. She admits that playing a nonfictional character can be tricky. “With a real person, they lay the groundwork of who they are and where they are going, but it can also be tough because there are boundaries and you have to tell the truth about them. With a fictional character, there is a great deal more freedom.”
Among the notable fictive characters Angela has inhabited is the inscrutable director of the CIA in 2018’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout and Ramonda, the elegant Wakanda queen of the superhero film Black Panther. Angela is also set to return to television for the fourth season of 9-1-1, a show she produces, set to premiere on Jan. 18, 2021.
Keep scrolling below for Closer‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Angela Basset.
Did you always dream of becoming an actress when you were growing up?
I fell in love with all things dramatic like poetry, dramatic reading and lip-synching to my favorite songs in my teen years. My mother [Betty Jane] really encouraged it. If they were doing a little play at church or at the St. Petersburg [Florida] theater, even if the role only had four lines, she would make sure I got there on time for the audition.
It sounds like your mom was your greatest fan!
She was always my biggest supporter. When I decided to go to Yale University, she was like, “It’s great that you’re going to college, but make sure you follow your dreams.” She never tried to talk me out of anything or get me to think more practical. I appreciated that later in life.
It sounds like your mother had a profound impact on your life.
Growing up, we didn’t have much, but she was very resourceful. She was a hard worker. If something was worth doing, she said you should do it well and to the best of your ability. She always held her head up with that sense of dignity and grace despite everything.
You’ve said that she is the reason you got involved with the Know Diabetes by Heart campaign.
Yes, she developed type 2 diabetes later in life, around 45 or 50. Although she tried to manage it, it put her at a greater risk to develop heart disease or to have a stroke. Unfortunately, we lost her six years ago to a heart condition. So I’m using my voice and platform to educate and bring awareness to the 230 million people who are living with this condition as a tribute to my mother.
What’s the message you are trying to get out?
The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association have come together to encourage people to talk to their healthcare provider about their risks. You might think you are fine, but it’s important to talk with your doctor and see what is really going on. I’d love for Closer readers to go to KnowDiabetesByHeart.org and sign up for health information and enter to win a conversation with me in the new year.
How do you stay healthy?
I stay up on my doctor’s appointments. I also try to do what’s best in terms of what I put in my mouth, how I move my body and finding ways to de-stress. We’re living in stressful times. Breathe deeply and have faith. It’s going to be all right.
You’ve done so much in your career so far. What is left on your bucket list?
I’d like to get back on the Broadway stage — theater was my first love. I’m also excited about producing other projects in which I may not be on screen. Being behind the scenes and bringing more voices to the conversation is very exciting. I’d perhaps like to direct again.
You directed two episodes of American Horror Story. Do you enjoy being behind the camera?
Yes. I love giving others a platform to express themselves and to show off their talents. That’s thrilling to me and I love to encourage that. I get very, very excited.
Your husband of more than 20 years is actor Courtney B. Vance. Is it harder or easier to have a two-actor marriage?
I don’t know, because it’s the only marriage I’ve had! We have found ways to make it work. We have a shorthand, I never have to go into too much detail about what I’m going through on a set. He understands, so that’s been easy. And if I have a love scene with someone, you know, we just understand.
It sounds like mutual understanding plays a big part in your relationship.
Yes. He’s a great actor and he loves what he does. We both agree if that’s your passion, you have to allow each other to go as far on the journey as they desire.
You have twin teenagers at home. Has that been challenging?
The best day of my life is the day my children were born. The main thing I want is to raise two beautiful, brilliant individuals who carry themselves well, have potential and who won’t let anyone stop them from going for it.
What has motherhood taught you?
It helps you to appreciate your own parents and how precious life is. And it’s made me glad that I am an actress, because I can cry on cue and use those skills to get what I want as a mom! [Laughs]
Has dealing with fame ever been difficult?
I’m the daughter my mother raised in St. Petersburg. Very working-class place, Southern folk, inviting and gracious and all of that. So I’ve always tried to maintain who I am and not let fame change me.
If you could give your younger self advice, what would you say?
Keep falling in love. Keep wonder and passion alive. It’s important to always keep that spirit of optimism.
What is the greatest life lesson you have learned?
Everyone has something beautiful to share. Don’t mistake your presence for the event. Everyone has something to bring to the moment.
— Reporting by Katie Bruno and Evan Real