Angela Bassett admits she didn't always look forward to being on the set of Boesman and Lena, the wrenching drama about a South African couple torn apart by apartheid.

"Every day I'd be like, 'Wooo, I have to go there again? It's going to be a tough day emotionally,'" Bassett tells TV Guide Online of the film, currently in limited release. "The thing that saved me is that I really love [co-star] Danny Glover, so I felt safe during those hurtful scenes in which we really go at each other."

Bassett — who is being touted as a major Oscar contender for her Boesman and Lena role — not only had to face up to constant verbal and even physical confrontations with Glover, she also had to contend with the harsh locations. "There was only one way to cope: On weekends you just go and get pampered physically and have them suck the dirt out of you," she explains. "I'd go for a nice massage or a facial, but I'd know that the next day I was going to have go back to the set and do it all over again."

Ironically, the village of flimsy shacks that the filmmakers created near Cape Town looked too much like the homes of some poor, itinerant South Africans. "We had to have security keeping them out because they were ready to move right in," Bassett says. "Then, as part of the film, we had to bulldoze and burn everything down. For those people, we were destroying a potential shelter which they would have made good use of. That does sadden you."

Just as Boesman and Lena fight back against the prejudice that was destroying their lives, Bassett remains hopeful that blacks in South Africa who are still struggling will be inspired by the film's message. "We hope that no one will become complacent and accept that way of life," she says. "You've got to keep reminding yourself, 'I can do better than this.'"