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Angela Bassett Biography

Home > Actresses > B > Bassett, Angela > Biography

Birth Name: Angela Bassett
Born: 08/16/1958
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA

Born on Aug. 16, 1958 in New York City, NY, Bassett was raised in St. Petersburg, FL by a social worker single mother. A school field trip to see a live stage performance of "Of Mice and Men" starring James Earl Jones ignited Bassett's interest in acting, though the accomplished teen was already making a name for herself as an outstanding student - the first black student from her high school to be accepted into the National Honor Society - in addition to participating in student government, the debate team, and the choir. With excellent academic and extracurricular records, Bassett was offered a scholarship to Yale University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in African-American Studies before deciding to pursue theater seriously. While working towards a Masters degree at the Yale School of Drama (and dating future husband and fellow acting student, Courtney B. Vance), Bassett began a valuable association with the dean, celebrated stage director Lloyd Richards, who cast her in his 1984 Broadway production of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Her promising start led to steady work in television, including guest shots on "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992) and the detective drama "Spenser: For Hire" (ABC, 1985-88), as well as a brief turn on the CBS miniseries "Doubletake" (CBS, 1985).

With the action thriller "F/X" (1986), Bassett moved into features, though TV guest roles continued to make up the bulk of her work throughout the 1980s - with the exception of a 1988 return to Broadway in August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" and a supporting role as the wife of ill-fated astronaut Ronald McNair in the ABC television movie, "Challenger" (1990). The actress had a landmark year in 1991, first gaining notice in John Singleton's "Boyz in the Hood" (1991), a critically acclaimed look at the realities of life in South Central Los Angeles, where Bassett played an ambitious mother (and estranged wife of Laurence Fishburne) struggling to keep her young son on the right side of the law. From her supporting role in this NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Motion Picture, Bassett went on to play the "do-gooder" wife of politician Joe Morton in John Sayles' sprawling contemplation of corruption and community in "City of Hope" (1991). Meanwhile on the small screen, Bassett appeared in no fewer than five network television movies in 1991, including a portrayal of a real-life Patriot missile commander who endures the death of a grandmother while serving in the military in "Heroes of Desert Storm" (ABC, 1991).

Bassett's career momentum took off the following year with an NAACP Image Award-winning portrayal of Betty Shabazz, the quietly strong wife of activist and preacher Malcolm X in Spike Lee's epic "Malcolm X" (1992). After receiving more raves for her portrayal of Katherine Jackson, the King of Pop's mom, in the miniseries "The Jacksons: An American Dream" (ABC, 1992), a lean and pumped-up Bassett gave an Academy Award-nominated starring performance in "What's Love Got To Do With It" (1993). Bassett's riveting and thoroughly convincing portrayal of three decades in the tumultuous life of pop icon Tina Turner put the actress through her paces and transformed her career, with a Golden Globe nomination and another Image Award win. Now a full-fledged Hollywood leading actress, Bassett was tapped for the millennial sci-fi actioner "Strange Days" (1995) and the Eddie Murphy horror comedy vehicle "Vampire in Brooklyn" (1995), both of which sought to build upon her image as a strong black woman but watered down her impact with such characters by giving her firearms and fangs, respectively. She was better showcased in the adaptation of Terry McMillan's best-selling novel "Waiting to Exhale" (1995), for which she earned another Image Award. Directed by Forest Whitaker, the film teamed Bassett with Whitney Houston, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon for a wildly popular chick flick whose comic dissection of the male species had universal, cross-cultural appeal.

Bassett had a brief role as White House Chief of Staff in the sci-fi hit "Contact" (1997) and returned to first billing with "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" (1998), another McMillan adaptation that cast her as a 40-ish divorcee who embarks on a relationship with a much younger man (Taye Diggs). Bassett earned another Image Award for her performance and followed up the light romance with the inspirational drama "Music of the Heart" (1999), where she played the no-nonsense inner-city school principal of a novice music teacher (Meryl Streep). Bassett (and co-star Danny Glover) gave powerful but little-seen performances in the apartheid-set independent film "Boesman and Lena" in 2000 and the actress sustained her commitment to quality roles with a starring turn as Rosa Parks in the CBS biopic "The Rosa Parks Story" (2002). Bassett received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress for her portrayal of the civil rights icon, and gave a memorable big screen performance that year in John Sayles' "Sunshine State" (2002), turning in a finely etched characterization of a Florida-born woman who returns to confront her tangled past. In 2003, she appeared in the acclaimed PBS miniseries "Freedom: A History of Us" before making a surprising shift towards comedy, joining Bernie Mac in "Mr. 3000" (2004), where she played a sexy but tough-minded reporter who has a fling with a big-mouthed baseball player trying to make a comeback.

A recurring role as a CIA director on "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06) wooed Bassett back to series television in 2005, and the following year, she was well-cast in the family feature "Akeelah and the Bee" (2006), where she shone as the overprotective mother of a precocious 11-year-old (Keke Palmer) with her sights set on a national spelling bee dominated by rich, privileged children. After a long absence, Bassett returned to the stage to star alongside Laurence Fisburne in August Wilson's "Fences" at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. She starred in the political thriller "Time Bomb" (CBS, 2006) and voiced Mildred, the caretaker of the orphanage that houses a boy genius and inventor, in the animated family film "Meet the Robinsons" (2007). She went on to embody yet another of her infamous strong-willed, independent women in the popular Tyler Perry dramedy, "Meet the Browns" (2008), where she played a struggling single mother who discovers a family she has never known and a way of life far from her Chicago struggles in rural Georgia. The same year, she appeared on the festival circuit in Giancarlo Esposito's directorial debut "Gospel Hill" (2008) and had a supporting role in Rod Lurie's "Nothing But the Truth" (2008), a current events-based political drama about a journalist who exposes a CIA agent in which Bassett played the editor of a prominent Washington newspaper.

Bassett debuted in her first regular series television role in the fall of 2008, joining the cast of the medical mainstay "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) as it rolled out its much-ballyhooed final season. Her successful track record with portraying figures from the pop world led to her 2009 casting as the mother of rapper The Notorious B.I.G. in the biopic, "Notorious."