Angela Bassett will forever be regal — look at her cheekbones! — but these days she’s getting a little bored with playing nobility. “I used to want to play queens, but now I want to play someone really vying for power, someone who wants to be queen, who’s on the other side,” she says over the phone from New York. Then she pauses to reconsider: “Well, maybe just one more. Black Panther 2, and then I’ll have it out of my system.” Otherhood, a new Netflix movie out Friday, lets her play with something different: As Carol Walker, Bassett is a widow and mother who wears muted cardigans and pulls her hair back in a bun. She’s the kind of everyday woman who sends herself a bouquet of flowers on Mother’s Day because she knows her adult child will forget to call her, then road trips with her girlfriends (Patricia Arquette and Felicity Huffman) to shame their sons into spending time with them. When she arrives, unannounced and with a suitcase, at her son’s Tribeca loft, she immediately chides him for not cleaning his apartment or getting his life in order. Eventually, as the mothers force their sons to reconnect, they all embrace their own lives a little more, too. Meaning: That cardigan is eventually traded for a body-con dress, so Bassett’s natural effervescence can be on full display. Ahead of the film’s streaming debut, Bassett talked with Vulture about being the cool mom to twins, what she learned from her own mother, and when she’ll wear her Marvel crown again.
What did you think when you first read the Otherhood script?
What got me initially was that although we’re talking about something that we all go through, either as parents or kids, it was funny. There was a lot of comedy in the real-life situation of it, of searching for your autonomy. That’s what got me. I literally laughed out loud while reading it. That rarely happens. The opportunity to do something funny, where art imitates life — and how funny that is, how humorous that is — was attractive to me.
Have you ever forgotten a birthday or a Mother’s Day or an anniversary?
It’s funny, I haven’t forgotten it, but my mother would forget my birthday. It was the flipside! One time literally I called her, saying, ‘Helllloooo! Is there anything special about today? Anything that you remember happening 23 years ago? Something that may have been painful?” She’d say, “Oh, happy birthday sweetheart!” [Laughs] As a mother, having gone through that, how could you ever forget? I’ve never forgotten my mom’s birthday. As a matter of fact, if she was still here, her birthday would’ve been August 3.
Oh, a Leo! I only know that because I’m a Leo, too — my birthday is the 9th.
And I’m the 16th!
Can you tell me more about your relationship with your mother?
With my mom, we were both Leos. I think we probably had some characteristics that are similar: strong-willed, independent. She had high standards. She was very adamant on doing things the right way, the proper way. Sometimes felt a little critical, but now that I’ve become a mother myself, I think that it was really just wanting the best for your kids, knowing that it can be a cold, cruel world out here, and that you have to be prepared for opportunities. Get your education, that was her main thing. You are going to college. She must have said that to my sister and I from 8 years old onward, because she didn’t go to college. She knew how, as a single mother, how difficult the journey had been. She didn’t want that for us. I think that was part and parcel why she was so strong and stringent with us.
Something that struck me about Otherhood is that you’re playing mothers of sons. I wonder how you think this movie would’ve been different if it had been about the mothers of daughters?
Hmm. I’m just speaking from my experience, but my daughter, from the time she was a little one, was always sort of looking to me for the example of what to do and how to be. I have twins, and if I told her brother something like, “Slater, put that down. Slater, don’t stand on that. Slater —” she would be my little copy. If he would do something, she would say [puts on a little kid voice], “Slater, put that down! Slater don’t stand on that!” She was my little copycat! One time I literally had to say, when she was 3, “Bronwyn, I’m the mom.” She sort of looked at me and got it: “Oh, okay, I don’t have to tell him what to do.”
I think girls get you. You’re on the same page a little bit. They’re always there. They’re so loving and attentive, wanting to do the right thing. Boys are just wild. Jumping off stuff, hanging from stuff — you just wonder why their brain is even telling them to do that? Slater would just run off and meet people. Girls stay a little bit close and observant. Boys are just jumping out there, like, “Let’s see what happens.”
You’re a pretty cool mom, though. I’m very jealous.
I try to be. I try to be cool in their eyes.
What do you think they’re particularly proud of?
Well, we just dropped them off to a summer camp: two weeks, first-time-going-away-by-yourself-alone kind of a camp. I was just talking with my husband and before they left, he told them, “This experience is not your mom or your dad’s. This experience is about you. So lead with who you are, not with who your mom and your dad are.” You know, they’re meeting new kids, and he specifically had to say that to my son. My daughter was like, “Got it!” She’s not going to do that. She’s going to get in there and meet you on an equal playing field. My son might say, “Well, you know, my mom was in Black Panther!” [Laughs]
Speaking of Black Panther, I have to ask you what you know about the sequel.
Hunter, I don’t know a thing! Not one thing!
Okay, how about this: Can you please wear that white crown hat again?
That cost a pretty penny. A digital crown. It’s beautiful. I hope so. I didn’t get to take it home. I’m sure it’s in a warehouse somewhere.
What was the most fun about shooting Otherhood? I love that it’s just a movie about these three women just hanging out in New York together.
Oh! Just that, you know? Just getting to run around New York City and its landmarks. I’m here now and one of them, I realized, is closed. I took a picture of it. That Two Boots Pizza in Greenwich Village is closed now.
What’s your pizza order?
My pizza order? Just cheese. Just plain cheese.
You look so great in this movie, so sexy, so confident. What’s your secret?
I don’t know if there is a secret. That’s all Mom. That confidence, that’s what she taught me.