We know Angela Bassett is one of the greatest actresses of all time. The thick layers she kills with sharp Ivy League-bred chops are precisely cut from the strict, straight halls of Yale University. Raised by a single mother social worker, Angela spins inspirational strength learned from a creative childhood into the multitude of roles she plays − whether it be the fire-blazing fury of a woman scorned in Waiting to Exhale, or the violent, fed up fight back of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It.
Yes, she should’ve won an Oscar for that 1993 role. No, a Golden Globe wasn’t enough. But now she walks toward awards season again this year with a role on American Horror Story: Coven, which is Golden Globe nominated for Best TV Movie or Mini-Series. This adds to her SAG nomination for Best Actress in a TV Movie or Mini-Series for the portrayal of Coretta Scott King in Betty and Coretta.
Accustomed to accolades, Angela Bassett shares the secrets of her success with The Shadow League. The 55-year-old iconic beauty is an example of why the best choices made in life’s fine-tuned performances, come from the commitment of unstoppable perfectionist work.
RAQIYAH MAYS: You’ve been nominated for acting awards in the past, and I’m never surprised. That is, until you pop up in films or on TV shows that I wouldn’t expect to see you in. How have your choices in characters changed from the past to the present?
ANGELA BASSETT: I don’t know… Now it’s as if you have this weight and this authority and this believability. But I think that’s based on work that you have done. So there’s something about you that is authentic or believable I think, in terms of the boss or someone in charge. So I find a lot of those offers coming.
RM: Well, you carry it well.
AB: It’s great to have a departure from that, not to be put in or stay in that zone. But have a departure from that and do something where you can play around with who she is and the vulnerability and the tentativeness and excitement.
RM: Church first lady, scientist, the boss, mom, woman in charge, you’ve nearly done everything. Is there a role out there that you still want to tackle?
AB: I always say I would like to show up in one of those movies like The Ice Queen or something. Something that’s like totally…
AB: Fantasy. That’s why I’m having so much fun with [American Horror Story:] Coven. Marie Laveau, voodoo witch queen. Voodoo and something that is not so [predictable].
RM: That’s definitely a departure from the norm. Where do you get your inspiration for that role? Because when I mention your name some folks go, “Oh, she’s always smiling. She’s always upbeat and nice…”
AB: Stage, days of theater, that’s what it reminds me of.
RM: But it’s funny. Like I’ll ask an actor, even someone of your stature, “What’s next?” And I always get the same answer, ‘I dunno…’ Even at your level, that’s got to still be a scary lifestyle.
AB: Yeah it is. I know what I’m doing until December and after that it’s up in the air. I don’t have a clue. But you have to remain ever hopeful. It’s the only business where it’s, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no.’ And you have to not take that personally. You have to continue to work on yourself, work on your craft, keep steady, and keep one foot in front of the other. Keep showing up, keep being ready for the job.
RM: Right. Just be ready for it. And brave. But it’s almost a new year. Everyone’s got their goals. What’s true north for you? Are you there? Or will there always be more?
AB: Yea there’s always more. You always want more. I think that’s the plight of being an actor. It’s even if you work most of the year, there’s still more. You still can get better, you’re still trying to be more. It’s allusive, there’s still work to be done. It’s like living. Like ‘Ok, perfect today. I might as well just stop’. NO. There’s still something we can refine and work on, every character, it’s different. If you keep growing, you’re not playing yourself. Hopefully…
RM: Right. I’m sure you watch yourself on screen and you’re your worst critic?
AB: (skaking her head up and down) Mmhmm. Mmhmmm.
RM: So who is your biggest support system?
AB: Oh my husband. He thinks I can do no wrong. He’s like, ‘It’s just a matter of time, you are the…’ I’m like, ‘Thanks for [being in] my head. Thank you, thank you!’ Cause sometime you just, like, you can get so weary about a process.
RM: How long have you been married now?
AB: 16 years.
RM: Wow. That’s a long time.
RM: So what’s your love advice?
AB: He believes in me as an actor. I believe in him as an actor. Do your thing. Satisfy your soul. He’s a good person. You know, you can’t hold someone back. ‘I applaud you, I believe in you, I trust in you. Satisfy. You’re a creative person, go do it.’ I try to say, ‘Oh you’re gonna go away and do that? You think it’s worth the pay off?’ But you don’t know what it pays off to them and to their spirit. So it’s like, “Bye! We are hanging in, holding on ‘til you get back. Cause you are a better person when you get back.”
RM: Wow. Being successful, especially in the entertainment business and trying to have a personal life can be difficult when it comes to attempting to have a relationship and balance work, love, wanting to achieve and be the best, but still wanting to make time to nurture a relationship. Some grow weary. How do you stay strong?
AB: Oh, well you entered into it knowing that divorce, separation, giving up is not an option. I was just reading something [about this] and I think it’s true. I said, ‘This is something good. I’m going to have to keep this little nugget because I’m sure it’s going to come back around, especially when my kids are 16 or older.’ What you want and what you choose are two different things. I want to be a singer, I want to be a great actress. But I choose to be [a good mate]. So when you choose something, you work at it. So many people want, but they don’t put in the work that’s required. So when it doesn’t happen there’s regret.
RM: Regretting with coulda, shoulda, woulda. People want things to fall in their lap. And it can. But you got to still work to keep it and make it what you want.
AB: I want to be a director.
RM: Do you?
AB: I don’t know if that’ll happen, that’s a lot of work. I haven’t chose that. I haven’t fully chosen it…
RM: But when you do, I’m sure it’ll be. Just like the rest of your life, name it and claim it.
AB: Thank you for that. I appreciate it. When you choose something, like being an actor or whatever your passion is for, you’ll stay up all night. You’ll do it for free. You don’t get weary at doing it. You keep working on it. So I still choose this and I’m still excited by it and I’m still working on it and I’m still trying to get better. I choose to be as good as I can be. But it takes work.