Angela Bassett recalls seeing the ad for her new movie on the side of the New York City bus. It read, "Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, and Marlon Brando in 'The Score.' "
"Working with such giants," she admits, "I had an extra charge of excitement." Her fellow actor, Ed Norton, known for his long deliberations before committing to a film, agreed. "I was so excited at the thought of De Niro and Brando," he says, "[that] I didn't care if it went straight to video. I'd done it just for the poster."
Bassett smiled at his answer, but her gratitude ran deeper. "De Niro is one of our best actors, and it was an honor to play all my scenes with him," she says.
"However, when I read the script, it was obvious my role hadn't been written for an African-American actress.She was just a woman and a human being. When a woman of color was cast, I was glad it was me."
Director Frank Oz, who loves to work on the edge - creating and changing the script - found Bassett disturbed by a rewrite of her character.
"I identified with my role as a woman of the 21st Century," says Bassett. She said she specifically chose the role because of its strong character traits.
"When I arrived in Montreal, where the film was shot," the actress confided, "I found the rewrite made my character weak and unfocused."
When Bassett needs to, she speaks up. She did, and the role went back to the one she'd originally agreed to play.
"Always be your best" was instilled in her at an early age by her mother, Betty Bassett, a single mom who raised two daughters.Angela was born in New York City, but grew up in in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I remember one day, I brought my report card home. My mom was used to me getting all A's and maybe one B." But that year, Bassett had been involved in a variety of activities, from cheerleading to student government. "I was so busy, something had to take a back seat. There was one C on the report card."
The teenager had her excuse rehearsed, "A is excellent, B is above average, and C is average. There's nothing wrong with being average."
Her mother's reply: "I don't have average children." She put Angela on dishwashing duty for a week.
"You know, I didn't mind that week of doing all the dishes. I kept thinking 'I'm not average!' I felt good about myself. I realize now she was building my self-esteem."
The seed was planted. Bassett won a scholarship to Yale University, majored in Afro-American studies, and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the prestigious Yale School of Drama.
The Broadway stage was her next goal. "When you're up for a part, and those auditioning are average, but they get the part, you don't lower your expectations," Bassett says.
Smiling, she added, "I don't think mom knows she's given me so much. She just put [the idea] out there, I got it, and it stuck."
Even when the actress married Broadway actor Courtney Vance, her mother's wedding toast was, "Now, Courtney, you have my prize, my first born, treat her good."
Bassett's career, which includes her Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for playing Tina Turner in "What's Love Got To Do With It?" (1993), continues to bloom. She will soon star in the civil-rights drama "The Rosa Parks Story" on CBS, and in the John Sayles film "Sunshine State."
She's has starred in everything from "Macbeth" with Alec Baldwin at New York's Joseph Papp Public Theatre to last year's "Boesman and Lena" with Danny Glover, for which she was nominated for an Image Award.
"I feel very humble," she admits. "I'm grateful for my faith in God. I realize I have been blessed. It's not some kind of an accident, a lucky break I've tripped into. I believe God has favored me with these wonderful parts that are seen around the world."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor