Oscar nominee Angela Bassett looks back at 'grueling' Tina Turner role, 'Malcolm X,' 'Stella' and more
The "Wakanda Forever" star talks about her $750 role in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and pays tribute to late "Black Panther" co-star Chadwick Boseman.
Warning: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spoilers ahead.
In the 35-plus years Angela Bassett has been making movies, she has never once lost her groove. After beginning with bit parts in films (F/X, Kindergarten Cop) and television shows (The Cosby Show, Thirtysomething), the native New Yorker's star exploded in the early '90s thanks to simmering roles in a trifecta of seminal films: Boyz n the Hood, Malcolm X and What's Love Got to Do With It.
Though Bassett's parts have run the gamut from housewife to pop star, there has been one common denominator to them all: They are tough-as-nails, fiercely independent women and clear spiritual offshoots of the 64-year-old herself.
That can especially be said of Queen Ramonda, the Wakanda royal and mother to Chadwick Boseman's eponymous superhero first introduced in Marvel’s 2018 sensation Black Panther.
Bassett returned for 2022's deeply emotional sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — a film that served as a tribute both to Boseman (who died of colon cancer in 2020) and his character T'Challa, who perishes offscreen in the story's opening minutes. It also could ultimately prove Bassett's swan song in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Ramonda was killed in flood brought by the invading Talokanil — though death is never certain in the MCU.
Regardless, Bassett delivered a powerhouse performance as Wakanda's grieving Queen mother, and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (her second nom and first since 1993's What's Love Got to Do With It). Bassett made history as the first Marvel performer ever nominated in the acting categories, and is considered a favorite — neck-and-neck with first-time Everything Everywhere All At Once nominee Jamie Lee Curtis — to win.
During a Role Recall interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above), Bassett shared some first-hand emotions with us from the sets of her most beloved projects, updated here with some recent thoughts from her on Black Panther and Soul.
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Four years after a bit part as "TV Reporter" in the 1986 action favorite F/X, Bassett was still paying her dues when she turned up in one scene as "Stewardess" in this Arnold Schwarzenegger family hit. "I was glad to have a job. I think they paid me like $750," she said. "So $750 and Arnold Schwarzenegger? I was aces."
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Bassett's big breakout came in this groundbreaking drama from first-time director John Singleton. And having done mostly episodic TV work, she was well aware it was a break. "He was just very young, and bright-eyed," Bassett said of Singleton, who would go on to become the youngest filmmaker ever nominated for a Best Director Oscar and died in 2019.
Malcolm X (1992)
The actress held her own opposite Oscar nominee Denzel Washington as Malcolm X's wife, Dr. Betty Shabazz, in Spike Lee's acclaimed biopic. She recalled how much the film meant to her and her cast mates: "We were all so enormously attached to the making of it. We were so respectful in that moment," she said. "We carried the spirit of that time and of that movement with us."
What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)
Bassett earned much love and an Oscar nomination for her fierce portrayal of singer Tina Turner in the big-screen biopic. "It was so demanding, emotionally, every day," said Bassett. "[There was no] easy day or easy week or easy setup. Every day, every scene, emotionally grueling."
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
After playing one iconic songstress in What's Love Got To Do With It, Bassett co-starred with another (Whitney Houston) in Forest Whitaker's adaption of Terry McMillan's bestselling book. She recalled improvising her way through the drama’s famous car-burning scene, and cited her tough-talking mother as her character's inspiration.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)
Bassett had a role in choosing which young actor her character, an older woman on a Caribbean vacation, would seduce in this popular rom-com also based on a McMillan book. "There was something about Taye [Diggs]," she said. "He was just the whole package. And I was very happy to have this handsome co-star."
Bassett played the jazz-singing star who gives Jamie Foxx's lowly music teacher his big break in the Oscar-winning animated comedy Soul, which marked Pixar's first predominantly Black voice cast and arrived just months after the racial reckoning that followed the police killing of George Floyd. "We're so much more alike than we are different, but there are negative voices out there that are harping on the differences as if there’s something a matter with that," Bassett told Yahoo Entertainment in an interview prior to the film's release. "And there is not… So I think it's a beautiful project."
Black Panther (2018) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Bassett paid profound tribute to her late co-star and onscreen son Boseman during a 2020 interview with Yahoo Entertainment. "He gave a full measure of himself, of his abilities, of his talent, of his heart, of his spirit, of his deep abiding limitless soul to that project," she told us. "He was truly one of the most special individuals, creations, that I've ever met in my life."
This interview was originally published on March 1, 2016 and has been updated.