Angela Bassett on Stepping Behind the Camera to Direct Whitney

Ingela Ratledge
Lifetime

Whitney

When you tune in to a Whitney Houston biopic, chances are you're not expecting to find a love letter to Bobby Brown. But that's exactly what Whitney–Lifetime's movie about the late diva, who passed away in 2012 following a battle with substance abuse–delivers. Directed by Angela Bassett and starring Yaya DaCosta (Lee Daniels' The Butler), it focuses on 1989-95, when Houston and the R&B singer fell hard for each other–and then began to fall apart. (They divorced in 2007.) Bassett talks about stepping behind the camera to pay homage to a legend.

You're known for playing famous women–including Tina Turner and Rosa Parks–in biopics. What made you want to direct this one?

I was having lunch with a producer friend, and when he told me he was working on this, I said, "Wow! I wish I could direct it!" A couple days later, he called and said, "Did you really mean it?" I held on to the script for a while before I even read it, because I was afraid it wouldn't be good.

Why cover such a brief time in Houston's life?

It was a five-year, sweet, beautiful spot. Man, she loved Bobby completely and dearly then–and they had the birth of their child together [Bobbi Kristina, in 1993]. We all know how her story ends–and it doesn't end pretty–so I wanted to show how it began.

In 1995, you and Houston costarred in Waiting to Exhale. What stands out in your mind about her?

She felt comfortable in her skin. Celebrity is so hard and unnatural at times, it can make you a little prickly. But I remember the way she would throw her head back and laugh. And when Bobby came with her to the set, I was impressed. He was known as this bad boy, but he was the opposite–calm, lovely, respectful.

The love scenes in this movie are pretty racy for basic cable!

We were all up in Whitney and Bobby's business anyway. Lifetime said to push the limits, so I went for it. A little blush is good for the cheeks!

Whitney, Saturday, Jan. 17, 8/7c, Lifetime

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