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April 2006
Akeelah and the Bee: An Interview with Angela Bassett

Akeelah and the Bee: An Interview with Angela Bassett
By Wilson Morales

The roles of women in Hollywood are not improving, especially for leading ladies. For the most part, lately we are seeing them play some comic book or video game heroine such as in Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and more recently Silent Hill. It's only during the fall when we see a few strong roles out there like last year's Walk The Line or Transamerica. Angela Bassett is one of these leading ladies we rarely see on the big screen these days, but when she's on, it's a film were watching. This is the lady who has played Katherine Jackson, Dr. Betty Shabazz twice, Tina Turner and Rosa Parks. Not mention the leading roles in Waiting to Exhale, and How Stella Got Her Groove. These roles and films are enough to last a lifetime, but Bassett can still reinvent herself in every film she does. Bassett even had a strong supporting role in the TV series, Alias. In her latest film, Bassett is reunited with Laurence Fishburne for a third time (Boyz N the Hood, What's Love Got To Do With It) in the inspiration film, "Akeelah and the Bee". In the film, Bassett plays the mother of a gifted child, played by newcomer Keke Palmer, and reluctantly agrees to let her participate in the National Spelling Bee Competition. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Bassett talks about her character, working with Fishburne again, and her upcoming projects.

What attracted you to this film?

Angela Bassett: Well, I just loved the story; a little girl against all odds making it. I also loved the role of her mother and the journey that she has to take, to go from her own personal fears and disappointment and through her child she gained some measure of courage herself. I got to twist and turn a little bit. I think it's a good thought to put out there; a woman who's up against some challenges and her child just showing her the way and being a little beacon, a little light for her.

Is that how you saw the character; a woman struggling to maintain a family of three kids?

AB: I actually have 4 kids and a grandkid in the film. There's the one daughter who had the baby as a young girl and there's the son who's flirting with disaster with his friends and there's other son who's off in the army, and he's doing pretty good but she's afraid of what he's doing. He's flying planes and helicopters, which can crash. She has this one line where she says, "Let them white boys go up there, and you stay on the ground."

It's interesting that your character is hesitant to let your young be a spelling bee when she let another be educated in the army, which has its dangers.

AB: I believe she wants success for the daughter but she has to balance and juggle so many things. She has a job and 4 kids. As I was thinking about it, in how to portray her, this is my one child who is self checked and I don't have to concentrate on. She's a good kid and basically has it together. I don't think she will get pregnant or hang out with gangs. She's flirting with it a little bit, but the mom is at work all the time. She's sad and distracted cause she loved her husband dearly and she's still grieving over that and trying to get through that. So, a lot of things can fall through the cracks and in her attempt to protect, she goes over the line and say things that aren't positive. I think she means to be positive, but sometimes you don't have 4 hours to explain yourself. She has to say it in a moment and in a line. I got some of that growing up, myself, with my mom, a single parent. I know my loves to support and encourages me and when she does, it's such a great feeling, but a s kid, you test the boundaries and your mother has to pull your coattails and sometimes you can't say it with sugar. You have to hit them with a hammer, get the points, switch lanes, and travel straight. You have fears and concerns for your child. She's incredibly proud that her is a pilot, but planes fall out of the air; so that comment addresses that; although she's very proud of him and what he's been able to achieve.

How was it working with Keke (Palmer)?

AB: Wonderful, really wonderful. She's a young actress with great instincts as an actress. We really bonded and had a wonderful time. I behaved like her momma and she listened to me. You have craft services and soda pop everywhere and they go for it and I have as a grown person, but I would say something like, 'Keke, I want you to drink a glass of water before you drink a soda". (Laughs) In terms of the acting, as good as any adult I have worked with honestly.

This is the 3rd time you have worked with Laurence Fishburne, but the first in which you weren't husband and wife. How was it to work with him again?

AB: It's a blessing to have a third opportunity to work with someone whose artistry and instincts and just who they are as a human being you respect and love so much, so it's just an absolute pure joy.

In being a parent of children now, does it have a different effect on you in regards to this film?

AB: Not yet, my kids are just babies. There's no discipline. I'm just trying to schedule. Maybe you feel the pull of not enough time and not enough hours in the day to get everything done, and that's what she felt like. Not having enough time in the day to attend to everyone that needed attending to. You got to take care of the needs immediately.

Most recently you were in the CBS movie, "Time Bomb" with David Arquette. Why haven't we seen you on the big screen so often when you are one of the leading ladies in the business?

AB: I get a lot of offers for roles, but leading roles or roles that keep you doing what you want and 'Time Bomb" was one of them. That was an opportunity that met my criteria, whatever that is. I've had a couple of offers, but timing is everything, and I got a couple of offers for 2 movies right now but my babies would have been three weeks old so it's priorities at different times in your life.

Is doing an animated film like "Meet The Robinsons" easier to work on than live action film?

Angela Bassett: It's been very easy to do. It's different than working on-screen. They take forever. They take years to complete. Who knew?

How long did you work on it?

AB: I'm still working on it.

What's your role in the film?

AB: I'm little Robinson's foster mother and trying to know him, and love him. He's a different little kid and I'm trying to find talent for him and trying to keep his spirit up; and allow him to blow us up in the process because he's a little Einstein. But it takes a long time to draw those characters out and get the right flavor that they are looking for; so they draw them out and that takes a while and then they'll call me up and say, "Can you come in for a couple of hours". Just when you think it might be over, it could be 2,3, or 4 months and you'll get a call to come in for a day. I don't know when it will be done.

I'm excited to read that you are going to be working with Don Cheadle, Mos Def, Danny Glover on a project that Glover's been trying to do for a long time.

AB: Yes, the movie's called "Toussaint" and I'll be playing the wife of Toussaint. Danny said that he's been trying for 20 years to get this done. I love the script. I love Danny and I love that group of artists. It makes sense. It's why I do this. It's what inspires me. That's why I said yes and I hope we get this started soon.

What happened to your uncredited role in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"? Was there more of you in the film that we didn't see?

AB: The director (Doug Liman) called and said that he had an idea that the movie would be great if the camera stayed on Angelina and Brad. Like on their faces and the cameras read in between them evidently so he called and he hadn't test it, but he thought it would be great for the cameras to stay on their faces. Listen, it's his movie. If that's what he says, so be it.

Why should we go see "Akeelah and The Bee"?

AB: I think the authencity of this girl, in this neighborhood, in this urban city, and her dreams and aspirations and her ability. We all have an ability of some sort.

AKEELAH AND THE BEE opens on April 28th, 2006


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