Mother of All Roles
Acclaimed character actress ANGELA BASSETT (What’s Love Got To Do With It, Malcolm X) brings all of her authority and inherent dignity to her portrayal of Voletta Wallace, the mother of slain hip hop star Biggie Smalls in NOTORIOUS.
Angela Bassett is one of only a handful of African American actresses to be nominated for an Oscar. So when Voletta Wallace, mother of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G (aka Biggie Smalls) had her choice of actresses to play her on the big screen, it's no surprise that she chose Bassett. Of course, Ms. Wallace had time to consider her options. She'd been trying to get a film made about her late son for over eight years. Her determination finally paid off. Notorious, which recently screened at The Berlin Film Festival, received rave reviews. Directed by George Tillman Jr., and co-starring Derek Luke as Sean Puffy Coombs, Anthony Mackie as Biggie's rival rapper Tupac Shakur, and introducing newcomer Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls, Notorious is a fascinating, not to mention unflinchingly honest, portrait of the man behind the musical legend.
You seem to be attracted to biopics. You've been in one about The Jacksons, Tina Turner and now Notorious. Is that just a coincidence or are you a bio-pic junkie?
"Just a coincidence. [Laughs] It's just about accepting roles that are appealing, and it just happens that all of them were biopics. It wasn't by design."
Were you familiar with Biggie's story?
"Yes, I was very aware of Christopher Wallace and his story. I also had a chance to meet Tupac briefly, because he was an actor and lived in LA and so he came into our arena. He was very charismatic, very charming, and very watchable. He wasn't invincible. I would be sad for anyone, but to this day, their music still has an impact. They're still putting out brand new Tupac music that you've never heard. He was that prolific."
How was your relationship with Voletta Wallace?
"It was wonderful. I came away liking her a great deal. I saw the documentary on Tupac (the Oscar nominated Tupac: Resurrection) long before I met her, and long before I had any knowledge that there would be a film. What an incredibly strong woman, and what an incredibly awful thing to happen. How does that affect a person? How do you behave after something like that? When I met her, I expected one thing, but got much more. She talks openly, she's genuine, and she laughs a lot. She's a delight in spite of what happened."
Some people thought that Biggie killed Tupac; what's your opinion?
"I never thought that he killed him. It's still shrouded in mystery. We don't know."
Why do think this war between the East and West Coast erupted?
"They were making music, but they weren't like good little choirboys in the church band. Sometimes you say thank god for the music, you know? You're glad that he has this outlet because who knows what he might be doing otherwise."
“I was very aware of Christopher Wallace and his story. I also had a chance to meet Tupac briefly, because he was an actor and lived in LA and so he came into our arena.”
You've played real women before, like Tina Turner, but what was it like to have Voletta Wallace on set everyday? Nerve wracking?
"No, not at all. It was great to have her sitting there with me. To have her on set everyday was a gift. I could record her voice to get the dialect or accent, I could watch her mannerisms, and I could get a sense of who she is."
Why do you think Biggie is such a symbol still?
"I guess he appeared authentic, and he made it happen for himself and he died young. It's like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe; with anybody who dies in their prime with so much potential, you can project or imagine where they may have taken it. Die young and leave a beautiful corpse. It's emblazoned in your memory. Time stops right there. He was successful and authentically talented, and so graceful on the mic. He was a unique voice and he only did two albums."
You often depict strong women in films; is that another coincidence?
"Yes, although I was raised by a strong woman and influenced by strong women. We're vulnerable also; we're not just strong automotive robots."
You've been acting for some time now, but you are about to turn your hand to directing, right?
"It's an adaptation of a book called Erasure, which I like very much. It's very much about what is art and the perception of it. It's about someone who's so dedicated to the craft of writing but who is not appreciated. Then when they're under stress and being challenged by life's ups and downs, they decide to write some bullshit and put it out there and then that takes off. That's the one that people think is brilliant. Then the writer is like, ‘No, no, no! That's not it! That doesn't represent me!' They try to pull it back and they won't allow it."
The directing is not an indication that you're planning to move away from acting is it?
"No, it's just a new challenge. It's just a new form of storytelling. I love acting and I hope to be able to do it for some time to come yet."
Notorious is screening now. For more on Notorious, pick up the latest issue of FILMINK Magazine.