To illustrate the pesky things that can peck away at a marriage, “Jumping the Broom” star Angela Bassett is playing with my shoelaces.
“[It’s] things that were endearing but after a while it’s just like, ‘Why do you tie this on the side? Why do you do that?’” says the 52-year-old actress. “’Why do you want these old tennis shoes? Please buy a new pair! Why do you want to wear tennis shoes with a tuxedo? Why can’t you please just wear some dress shoes?’”
For the record, my shoes were only a month old, and I wasn’t wearing a tuxedo. But Bassett’s point is fair, and one that certainly factors into the numerous family conflicts in “Jumping the Broom,” opening May 6. The Oscar-nominated actress (“What’s Love Got to Do With It”) plays a woman with little time to attend to her potentially crumbling marriage; she instead must mind to the impending nuptials of her daughter (Paula Patton), who’s known her fiancé (Laz Alonso) less than sixth months, and doesn’t exactly hit it off with her future mother-in-law (Loretta Devine).
At the Trump Hotel, the New York-born, Florida-raised L.A. resident (seen next as Dr. Amanda Waller in “Green Lantern”) recalled the way arguments can add doubt to the early days of even happy marriages. “I would look at my husband [actor Courtney B. Vance] and say, ‘Did we do it too soon?’” she says, “and he said, ‘No, we did not.’ He was so adamant, and I hung onto that.”
The female characters in “Jumping the Broom” have such depth and strength. As far as everyday relationships go, would you say most of the time women wear the pants?
I think they have a great deal of influence; a great deal of influence. They may not be the head, but the woman’s the neck. [Gestures with her head.] “Tuuuurn this way.”
The film is about the conflict that comes up in advance of a wedding. Why are families so frequently at each other’s throats?
I think it’s a big change in that you go from one family unit to all of a sudden now you’re meshing it, and that’s a choice. Sometimes I look at my family and say, “Oh, God, why did you give me this particular person?” And I can get as mad as I want to with my sister or a mom or whatever it might be, as frustrated, but yet I can’t walk away. Time will pass and then I gotta come back and work it out. I gotta work it out. I gotta work it out because that’s my family. It’s not like a friend. You can walk away from some of those relationships, but it’s harder with those blood ties.
People do it, though.
It’s not like it’s impossible, [like] it can’t be done. But I think probably more than not people have to work with it. And that’s not to say it works well. Sometimes it’s just, continue to dysfunction, until both of you give up.
What’s something you think is really important in a marriage, and what’s something that’s not important at all?
Important being able to say, “I’m sorry.” Or, from my sister, before we got married my husband learned, “How can I help?” “What do you need me to do?” And with a good woman, it’s like, “Oh, no, I got it honey! You sit down.” If you take care of her, she takes care of you. Bring in a big ol’ bag of groceries; she’s going to turn it into a meal that will nourish you and the family.
Be honest: How fun is it to film a slap fight?
[Laughs.] Well, was that my last day? It got a little touchy. I did get [yells], “Caught in the eye! I got caught in the eye!” Oh, she felt so bad. But it was late, it was like 3, 4 in the morning, my last scene, going well and you’re just trying to, it’s coordination and you’re trying to get it as good and you’re putting power in it, “boom!” but she clipped me. Her nail or something caught me right in the eye.
How tempted were you to retaliate?
Oh not at all, not at all. After I stopped crying, the tears dried up, but I’ve clipped someone before, too, as a matter of fact. It was Kelly Preston in “Waiting to Exhale.” I slapped her, clipped her on the chin. So I guess I finally got my due.
Does that take away from the fun of filming it?
Not one bit. Not one bit. As a matter of fact, it’s like, “Cut, we got it.” ‘Cause we probably had it but we’re trying to get it some more.
If I ever lose my groove, what should I do to get it back?
Hmm. Mmm mmm mmm. Maybe take a solo trip somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Spend some time with yourself and open to what’s around you.
Does it matter where I go?
I like the Caribbean. You might be more European, might be more France, or maybe more Russia.
So not somewhere like Detroit?
No, I don’t think so. I shouldn’t say that; that’s where my husband’s from.
How do you explain still looking so good?
Livin’ right, eatin’ right, sleepin’ right. Right thinkin’. Don’t abuse yourself.
Do you think as a result of playing such strong, confident characters people expect you not to have a light, engaging personality in real life? What’s an experience you’ve had?
“Oh, you’re just a regular person.” A director said, “I don’t know how to take you.” “You’re so professional.”
What are they expecting?
Someone who’s maybe very serious. And maybe I come across like that. I like to have fun and laugh and joke. Kid around.
How do you want people to see your career? And how not see it?
I wouldn’t want them to see it as … I would like it to be varied. I feel blessed that I’ve worked with different directors, different actors and actresses through the generations to cultures. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as just “black movies.” I want to do that and I want to do “Green Lantern,” you know? So it’s been good that way, and I am seen that way. More of an everywoman, and a woman who has strength and there’s something more going on behind the eyes that I can bring something to a moment without saying much. That you can say much with little. That there’s this thought and there’s history sort of thing.
What can we look forward to in “Green Lantern”?
Lots of special effects, CGI stunts. And Ryan Reynolds ain’t bad to look at.
Will we see you flipping over and doing stunts?
You will. Well, someone looking remarkably like me.
Her preferred food in Chicago: “Francesca’s is one. Karyn’s on Halsted is another. I like raw vegan.”
A movie she wasn’t in that makes her laugh: “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”
Another iconic character she wants to play: “The queen. I’ve played Lady Macbeth, but it’d be nice to [play] Cleopatra or something.”
What the movie should be called if she stars as Michelle Obama: “Michelle: The Making of a Matriarch.”
Who should play Bassett in a movie: “That’s a good question. Am I ready to be played? [Laughs.] I don’t know. Oh gosh, you stumped me with that one. Ooh, you know who could play me? Keke Palmer. I’ve certainly seen her imitate me. My husband just worked with her and videotaped her imitating me. ‘This is Angela Bassett in “The Jacksons.’’’ ‘This is Angela having dinner with her friends.’ It was just comical. It was very comical.”
When we’ll see her directorial debut, “United States”: “As soon as we raise $8 million.”