Angela Bassett, ER
shatters the quaint quietude of a San Fernando Valley bistro with a triumphant laugh. She's just been asked to describe her new role as Dr. Catherine Banfield on the 15th and final season of ER
(premieres Thursday, Sept. 25 at 10 pm/ET, NBC). "I'm the boss!" she all but bellows. "I'm the queen! I'm the chief of the ER! I come in, snap my fingers and tell everybody who's used to doing things in their old familiar ways what to do and how to do it. I tell 'em, 'It's my way or the highway!'"
Looks like County General has an attending diva in its halls.
Not that we'd expect anything less from the first leading TV role for the powerhouse who earned a Golden Globe, an NAACP Image Award and an Oscar nomination for her take-no-prisoners portrayal of Tina Turner in 1993's What's Love Got to Do With It.
"Angela's got such huge energy, so much passion, force and strength," raves ER exec producer David Zabel, a man determined that this warhorse of a series — widely rumored to be losing cast regulars Maura Tierney, Goran Visnjic and Mekhi Phifer this season — goes out with as big a bang as possible. "For years we've said, 'Wouldn't it be great for Angela Bassett to come in and kick asses?' And so far, man, she's exceeded my expectations more than my expectations have ever been exceeded before."
Expectations have always been high for the just-turned 50-year-old stunner who looks 35 (when asked if she's still got her famous bulging biceps, she rips off her running jacket, flexes and says, "Oh, yeah! See?") and seemed poised for big-time mainstream success after What's Love. Though Bassett's worked steadily (Akeelah and the Bee, Waiting to Exhale), the Julia Roberts–level stardom never quite happened, undoubtedly due to her discreet nature (she famously turned down Halle Berry's Oscar-winning Monster's Ball role), her race and her age. "People expect quality from me, and that's all I want to give them," the actress explains. "So there are moments when you want to do more work, but you just don't think the industry gets it. For them, it's all about the 'landscape,' or 'young' or your complexion color."
But this year has been, she says, "magnificent," with a hit film (Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns), a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and three more features in the can (including the upcoming Nothing But the Truth with Kate Beckinsale and Matt Dillon). And now she is shepherding the celebrated ER through its grand finale.
"When I accepted the offer," says Bassett, who has turned down numerous series offers except for a multi-episode arc in 2005 on Alias, "I said, 'Now, don't be bringin' me over to TV land and not use me. Use me, use me, use me!' If you're a creative person, you always want more and more, and it's still never enough.
"For years now, I've loved the idea of change and going from one character to the next. So what attracted me to ER was the finite thing: There's not gonna be a 16th year even if I love doing it — too bad, it's over!"
Which might make her husband of 10 years, actor Courtney B. Vance (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), a happy man. Bassett's intense shooting schedule has cut into her family time. Fortunately, Vance is a hands-on dad to the couple's 2-year-old-twins, Bronwyn and Slater. "He can diaper and do everything you show him," Bassett says, "but he and I are trying to figure out how to do this 'date night' thing you hear tell about. Really, though, I'm too tired to be planning date nights — I just wanna sit on the couch!"
That couch is in for some serious competition for Bassett's attention, and not just from her new TV gig.
First up: the Democratic National Convention. At press time, Bassett was hoping to attend. "I'm an Obama girl, absolutely, and I want to go so bad, because it just makes you feel so proud," she says.
And then there's Tina Turner, who's coming out of retirement for a world concert tour. Could Bassett be anywhere other than in a prime seat in the audience when the Great Tina comes to Los Angeles in October?
"It's sold out," she sighs sweetly, putting her steely-diva rep into serious question. "How can I possibly get tickets?"
Surely, we tell her, if anyone could score tickets, it's the woman who immortalized Turner on film. Couldn't she just ring Turner's people for some VIP treatment?
"I think you're right!" she shouts, then shudders. "But, I so hate when I see people who think of themselves as such big, big stars asking for stuff. I think, 'Oh, get ahold of yourself!' "
Watch full episodes of ER in our Online Video Guide.
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