×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Angela Bassett and Laura Dern on Trusting Their Collaborators and Choosing Roles

Angela Bassett (“9-1-1”) and Laura Dern (“The Tale) sat down for a chat for Variety’s Actors on Actors” presented by Shutterstock. The full interviews will air in two episodes on PBS SoCal KOCE, the first on Tuesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. and the second on Thursday, June 21 at 7 p.m. Click here for more “Actors on Actors.” 

Laura Dern: You’re such a genius and so prolific at doing so many kinds of roles. What was it about playing this character on “9-1-1” that made you want to commit to something that could be long-term?

variety actors on actors Laura Dern Angela Bassett Cover
CREDIT: Peter Yang for Variety

Angela Bassett: For so long, I think I resisted the idea of doing a show that may go seven years or more. Because just the nature of this business, I love how you get to change and grow and put on different characters and ideas and suits and interact with different people and directors and actors and situations and locations. The idea of staying put isn’t one that I’ve embraced, but as you mature, you try to find roles and situations that are interesting. This was one.

The idea of being a cop and the complicated relationship she has with her husband — he was coming out of the closet and how that was going to affect their family dynamic — all of that was really compelling. It was like, “OK, without a script, I’m ready to jump off the ledge with faith. There’s a net and it will be all right.”

Dern: It’s amazing that once you’re in it, you realize this narrative we’ve been telling ourselves as actors, that on a film we’re going to have so much more freedom to be in the gray and the complication of character. But then once you do it, you realize that with the time you get to discover on any given day, how incredibly different or how complicated we are as human beings.

Bassett: Exactly. There are a lot of times in films that once you’ve completed the three months, you see it and think, “Aw. Had I known …” I just have to release it and say, “All that I know now, up to this point, I give it. I give it all.”

Dern: It’s heartbreaking when the last day of the shoot is when you have this great discovery about who this person is, and that is what’s amazing about television — having that kind of time and working with someone like Ryan Murphy.

Bassett: Yes, yes. How do you choose your roles? When I think of you, I think of just a fearlessness and an authenticity. What’s your process?

Dern: I’m sure it’s the same as you, that sometimes it’s that filmmaker or that showrunner that makes us feel like they’ll always catch our fall, that they’re there for us, so we want to hurl ourselves into their vision. If we’re lucky, that is also connected to a character that makes us go to a place we’ve never gone. I always think about the amazing good fortune of being a woman now in the world and watching how determined we are in our growth everywhere around us, how demanding we are of the level of authenticity and respect and transparency we expect in the world. So playing characters that don’t know their own value has always interested me; that is a theme I keep inside my head a lot because it can be a very powerful corporate executive or a broken homeless girl, but both of them don’t necessarily trust their worth. That’s just a really interesting thing to think about for women and as women.

Bassett: Can you recall any moment in your own career that has been particularly challenging?

Dern: On this movie, “The Tale,” I was playing my director [Jennifer Fox], and that was a radical and amazing, very unique challenge. She wrote and directed a piece that is more about how we retell ourselves the story of our lives in order to survive. She had been sexually assaulted as a 13-year-old. I think she really protected herself in order to survive it by telling herself that it was in its own way this story of a first love. It was only years later that she was able to see what it really was, which obviously was abuse and deep trauma. But she needed to be the owner and the narrator of her own story, and I understand that. To be sitting with her at the camera as we’re retelling this story …

Bassett: What was that like, day-to-day?

Dern: It was amazing. It was so bizarre and difficult. To have to be fierce with your director when you have strong opinions about your character or what’s working for you emotionally while it’s their life; it was complicated. Common plays my lover, her now-partner. Luckily she gave us lots of room to improvise what a love story looks like when a writer who’s a survivor of sexual abuse [is writing about] how their adult intimate relationship is defined.

Bassett: That was a very nice relationship between the two of you, I think. He’s wonderful. But I think you know when you just connect with someone onstage. I think you brought out the best in each other. I think that must be something very special about you on a set.

Dern: Well, I don’t know. One day, that’s what I want, to find that with each other.

Bassett: I’d love that.

WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE:

More TV

  • Outlander 406

    'Outlander' Recap: Jamie Encounters William Again in 'Blood of My Blood'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Blood Of My Blood,” the sixth episode of “Outlander” Season 4. The action in “Blood of My Blood” picked up almost immediately after the previous week’s episode, as evidenced by the fact that Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) was still staying with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and [...]

  • The Flash -- "Elseworlds, Part 1"

    'Elseworlds, Part 1' Recap: Barry Allen and Oliver Queen Swap Skills, Visit Superman

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Elseworlds, Part 1,” the first part of the 2018 “Arrowverse” crossover, which aired Dec. 9. After past crossovers that introduced beloved characters’ doppelgangers, a wedding and death, “Elseworlds,” the fifth annual “Arrowverse” event, had a lot to which to live up. Unlike previous years, [...]

  • Stranger Things

    'Stranger Things' Season 3 Teaser Reveals Episode Titles, 2019 Release

    Netflix dropped a new teaser for the upcoming third season of “Stranger Things” Sunday, confirming that it will land on the streamer in 2019. The teaser also revealed the episode titles for the third season, which are as follows: “Suzie, Do You Copy?,” “The Mall Rats,” “The Case of the Missing Lifeguard,” “The Sauna Test,” [...]

  • Kyzza Terrazas Joins Garcia Bernal, Diego

    Kyzza Terrazas Joins Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna’s La Corriente del Golfo (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Launching their new production house, La Corriente de Golfo, last April, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna have tapped Mexican writer-director Kyzza Terrazas as the company’s head of development. The appointment will certainly help build the company appointing an old-rounder capable of overseeing and implementing development, writing and directing, and a longtime [...]

  • Michael Che Defends Kevin Hart on

    Michael Che Ribs Academy Over Kevin Hart Controversy on 'SNL'

    Kevin Hart may have alienated some in Hollywood over his recently resurfaced homophobic tweets, but that didn’t stop “Weekend Update” co-host Michael Che from cracking some jokes in support of Hart on Dec. 8’s “Saturday Night Live.” After briefly recapping that Hart stepped down from hosting the Oscars after the 2011 tweets came to light, [...]

  • THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY

    'The Umbrella Academy' Superheroes Series Premiere Date Set on Netflix

    The dysfunctional-family superheroes of “The Umbrella Academy” are landing on Netflix worldwide on Feb. 15, 2019. The live-action series is based on the “Umbrella Academy” comic books created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, published by Dark Horse Comics. The Netflix original series comprises 10 one-hour episodes. “The Umbrella Academy” stars [...]

  • SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Jason Momoa"

    Robert De Niro Appears as Robert Mueller in 'Saturday Night Live' Cold Open

    Robert De Niro made a surprise appearance as special counsel Robert Mueller in “Saturday Night Live’s” cold open. De Niro popped out of a closet in a sketch that skewered President Donald Trump and the mounting legal pressure Mueller’s investigation has put on many of Trump’s associates. Alex Moffatt played Eric Trump in a bedtime-story [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content