Angela Bassett - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Harlem, New York, 16 August 1958. Education: Attended Yale University, B.A., 1980; Yale School of Drama, M.F.A., 1982. Career: 1980s—appeared on Broadway in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Joe Turner's Come and Gone ; TV appearances include A Man Called Hawk , The Cosby Show , Guiding Light , Tour of Duty ; 1986—first on-screen film credit in F/X ; 1992—in TV mini-series The Jacksons: An American Dream . Awards: Golden Globe Award, for What's Love Got to Do with It , 1994; Black Women of Achievement Key Honoree, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1994. Agent: ICM Artists Ltd., 40 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019–4001, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:


Doubletake (Jud Taylor—for TV)


F/X (Mandel) (as TV reporter)


Kindergarten Cop (Reitman) (as stewardess); Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer (Satlof—for TV) (as Carla Peters); In the Best Interest of the Child (David Greene—for TV) (as Lori); Family of Spies (Gyllenhaal—for TV); Challenger (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Cheryl McNair)


Boyz N the Hood (Singleton) (as Reva Styles); City of Hope (Sayles) (as Reesha); One Special Victory (Stuart Cooper—for TV); Line of Fire: The Morris Dees Story (Korty—for TV) (as Pat); Fire! Trapped on the 37th Floor (Robert Day—for TV) (as Allison)


Innocent Blood (Landis) (as U.S. Attorney Sinclair); Malcolm X (Spike Lee) (as Betty Shabazz); Passion Fish (Sayles) (as Dawn/Rhonda); Critters 4 (Harvey) (as Fran); Locked Up: A Mother's Rage (Rooney—for TV) (as Willie); The Heroes of Desert Storm (Ohlmeyer—for TV) (as Lt. Jeter)


What's Love Got to Do with It (Brian Gibson) (as Tina Turner)


Panther (Van Peebles) (cameo as Betty Shabazz); Vampire in Brooklyn (Craven) (as Rita); Strange Days (Bigelow) (as Mace Mason); Waiting to Exhale (Whitaker) (as Bernadine)


Contact (Zemeckis) (as Rachel Constantine)


How Stella Got Her Groove Back (Sullivan) (as Stella); Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery (Bagwell, Bellows—mini for TV) (as Narrator)


Wings Against the Wind (Palcy) (as Bessie Coleman); Music of the Heart (Craven) (as Janet Williams); Whispers (Beverly and Dereck Joubert) (as Groove); Our Friend, Martin (Smiley and Trippetti—anim) (as voice of Miles' mom)

Angela Bassett (second from right) with (l-r) Loretta Devine, Whitney Houston, and Lela Rochon in Waiting to Exhale
Angela Bassett (second from right) with (l-r) Loretta Devine, Whitney Houston, and Lela Rochon in Waiting to Exhale


Supernova (Hill) (as Kaela Evers); Boesman and Lena (Berry) (as Lena)


The Score (Oz) (as Actress)


By BASSETT: articles—

"Angela Bassett Takes on Tina Turner," interview with Theresa Sturley, in Interview (New York), June 1993.

Interview with James Ryan, in GQ (New York), September 1995.

"Angela Bassett Is Not a Diva!," interview with Karen Grigsby Bates, in Essence (New York), December 1995.

On BASSETT: articles—

Zoglin, Richard, "Out of the Shadows at Last," in Time (New York), 21 June 1993.

Collier, Aldore, " What's Love Got to Do with It : Larry Fishburne and Angela Bassett Portray Ike and Tina Turner in New Movie," in Ebony (Chicago), July 1993.

Testino, Mario, "Just You Wait," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), October 1995.

Webster, Andy, filmography in Premiere (New York), December 1995.

Als, H., "A Crossover Star," in New Yorker (New York), April 29/May 6, 1996.

* * *

When Angela Bassett was 15 years old, she went on a field trip to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with the Upward Bound program for gifted students. It was here that she saw James Earl Jones in a production of the play Of Mice and Men , and she knew that she wanted to act. In talking about the performance, she said, "I just wept. I thought, if I could make someone feel the way I feel right now. . . ." Bassett grew up in a single-parent household in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her sister D'Nette and her mother Betty, where she was the first African-American student accepted in her high school's National Honor Society. She credits her mother with instilling in her a strict work ethic, a firm grounding, and a strong sense of self. These traits are evident in the roles she has chosen—many of which are strong mothers—and in the intensity and commitment she brings to the acting process.

Her acting career began on the stage for which she was trained at the prestigious Yale School of Drama under the tutelage of veteran director Lloyd Richards. She acted in two August Wilson plays on Broadway before making her foray onto the screen. Her first screen credit is an unmemorable small part with one line of dialogue in the thriller F/X . Shortly after, she migrated to California, and while guesting on numerous television shows, she also began making screen appearances. The first role that got her noticed was as Reva, the driven mother of the film's protagonist Tre, in Boyz N the Hood . Bassett obviously identified with the strong-willed mother who sends her son to live with his father so he has an adult male role model. She forged a friendship with co-star Laurence Fishburne on the set, and this bond would prove to serve her well later.

Bassett had supporting roles in two of John Sayles's small-budget, but well-regarded films, City of Hope and Passion Fish . The next role that garnered her attention, however, was as Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcolm X, in Spike Lee's film about the widely known activist. She brought a sense of dignity to the role, and in the process helped the film transcend a script calling mainly for large doses of humbleness. Bassett played a legendary figure again when she took on the role of Katherine Jackson in the television mini-series The Jacksons: An American Dream . The drama spans Jackson's life from age 15 to 55. Bassett received mainly positive notices for her performance, but her next role is the one that catapulted her to fame.

She won the coveted star role of Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love Got to Do with It over numerous other popular actresses. To prepare for the role, Bassett physically trained for more than a month. She worked with dialect coaches, and studied hours of videotape of Turner's performances. Bassett's rigorous work ethic paid off. She won the Golden Globe for her riveting portrayal, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Once again, Bassett was able to bring a sense of dignity, vulnerability, and mercy to a character who could have been seen purely as a victim of domestic abuse. It was of utmost importance that the audience understand why Turner—through years of violence—would stay with Ike (played by Fishburne, who accepted the role in large part because Bassett was playing Turner). Bassett accomplished this by showing Turner's sense of loyalty and grace. Bassett seems to have an uncanny knack at showing opposite emotions in her characters, a skill essential to good acting. It is also to her credit that the film is never about an actress playing Tina Turner. Bassett seemed to become Turner. This is most evident at the end of the film when Turner herself appears in a stage number, and the illusion of reality of the film is not broken.

In 1995, Bassett was seen in two major films in very different roles. She was cast opposite Ralph Fiennes in the action-adventure Strange Days , set at the end of the millennium amidst racial wars. Her heroic character—another single parent—carries equal emotional heft to Fiennes's lead role. Her most recent film is Waiting to Exhale , which has been strongly criticized for male bashing. Bassett has said, however, that was not her or the director Forest Whitaker's intention. The film also received praise for its strong, black female roles. In a time when there are more, but still too few good, female roles, Bassett seems to find them, and to be able to cross racial boundaries.

—Anita Gabrosek

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