When Angela Bassett arrives to our cover shoot, she does the unthinkable: she shows up early. There are no airs—she got ready at-home with her loyal glam squad—there are no requests, besides a black coffee, and there is, thankfully, no drama, even though the rest of us are scrambling to finish prep. “I’m ready when you are,” the 61-year-old says, taking a deep, almost meditative-like breath as she steps in front of the camera, bringing that same energy she projects on the big screen to a still photo shoot.
To say she is busy is an understatement: Besides being a mom to 13-year-old twins Bronwyn and Slater with husband Courtney B. Vance, there’s tomorrow’s flight to Berlin to start filming Gunpowder Milkshake, a female-driven action film Bassett says will be “strong and powerful for women.” There was also last weekend’s talk as a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
Soon, there will be her sort of start-of-fall, back-to-the-grind regular gig of Fox’s 9-1-1, what she refers to as “a feature film every week.” And then there is her first Netflix film, Otherhood, featuring Felicity Huffman and Patricia Arquette, available now.
“Which child am I most passionate about work-wise? All of them. But this one [Otherhood] is special because it hits on my mother’s birthday and we filmed it in New York—is there anything better?
“But you never know…” she trails. “Of course, you do this kind of work and you hope that there is an audience of people—hopefully a diverse audience who’ll get a chance to see you, who’ll come to know you and appreciate your work and become fans and all of that, but you never know who will like it or how it will turn out.”
A surprising admission for one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actresses, maybe, but Bassett readily admits she feels as if she’s continually striving to grow and get herself out there when it comes to her career.
“Of course, when they say, ‘I wrote this for you,’ it’s such a tremendous boost to anyone’s confidence, but it’s all about faith—you don’t know if a project will fly or if it will fail. You always go into it with the highest of hopes and expectations, but you never know what is going to capture the hearts. You want to go in with the greatest of intentions and come away with great experiences and wonderful relationships made. So you say ‘yes.’ It’s important to say ‘yes.’”
NEWBEAUTY: ALWAYS SAYING “YES” AT WORK CAN BE EXHAUSTING…
ANGELA BASSETT: But you kept thinking, ‘Are we working? Can we call this work? By what other names can we call this but joy?’ Otherhood was a great experience and it’s about being a mother. It is about that stage after motherhood. You grow them up, you nurture them, and then at some point, you have to gently transform and take your hands off of them. You have to allow your babies to go.
NB: YOUR “BABIES” JUST TURNED INTO TEENAGERS. THAT HAS TO BE A BIG CHANGE.
AB: Talk about transformation! They are in those stages—they are still a little bit innocent, but you can also see that they are teenagers. It’s that time that they are very concerned about what their friends think, and not so much about what you think. You get some nos, you get some yeses, and all you can hope for is that that early work you put in will circle back around.
NB: THEY HAVE TO THINK YOU’RE A LITTLE BIT COOL…
AB: Well, I just surprised my son by flying him to Napa Valley for his first Logic concert. We told him, “We’re going away. We’re going to Northern California. Here’s your Logic T-shirt.” He loves this guy so intensely, so I wanted to surprise him and rock his world—I wanted to let him know who’s boss. Yes, it’s still his mama! It was his first concert. We’ll never, ever forget it. It was such a new experience for him. He even got to meet him and hang out. Because he’s only 13, he had no idea what the world even looked like after ten o’clock at night!
NB: THAT’S EXCITING!
AB: It was. His sister, his twin, was part of the conspiracy. She helped me out and told me, “I don’t have to go. I’m really happy for him. But what are we going to do, mom?” So I’m planning her surprise now. I think I’m going to have a friend bring her to Paris for a weekend while I’m in Europe. Bring her girlfriends and her over for a Friday-Saturday-Sunday and come back Monday to school like, “I went to Paris for the weekend.”
NB: HOW DO YOU KEEP SANE WHEN YOU ARE WORKING AND TRAVELING SO MUCH?
AB: Between all that, it’s a lot! It’s time to go to work so I can rest! I have to get on that 10–12 hour flight where no one can get me. To be honest, a good deal of work feels like relaxation to me; it feels a little bit like a vacation when I’m away filming. Take going to Berlin. I joke to everyone, “Well, the only thing that I have to worry about when I’m there is work, eating right and getting to the gym.” And I’ll leave all my major responsibilities to fall on my husband at home! [laughs]
But I do try to relax. If I’m home, I’ll text the masseuse. I need her to get in there with the deep tissue and get rid of the knots and release the muscles. I try to get away—I went to the Golden Door last year in November just to think about nothing and I enjoyed all the rejuvenation that brought. Staying “prayed up” is also important to me. Being in touch with my spiritual side helps me keep the stress out. It helps you remember that there is something bigger than you and it’s not all about you— there’s a force that has you in the palm of his hands. What else do I do? Spending time with friends is always good because it’s the time to relax, appreciate one another and build each other up. It’s a bit of a support network. And I think I’m a physical type that needs to work out. When I don’t, I feel it.
NB: IT MUST BE WORKING. YOU LOOK AMAZING. CARE TO SHARE ANY OF YOUR SECRETS?
AB: I’m pretty passionate about keeping up with the skin care, especially being in front of the camera and on the stage. It’s important. When I’m not on stage or on camera, I’m pretty sans makeup—I think it’s good to keep a clear, clean fresh palette. I am a potions and lotions girl, so if you make me promises, I’ll give you a shot. I do really like the iS Clinical serums. I always come back around to them and they work really well for me. I also find good aestheticians everywhere, and then I have my dermatologist Dr. Pearl Grimes here in LA.
NB: IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DO BEAUTY-WISE THAT WE MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO HEAR?
AB: I know lashes are no surprise! Botox is no surprise! I’m a big supporter of being natural, but I’ve done it twice. Just a little bit, not too much—I still need to express myself. What else? I’ve tried Ultherapy, too.
NB: YOU ARE CLOSE WITH YOUR GLAM SQUAD. DO THEY EVER TEACH YOU ANY TRICKS?
AB: We’ve been together a number of years. I trust them so much. Usually, I sit in their chairs, close my eyes and Zen out, or I think about the work I have to do. I so trust their creativity and their gift. Their absolute gift! I can just relax and try to prepare what I have to do. We all have gifts. We all have something to offer. And it’s great when you find those whose work you admire and trust, and whose personalities you enjoy.
NB: YOU’VE ALSO BEEN OFFERING YOUR TIME TO THE AMERICAN HEART AND THE AMERICAN DIABETES ASSOCIATIONS. WHAT MADE YOU SAY “YES” TO THOSE CAUSES?
AB: My mother passed away from cardiovascular disease, and she also had type-2 diabetes. I came into partnership with the two agencies to really get an awareness out there in the public space, and to maybe change the perception of those who are managing these situations. Sometimes you get such a heavy diagnosis, it’s overwhelming. Sometimes you just shut down and it drives you to do things that aren’t helpful and beneficial—it drives you in the direction you don’t want to go. Sometimes, if we can just change our perspective about something, we can turn it around for good. It’s a tribute to my mom, but I hope it will help a lot of people.