Nearly 20 years after her first Oscar nomination, Best Supporting Actress contender Angela Bassett revealed at the 2023 Santa Barbara International Film Festival that shooting “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” was way more grueling on her than most people may have realized.
“We would do scenes over and over and over again,” said the actress on stage at the Arlington Theater on Thursday night, recalling the making of the 1993 Tina Turner biopic. “Those concert scenes, literally you feel like you have a sweater in your throat after performing, and we would do it [again] from top to bottom.”
Though she is now able to joke about it, Bassett did not mince words describing the challenges that came with being directed by English filmmaker Brian Gibson. “He’d say, ‘OK, let’s do it again.’ I was like, ‘Can an actor have a moment? Just 60 seconds, a minute, please, just to catch our breath.’”
Interestingly enough, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” was one of her earliest collaborations with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” costume designer and fellow 2023 Oscar nominee Ruth E. Carter, and they bonded during the production.
Bassett told moderator Roger Durling, SBIFF’s executive director, “Every day we came to the set, [Gibson said] it was the wrong costume. The costume wasn’t going to work. So every day, the day started off like, ‘Oh, it’s not going to work.’” She and Carter “tried to get smart and take pictures. ‘What about this as a costume for tomorrow?’ ‘Oh, yeah, that’s good.’ ‘OK, great.’ Show up in the morning, ‘Ugh, horrible costume,’” said the star.
She continued, “And we’d be on location, and you would have to go into your little truck and find something that would work, or he would come in the trailer and say ‘Let’s go, let’s go. Let’s go, let’s go.’ And I would run off, my wig would be half of my head, the makeup half off. ‘OK.’ And I would just run out like that. ‘I’m ready.’ And then he would laugh.”
Bassett felt compelled to stick up for the craftspeople she was working with, like Carter. “Let makeup do what they do. Let the hair artisans do what they do. You get everything ready there. I’ll get ready here. But this ‘hurry up and let’s do it’ when everyone hasn’t contributed what they contribute” made everything harder, Bassett recalled, especially for a film that already had the pressure of needing to complete production only three months before its release (which needed to coincide with Turner’s What’s Love? Tour).
Angela Bassett and SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling speak onstage at the Montecito Award Ceremony during the 38th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Getty Images for SBIFF
In turn, it was Laurence Fishburne, her “Boyz N the Hood” co-star who reunited with her to play Ike Turner, who looked out for her, especially when they had to film the scene in which the menacing musician sexually assaults Turner in their home recording booth. “We would do the rape scene. And, as I said, we were doing things over and over, and it’s such a debasing sort of feeling. And so, Laurence would say, ‘Angela, how many times do you want to do this?’ Because Brian would listen to him before he would listen to me,” said Bassett. “He didn’t listen to this female voice, this Black female voice who’s just getting a shot, but there’s something about that male-male dynamic.”
Addressing Fishburne’s concern, Bassett said five times, even though her mentality was really more like “I’ll do it till we get it.” Now in agreement on how to accomplish their difficult task, the actress described her conversation with her scene partner in the moment: “We’re going to go for it. I’m going to scrape and claw like my life depends on it. And it does. And that’s what you capture. He’s going like he’s grabbing, I’m going like I’m dying.”
Bassett also said Gibson was “not sensitive to the moment” when they filmed the rape scene. “He would say, ‘What about a garter? Should we have a garter on?’” after Bassett and Carter had already settled on what they thought was the appropriate costume for the harrowing clip.
The actress did find moments of agency making the film, changing up some of the dialogue to make it sound more authentic. She recalled reading early buzz around the film in magazines, and seeing the line, “‘We don’t know what’s worse. The dailies or the script.’ I was like, ‘How dare they? How do they know this?’”
She noted that the “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” script was changing throughout most of the process. “A big spotlight is going to be on this, so the movie opening up with ‘A figure coming up out of the Nile River, and she has blue eyes, and she spreads these cards in front of this little girl, and she — yeah, that was the script. It was like ‘Hmm, this is terrible, but it’s Tina Turner,’” said Bassett. “People are going to put my name and my face together with hers after this, for good or for bad. But the script kept changing, it changed from that. They put her back in Nutbush, coming up and out of it.”
Angela Bassett attends the Montecito Award Ceremony during the 3th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Getty Images for SBIFF
The actress said the tweaks her and her co-stars made to many of their lines gave the script more flavor. “A lot of it was improvised, but I think it made it better,” she said.
Bassett has talked before about it taking 18 months for her phone to ring again with offers for new roles after her breakout performance as Turner, but she added that she needed some of that time to herself. “Let me tell you, I was so exhausted after that experience,” said the star. “The last day, when she’s in the limousine fighting Ike, that was literally a 25-hour day. 25.”
Hearing the gasps from the SBIFF audience, she said, “I’ll tell you everything on me hurt, but it was like ‘Go for it. This is the last time. Kick him. Slap him.’ But 25, I couldn’t believe it. What kind of job is this? 25 straight hours. I couldn’t speak.”
Accepting the Montecito Award at the end of the conversation, presented to her by “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” director Ryan Coogler, Bassett said she’s deeply grateful to the Durling and the SBIFF team “for recognizing my commitment and my contribution to cinema.” Her revelations about just her time making “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” seems to prove that commitment to her craft is greater than we’ll ever fully comprehend.
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