"There was this beautiful duality about her, a regalness and a regularness," says Angela Bassett, in answer to a question she will have been asked several hundred times this year – What was Whitney Houston like? Bassett is in interview mode, talking to journalists from all over the world, promoting the Lifetime original move Whitney. Having taken on the challenge, not only of directing a film about the life of a friend, but a movie that would mark her directorial debut, Bassett is excited about the result.
"I have seen the movie probably a hundred times and I love it each and every time," she says of the finished product. Bassett, 56, is no stranger to the biopic, having played a broad range of real life heroines herself, from Tina Turner to Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, but has she always wanted to direct? "I always had this idea that I would direct, but having great respect for the office, I thought it's got to be something that I can be absolutely passionate about, and you don't get tired and you're ready to fight and to go through it, and this movie definitely was that. I knew no one else would be as passionate as I would be in the telling of their love story."
This month marks the third anniversary of the death of Whitney Houston, one of America's most talented and enduring stars, from a drug overdose. For many, hearing the relationship between Whitney and one-time husband Bobby Brown described as a love story will be surprising. Is that how Bassett sees it? "Absolutely. That's what I considered it to be – a love story - as I was telling it. I didn't know any other way to consider it, other than between a boy and a girl and their love and excitement for each other, their future together and the things that conspire against that."
The movie covers a five year period in Whitney Houston's life, from her first meeting with Bobby at the Soul Train Awards in 1989, though her meteoric rise to fame, at a time before their relationship fell apart. But at the movie's heart is Whitney Houston herself – getting the right actress to portray the singer was crucial. "I knew Yaya (DaCosta) was perfect from the first viewing of her tape. Her sensitivity, her beauty, her poise – I was like, it's perfect, she's the one. Her instrument is beautiful and she took it seriously, and I hope that it comes across."
Bassett believes that Whitney herself would have approved of the production: "You drive to work during production and you have your radio on - every single drive, every single day, a Whitney song would come on. It's as if she were with me every day. One particular day I was about to get off at the exit for my production office and her song is on the radio and this huge bus passes by, with a big WH on the back, and the letters were in her favourite colour – purple – and her song is playing and I am just so glad I'm at my exit, because I'm crying, I'm laughing, I am beside myself with the serendipity of the moment!"
Bassett first got to know Whitney Houston when they worked together on the 1995 movie Waiting to Exhale, and the pair stayed friends after the cameras stopped rolling, as Bassett recalls their time together, it's Lifetime UK's turn to ask – What was Whitney Houston like? "She was just anointed and beautiful, immensely talented and professional and generous, generous with herself, her spirit, her laughter, her joy, just delightful, and completely lovely." Much like Ms Bassett herself.