Angela Bassett Can Do It All, Including 'Kicking Butts' in 'Gunpowder Milkshake'

CUL_PS_Angela Bassett_02
J. Countess/Contour/Getty

"Once I did get the script, a lot of it came to life. I thought, 'Yeah, I've said yes to the right people.'"

From earning an Oscar nomination for the dramatic Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got to Do With It to the shape-shifting worlds of Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story and Marvel's Black Panther, Angela Bassett has tackled every genre. But there's one area where she truly shines: action. With Navot Papushado's Gunpowder Milkshake (July 14 on Netflix), Bassett dominates as a hit woman alongside a team of other powerful women. "I mean, Michelle Yeoh! Oh my gosh! Carla Gugino! I never thought I would have an opportunity to work with them." Bassett, Yeoh and Gugino play the three hit women Scarlet (Lena Headey) and Sam (Karen Gillan) turn to in order to protect their way of life. "It was planned to come out during the pandemic," but got pushed back because of theater closures. "Finally, things are coming back to normal, and we get to see it the way it should be seen: on the big screen!" The wait was certainly worth it, because Milkshake was made to be enjoyed with a big bucket of popcorn. "It's so larger than life, so full of energy and gravitas, attitude, laughter and fun."

What was it about Gunpowder Milkshake that you first responded to?

It was talking with the director. I spoke with him first, I didn't even see the script initially. So it really was just having faith in his vision. Once I did get the script, a lot of it came to life. Then when I saw the set, I was so thrilled that I'd said yes. It was astounding with meticulous detail. The beauty, the paintings, the murals on the wall. It was just gorgeous. I thought, 'Yeah, I've said yes to the right people.'

Do you like doing action films? Do you hope there will be more female-centered ones like this?

It's so thrilling, it's so exciting. It's so different and juicy. And it's authentic. We buy them in this world and their capabilities in kicking butt. So I hope that that bodes well and there'll be more. I've always enjoyed the physical aspect, and I have been afforded a couple of opportunities with that. So I embrace it, of course.

The diversity in the film was on many levels: people of color, age, nationality, etc. Are you seeing more of this in the projects coming your way?

That, indeed, is exciting. I welcome and embrace that because to me, that's what the world looks like. That's what the world needs to see more of, it makes a difference. One of the exciting aspects of working on this was to work with individuals I'd never met. You know, in these sort of worlds, there's so much physicality. But it was incumbent and important to each of us that we come together, we talk and think about in each scene together, what our relationship was.

Is that common in action films? To focus on the character's relationship with each other?

I don't think it's common, or it hasn't been in my experience. Some actors are very insular in their process, some are more open. A lot of times, you just show up the day before and hopefully, you've done your work and just get at it. But for others to be open, we were all on one accord in that.

How was the pandemic for you work-wise?

It slowed up the work for a minute. It was in October when we got back to work. The first few weeks took a little getting used to, they were so strict, you have certain floors that only you could go through but the crew couldn't go through. But we took that time to really figure out how to do it right, how to keep people safe. Fortunately, we got it right. We never had to shut down. We were able to stay on schedule, able to deliver.

One of the biggest tragedies is that you didn't get an Oscar nomination for Waiting to Exhale. Looking back, what impact do you think that film had, and why does it resonate so well?

I remember living in New York at that time and everyone reading that book when I was riding the subways. I guess at the time, it's like, this is a great job. Just like with Gunpowder Milkshake with a group of women. Back then that was new because so many movies started with the male lead, the white male lead, and then maybe his buddy, and maybe then his girlfriend or his long-suffering wife at home. We see her for two seconds and then he's off to adventure. This one centered on women, Black women, and their internal lives. They weren't just the secretary showing up. You saw how they felt, what they were dealing with, their children, their exes, trying to find love and intimacy and all these things that we all experience. So you really got to see that. And after that movie was very interesting, because we had more movies that included women. That was sort of a door that Waiting to Exhale helped kick open.