You can bet that T’Challa would never forget Queen Ramonda on Mother’s Day.
But in ‘Otherhood’, her new Netflix film, Angela Bassett — beloved by fans as the regal matriarch of Wakanda in ‘Black Panther’ — plays a woman so accustomed to neglect by her adult son that she sends herself bouquets from him on the holiday each year. With this note: “You are the best mother ever.”
So when she and her similarly disregarded best friends, played by Patricia Arquette and Felicity Huffman, realise that they’ve become “others” instead of mothers, these suburban empty-nesters storm Manhattan in a Volvo station wagon in pursuit of their offspring’s attention and respect.
“I just thought it was hysterical — I was falling over,” Bassett said of the film directed and co-written by Cindy Chupack (‘Sex and the City’). “That’s rare to read a script and to really laugh out loud.”
And dipping her toes into the comedic realm was a welcome counterbalance to her work on Fox’s “9-1-1,” which last season catapulted Bassett’s character, Field Sgt Athena Grant of the Los Angeles Police Department, into natural disasters before marrying her off to the fire captain (Peter Krause).
Alas, mothering briefly got the best of ‘Otherhood’ when its premiere was pushed from April to August after Huffman was arrested for her involvement in a college admissions scandal. “We all make mistakes. None of us is perfect,” Bassett said. “I think Felicity handled these unfortunate circumstances in a mature, responsible way. She held herself accountable and didn’t make excuses for her decisions, and I can only respect that.”
These days, Bassett is hoping to add a matching Emmy to that of her husband, Courtney B. Vance, with her nomination as narrator of ‘The Flood’, a National Geographic special about the Okavango Delta in Africa. Calling from Los Angeles, she happily chatted about how she’s trying to guarantee that Bronwyn and Slater, their 13-year-old twins, never let Mother’s Day go unnoticed.
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
It’s been a while since you hung with girlfriends on-screen. How did you find your groove with Patricia and Felicity?
They were both warm, wonderful, delightful, talented, hardworking women that made you laugh. It was easy to establish a camaraderie.
What are the joys to be found in the female squad-com?
I’ve done it a couple of times — ‘Waiting to Exhale’ and then this. And the film ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’, which I just finished my portion of in Germany, is a female-driven action thriller, with the wonderful Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino and Lena Headey and Karen Gillan. It’s such a delight to be around women who get it — full of life, full of laughter and love. No egos. They just shared the best of themselves, their knowledge and their experiences.
Your character, Carol, has a son who’s loath to invite her to a work party. But you recently took your son to see the rapper Logic and he seemed pretty great with it.
Before I went away to work this summer, in Berlin for six weeks, I surprised him. It was a Friday. That’s the No 1 surprise: “You’re not going to school today.” Then I’ve got the Logic T-shirt. And then I said: “Oh, and last surprise. You have a private meet-and-greet with Logic before his show.” That’s when he really lost it. He was the best kid ever. I was the boss mom ever. I think it enhanced the relationship.
They will not be forgetting you on Mother’s Day, right?
My daughter will give me something special. An ankle bracelet, jewellery, something sweet. My son will give me a book on tacos. “You like to cook, but I like tacos. Here, Mom.” That’s who he is.
You’ve just started shooting Season 3 of ‘9-1-1’. What’s it like taking on a role that keeps you running?
You know what? It will keep me in line because polyester doesn’t stretch. My uniform’s a little tight this summer. It’s hard to run in tight polyester. You really have to mind your P’s and Q’s.
Before ‘9-1-1’, you collaborated with Ryan Murphy for four years on ‘American Horror Story’ as well. What’s the root of your loyalty?
As surprised as the audiences are from week to week, we actors are surprised as well when we sit down and open each ensuing episode. It’s mind-blowing but it’s great. I love behind the scenes, because it gives opportunity to those who are deserving. And in front of the camera, roles for women or for characters that may be on the outside. Things that are just the norm — that’s not interesting to Ryan.
When is ‘Black Panther 2’ coming out and are you in it?
I have no idea but I assume that I will be in there. I didn’t ask that they roll my body in the ocean with my ancestors.
Did the overwhelming embrace of ‘Black Panther’ surprise you?
Absolutely. I’m not big in the comic book world. I would go online and see some of the fanboy-girl excitement, and so I had an inkling that it would be big with them. But that it would just cross so many boundaries and resonate with so many different people — 84-year-old women would come up to me and say, “Wakanda forever.” Or little boys from Ireland were like, “It’s Queen Ramonda!” It really was very satisfying to be a part of a project that touched audiences and made them feel good about themselves and about the world.
You’ve said that you related to Carol’s blossoming in ‘Otherhood’. But you seem to be in full bloom, having stirred things up on Instagram with a bikini shot on your 60th birthday last year. What do you have planned for your 61st?
Now I told you my polyester’s a little tight so I won’t be doing that this year. Yeah, a lot was made of that. I was feeling very confident, having a good time, and it’s like, Hey, why not? It was different for me, so there was going to be a little shock factor. I’m going to be on set working this year on ‘9-1-1’. Am I blossoming? I just try to blossom every day, I think, in some small way. It can’t always be a bikini shot. [Laughs]
Don’t miss it!
‘Otherhood’ streams on Netflix from August 2.