For some reason, I always thought about Angela Bassett as one of Hollywood’s best kept secret. True, her talent and beauty is recognized everywhere but, oddly, there’s an impression that she could have been more present in high-profile projects. There were some worthy peaks, but it’s frustrating that such a jewel doesn’t get to glow more often. Is it the infamous curse of trying to find good female parts (much harder for an African-American)? Or is our demoiselle just modest? Not many of our guests here have been nominated for an Academy Award (not alone win one), but Angela Bassett sure got her name on the list of Best Actress nominees in 1993 for What’s Love Got to Do with It. Some minor roles had preceeded that part. But let’s start at the beginning.
Angela Evelyn Bassett was born on August 16, 1958, in New York City. Her single mom Betty and sister D’nette moved to St.Petersburg, Florida, where Betty was a social worker. Living in housing projects, Angela and D’nette used to put up shows to entertain their aunts. It’s not surprising to note that she was member of many drama clubs in school. In fact, she decided to become an actress after seeing James Earl Jones perform on stage in 1974, during a school trip to Washington, D.C. She Graduated from Boca Ciega High School in 1976. Then, she enroled at Yale University to ultimately receive her B.A. in African-American studies in 1980. Three years later, she earned a Master of Fine Arts Degree from the Yale School of Drama. It was at Yale that she first met her future husband, Courtney B. Vance.
After jobs as a photo researcher and receptionist for a beauty salon, Angela moved to New York for some theater work. In 1985, she appeared in J.E. Franklin’s Black Girl. Other parts followed and an appearance in a television movie. She made her movie debut in 1986 for the thriller F/X as a TV reporter. The following few years were a concentration of parts for the small screen, mainly as a guest performer in series, but still doing appearances on the stage. Angela made her sci-fi debut in 1991 for Critters 4. The same year a couple of still small but worth mentionned parts came her way, in City of Hope and Boyz n the Hood.
In 1992, things began to be more interesting when Angela played Betty Shabazz in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, for which she won an Image Award for Best Supporting Actress (she played the same role in Panther three years later). This was a good omen for the next film project, which had an impressive list of hopeful actresses in line. It was the big screen bio of legendary singer Tina Turner, who had an early turbulent life and her own style of performing. Halle Berry, Whitney Houston and Robin Givens were are interested in playing the soulful singer, but Angela got the part. A merciless training began, along with a strict non-sugar diet that sculpted Angela’s already pleasant curves into a more alluring and well-muscled frame. She even broke a finger during a stunt scene (visible in the finished movie).
The resulting movie, What’s Love Got to Do with It, was a critical and popular success and praises were showered on Angela magnificently sculpted shoulders. She won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical and was nominated for an Academy Award (which went to Holly Hunter). That role was even considered one of the greatest Film Performances of all time (#95, to be precise, according to Premiere Magazine). For sure, the future looked bright.
The year 1995 offered us three worthy Angela Bassett projects. A personal cult favorite of mine, Strange Days, proposed Angela as a chauffeur/bodyguard as sexy and intelligent as we could expect from her. In fact, she acts more heroic than hero Ralph Fiennes, who gets his ass kicked too many times. Next, a gutsy part in Waiting to Exhale still remains a favorite to many female movie fans, as the character gets revenge on a cheating husband in a most satisfying way. Then came Vampire in Brooklyn, a vain Eddie Murphy production, who tried to convince us that he could be a vampire African prince. At least, Angela was absolutely gorgeous to look at as detective.
After a small but not uninteresting role in the brainy sci-fi movie Contact, Angela followed in 1998 in her first true solo leading role, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Even considered as a primo chick flick, I stayed glued to the screen to witness Angela at the peak of her beauty, looking wonderful in colorful locations. As Stella, she was a 40-year old falling in love with a 20-years old man. A visual treat in many ways.
When rumors of a X-Men movie got around, fans were already claiming that Angela Bassett would be the ultimate choice to play the character of Storm. It was that obvious. Halle Berry finally got the part and generated some controversy. Angela and Halle are more often than not always considered together when a strong female part for an African-American actress comes along (Angela could have played Dorothy Dandrige, for example). I’m still in the camp who judged that Angela had the poise to play Storm.
Angela had married Courtney B. Vance on October 12, 1997. She began a battle with infertily and strangely, her film career took a turn in playing many more historical figures. Let’s cite The Rosa Parks Story for television, where she played the title character.
In 2000, Angela returned to science-fiction for Supernova. To date, she hadn’t starred in a super box-office blockbuster, but everyone agrees that she continues to give excellent performances all around, sometimes supplying suave voice-overs in selected movie projects. She was offered the main female part in Monster’s Ball in 2001, but turned it down because she didn’t want to appear nude on screen. So Halle Berry got it… and won an Oscar!
In 2005, Angela and Courtney starred together in the play His Girl Friday at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They became the parents of twins, Bronwyn Golden and Slater Josiah, on January 27, 2006, the children carried by a surrogate mother. In 2007, the couple co-authored the book Friends: A Love Story, exposing details of their long relationship.
In 2013, Angela Basset joined the hit TV series American Horror Story. In the 2014 season, American Horror Story: Freak Show, she plays a certain circus “freak” as shown above!
You know what? I would dearly love to see Angela play a villainous character in an action movie or superhero fantasy. There’s a potential to her talent that hasn’t been much in display, and I’m sure she would be a delight in such a role, as she remains a pleasure to see work in any kind of part.
1986 F/X 1990 Kindergarten Cop 1991 Critters 4; Boyz n the Hood; City of Hope 1992 Passion Fish; Innocent Blood; Malcolm X 1993 What’s Love Got to Do with It 1995 Vampire in Brooklyn; Panther; Strange Days; Waiting to Exhale 1997 Contact 1998 How Stella Got Her Groove Back 1999 Music of the Heart 2000 Supernova; Boesman and Lena 2001 The Score 2002 Sunshine State 2003 Masked and Anonymous 2004 The Lazarus Child; Mr. 3000 2006 Akeelah and the Bee 2008 Of Boys and Men; Gospel Hill; Meet the Browns; Nothing But the Truth 2009 Notorious 2011 Jumping the Broom; Green Lantern 2012 This Means War; Olympus Has Fallen