While she is currently nominated for an Oscar for playing mother to a different kind of dynasty, one of the roles that made Angela Bassett a screen icon was matriarch Katherine Jackson in the 1992 miniseries “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” a job she said she was advised not to take.
During an appearance at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 9 to accept the 38th annual Montecito Award, the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” actress sat down for a career-spanning conversation with the festival’s executive director Roger Durling and revealed that she was in the middle of auditioning for the ABC TV event about the musical family when her agents said, “You know what, there’s a lot of allegations about Michael [Jackson] in the press, and we don’t think you should do this project.”
The situation was a blow to Bassett, as someone who had been a lifelong fan of the Jacksons. “They were the first concert I ever went to as a little girl. I had posters on my wall,” she said. “Here’s one of them in the room, auditioning me to portray his mom. This was a crazy trip for me.”
Bassett said, “I remember telling my agents ‘No, no, no, I’m not going out for the role of Michael, I’m going out for the role of their mother. And no matter what, whatever the allegations, or whoever, whatever we think — one thing is true, that I believe, that I can see, is that they adore their mother. They revere their mother. And that, a reverence for motherhood, for mothers, that’s what I want to put out into the world.”
Katherine Jackson became one of Bassett’s most memorable, most popular performances, even serving as the basis for her “Akeelah and the Bee” co-star Keke Palmer’s viral impression of her last year. “It went on to have like 40 million viewers,” said the actress. “We don’t get those kinds of eyeballs on the show today.”
Bringing things a bit full circle, current Best Supporting Actress frontrunner Bassett also credited her experience making “The Jacksons: An American Dream” as an inspiration for the performance that earned her very first Oscar nomination in 1994: Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
“Those kids were phenomenal. I think there were five sets because they had to grow from little kids to grown adults. And they were magnificent. They really were my teachers in what I had to do later because Tina came after that,” she said. “They sang, they danced, they acted, and they had to go to school. I didn’t at least have to go to school. And that was enough for me.”