Rolling Stone

Angela Bassett

The iconic actress on the lessons of marriage and the power of saying no


You play Ramonda, the Queen Mother of Wakanda, in the Black Panther films. Is there one person or inspiratio­n you keep in your head to play a queen?

For me, it’s just the essence of the Black woman. Our strength, resilience, patience, generosity, intellect. That’s what I try to hold onto. An amalgamati­on of all of us.

In recent years Black women have finally been recognized as pioneers in the social-justice space with #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. Does that ever feel like a burden?

No. We’ve always been the bedrock of our communitie­s. If Black women have been the bottom of the totem pole, that’s from whence we fight — when you expect nothing. We have nothing to lose but to win. We fight for ourselves, and we fight for the least.

You were nominated for an Oscar for playing Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It. What was the hardest part of that role?

It was a very physically demanding endeavor, as well as emotionall­y and spirituall­y. We were exhausted, working out every day, doing two hours of weightlift­ing and then about 10 hours of cardio with the dance movements. We would do take after take after take after take. You were just inhabiting the character, putting it on, sleeping with it, listening to her voice in your ear as you drift off to sleep. Where she inhaled, where she exhaled, every intonation. Dissecting every movement or sound that came out of her mouth, the way she laughed. I laughed like her for a few months after, realizing that “That’s not me. That’s not my laughter,” but I couldn’t let go.

You’ve also played Rosa Parks. Was that intimidati­ng?

No, it was more of an honor. The most intimidati­ng would’ve been Tina, because everywhere you went, folks would say, “Oh, she’s my favorite.” So many people had a real idea of who she is and whether you meet that ideal. With Rosa, we have her as the mother. We see her as meek and mild, the one who sat so that we could stand.

Do you think the racial reckoning of the past few years has had real effects on Hollywood?

It’s more about a door that swings open and then closes, and you just have to keep swinging it open. We always come back to those really painful moments, where Black lives are taken, or #OscarsSoWh­ite. It’s these cycles. Maybe that’s human nature, until we recognize and appreciate the difference­s.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

I have a few sayings that I go back to, and one is “You can’t dance to every record.” When I feel overwhelme­d, and people and situations are pulling, I tell myself, “You can’t dance to every record. There’s a lot of good music, but sit some of it out. Wait for your jam.” That’s exercising your “no” option. By saying no, you have the availabili­ty to say yes to things that really make your heart sing.

You’ve been married to the actor Courtney B. Vance since 1997. What has marriage taught you?

That it’s hard. It’s communicat­ion, negotiatio­n. It’s being yourself, not losing yourself, and there have been times when I felt that I have, when you are just trying to be everything. People are putting all this on you: “Oh, you look so young. You act so well. ‘Couple goals.’ ” You’re trying to maintain that,

[but] at home, you’re going through menopause and it’s like, “Could you stop breathing? Just the sound of your breathing. It’s just too loud” [ laughs]. It’s been good for me, because where my short side may be is his strength, and where his short side may be, I hope, is my strength.

It’s been just over two years since Chadwick Boseman died. What was it like returning to the Black Panther set without him?

It was emotional. We had not an instinct that anything was awry with his health. Going back and working these hours, it’s like, “We think this is hard? Imagine what Chadwick was going through.” He didn’t complain. He held it to himself and did the work. I love that it was emotional, because it means we loved him.

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is out in theaters on Nov. 11.

 ?? ILLUSTRATI­ON BY Mark Summers ??

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