Art is something Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett is passionate about. So, when correspondent Michelle Miller met up with Bassett at L.A.'s Broad Museum to see the exhibit "Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983," Bassett – an avid collector herself – was in her element.
"I love a room with art," she said. "I love living with it. Mine are what I'm attracted to. Some abstracts. This is a bit of abstract, but you can see the picture and you can get the figurative aspect of it."
This connoisseur who marvels at a canvas has created plenty of her own art on the big screen, playing roles that are fierce, sultry and iconic. Her latest project is "Otherhood," a new Netflix comedy. Bassett plays one of three moms who feel forgotten by their adult sons.
"And so, they set off to New York to knock on these kids' door and to insert themselves back into their lives," she said. "But a funny thing happens: They come into their own maturity, these mothers, as well as the sons. So, everyone sort of grows. It starts out as one thing, but it ends up something completely different than what they expected."
To watch a trailer for "Otherhood" click on the video player below.
Bassett's own upbringing was molded by two strong women. Born into what she says was an unhappy home in New York City, Bassett was soon sent by her mother to North Carolina to live with her Aunt Golden.
"She loved young people," said Bassett. "She instilled that confidence in me that I know in this lifetime someone saw me and loved me completely, utterly, without a doubt."
Still, it wasn't her mom, and that was hard on Angela: "I remember becoming a little angry when my mother would call on the phone. I'd say, 'I don't have a mom,' and hang up, because it was, I felt, I guess maybe a little sense of abandonment. And then she came to get me."
They moved to a housing project in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she got to know her mother Betty's style of parenting, which was: "Soldier up. You are not average, you know? If you're gonna do something, it's worth doing right or not at all. That was her."
Betty insisted that Angela take her studies seriously.
Miller asked, "Were you interested in acting in high school?"
"Yes, I came to it, think about 15," said Bassett. "I felt a freedom. Here was a way that I could express myself. Oooh, the joys, the pain, the this, the that, you know?"
But studying that at Yale was something she was reluctant to do.
"For a while I tried to push it to the side, because as my Aunt Golden said, 'Don't waste a Yale education on theater, darling.' And then I realized that sometimes when you're not following your passion, it's so much more difficult!" she laughed. "Trying to be a molecular biophysicist!"
Bassett stayed on at Yale to get a masters in drama, and then began a journey, first to New York, then to L.A., familiar to lots of ambitious actors, with bit parts to match – the reporter ("F/X"), the flight attendant ("Kindergarten Cop").
"Well, everything sort of was a stair step," she said. "Everything sort of on the bridge to the next job, the next job."
Such as "Boyz n the Hood." "It's a very small part, you know, 'The mother of…'" she said.
That role, in director John Singleton's acclaimed tale of three boys growing up in South Central Los Angeles, won her rave reviews. So did her portrayal of Betty Shabazz, wife of civil rights activist Malcolm X, in the Spike Lee biopic.
Then, it was showtime. Bassett was cast to play rock legend Tina Turner in a harrowing story about her soaring talent and violent first husband, Ike Turner, in "What's Love Got to Do With It."
"That was the opportunity that, if it didn't go right, it was gonna go so horribly wrong! If it didn't go right, it was gonna go so far left!" she laughed.
But her performance won her an Academy Award nomination, and led to a string of successful roles, including Stella finding her groove with a younger man; and a furious wife ridding herself of a cheating husband in "Waiting to Exhale."
Miller asked, "I've read that you said, 'The characters I tend to play are women who don't hesitate for even a moment.' Are you like that?"
"No, I hesitate," she laughed. "I cogitate. I ruminate."
You might say that Bassett hesitated when she met her future husband, fellow actor Courtney B. Vance, at Yale.
Were there sparks flying back then? "No, no, absolutely not," she said.
But when they met again 14 years later, Bassett liked what she saw: "Oh, wow. Super-nice guy, who really cares about people, and that made an impression on me."
They married in 1997, and they're raising twins as they both juggle their busy careers.
She said, "We're both doing what we love. And you don't have to apologize for it. Well, not to him. I've apologized to the kids a couple times (LAUGHS), you know, just testin' the waters. Just fishin'. And they say, 'No mom, you love what you do. You're great at what you do.'"
It helps when you've starred as Queen Ramonda in "Black Panther," last year's top-grossing movie … and you can take your kids to the premiere.
And to stay close to home, Bassett has a steady gig in L.A., starring on television in "911," playing a policewoman in a drama about first responders.
With her TV series and new movie, 60-year-old Angela Bassett is one busy lady, and she likes it that way.
When Miller asked if she will keep moving, Bassett replied, "As my uncle said when I moved to California, I was coming for six weeks and then gonna go back to New York, and I said, 'I don't know,' he said, 'Don't get off a winning horse!'"
For more info:
- "Otherhood" (Netflix)
- "911" returns to Fox on Sept. 23
- Follow im.angelabassett on Instagram
Exhibition: "Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983" at The Broad museum in Los Angeles (through September 1)
Story produced by Reid Orvedahl.