By Courtney Garcia, theGrio.com (Article originally published on theGrio.com.)
Few film roles exceed Angela Bassett’s qualifications, even those intended for a man.
The Oscar-nominated actress returns to the screen this month in “Olympus Has Fallen” portraying the director of the Secret Service, a position never occupied by a female and a character initially written for a male actor.
But so what, Bassett says. There’s really nothing special about it other than it’s never been done.
“It’s significant in that, in this fictionalized world, this barrier has been obliterated,” the 54-year-old actress tells theGrio. “At times, we’re fond of saying that life imitates art or art imitates life. Hopefully, one day life will imitate this art, where it’s just the best person for the job.”
The film, opening in theaters Friday, imagines a colossal terrorist attack on the White House in which the entire capital city is overtaken by Korean extremists. It is the latest project by “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua, and brings the action thriller to the max with its continually rising stakes and shifting power struggles. Bassett’s character, alongside the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) and other military commanders, is forced to negotiate with the enemy and make life or death decisions on behalf of the country when the president (Aaron Eckhart) is taken hostage.
From the outset, Bassett seems quite comfortable in her high-level get-up, regardless if she is the first of her kind. As the actress points out, change in the world sometimes begins as ideas set in motion by the camera, and perhaps that’s where this leads.
“We’ve seen us say, ‘Oh, we’ve never had an African-American male as president of the United States,’ when we saw Morgan in ‘Deep Impact,’ or Dennis Haysbert in ’24,’” she recalls. “‘Oh wow! They’re bold right there! What is that?’ But then you begin to see these images, and it’s not so odd or scary.”
As a movie star who has filled the shoes of many iconic figures – Rosa Parks, Dr. Betty Shabazz, and Tina Turner to name a few – Bassett can certainly traverse the line between truth and fiction. Particularly by playing Turner in 1993’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” Bassett has recognized the significance her job can have in the lives of others.
In an interview this March, she was asked about the impact that role bore on the plight of abused women, and also addressed concerns with the very public display of domestic violence that played out in the Chris Brown–Rihanna relationship.
Bassett described the situation as “disturbing,” and what’s more, she can relate because her own mother had a similar experience.
“It’s wrong,” she comments about Brown’s actions. “It’s naïve. It’s evil. It’s no good. I hope he learned a lesson. I hope they both learned a lesson. My mother taught me [about it] when I was younger because she had gone through it in her second marriage. She annulled it after seven days because he hit her. And it was like, ‘Oh ma, we want to have a dad! We want to live in a house and have dreams!’ She said, ‘Grown people don’t beat grown people,’ and it was as simple as that. Communicate. Talk. You’re you. I’m me. We don’t beat each other. It just doesn’t happen and that stuck for me, so hopefully they’ll come to that.”
Nevertheless, the actress says she can understand the two singers’ ongoing romance.
“Do I understand the impetuousness of youth?” She comments. “They’re just young and passionate about each other. Sometimes you can just have a thing for someone. They can be wrong for you, but it’s just something; it’s a spark. You’ve got to go through it. You didn’t get to finish it up. And it might be finished in years or hopefully it won’t play out to something detrimental to both of them for the rest of their lives…Sometimes you’ve got to allow people to learn it without a doubt, and evidently this is what they’ve got to do. It’s hard because [we should] leave them alone, but of course some things are wrong and uncalled for.”
Watch the ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ Trailer Now
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Conversely, Bassett’s 16-year marriage to actor Courtney B. Vance has managed to stay strong and avoid controversy over the years. The couple has 7-year-old twins together and, according to Bassett, make it work by “negotiating.” In fact, she says she finds it surprising that so many other Hollywood partners claim to avoid conflicting opportunities in the business, as it’s something they deal with frequently.
And that’s when the real love and dedication kicks in.
“It’s recognizing the other person is someone with passion and dreams and strengths and weaknesses, and allowing them to follow their path,” she explains. “That’s how you negotiate along the way. And you just get in it. When we started, we said, divorce is not an option. You just take certain things off the table. Unless they’re crazy, then you put it back on the table!”
Accordingly, Bassett reportedly turned down the chance to star alongside Cicely Tyson in the new Broadway revival of “The Trip to the Bountiful” due to scheduling overlaps. She will, however, appear in Kasi Lemmons’ upcoming film, “Black Nativity,” a retelling of the nativity story featuring an African-American cast, due this year.
All in all, Bassett appears to take work-life balance in stride, and opportunities come her way irrespectively. In addition to her film work, she’s also an active supporter of the Obama administration, though ultimately finds the government to be “confusing” and layered in complexity. It’s something she learned in this latest on-screen endeavor. Her biggest concern for the world then is simply “evil in men’s hearts.”
She says, “We have the capability of destroying ourselves; I hope we don’t.”
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