Angela Bassett tells Whitney Houston's love story

Actress-turned-director Angela Bassett gives viewers a glimpse into the life of the superstar, but does not cover her death

In recent years, stories about 1980s pop icon Whitney Houston have often focused on her struggles with drugs and her premature death in 2012 at the age of 48.

But a new biopic of the singer, simply titled Whitney, will not touch on her death or even any part of her later, most troubling years.

Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett, who takes on directing duties for the first time with this TV movie, said in a telephone interview: "We get a glimpse of where it's all going, but we don't go fully there. I don't think we need to. We know the story, and I think it would only break our hearts again if we do."

She talked to Life! before news broke that Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina, 21, was in a coma after being discovered unconscious in her bathtub - a grim reminder of Houston's shocking death three years ago when she too was found in a bathtub.

Bassett, 56, continued: "Our story only lasts five years - the five-year period of Whitney and her husband Bobby's life together after they met. Hopefully, people will get some insight into the journey that was the love story between them."

Indeed, the film focuses on how Houston and her ex-husband Bobby Brown, Bobbi's father, were madly in love when they first got married in 1992, and her career high when her 1992 movie, The Bodyguard, became a massive hit.

While the film does occasionally show scenes of substance abuse and hint at their faltering relationship, the overall work is a loving tribute to the singer.

"Whitney was this beautiful, lovely and generous person. I wanted to elevate and edify and not degrade her or her memory," said Bassett, who knew Houston from the time they co-starred in the romantic drama Waiting To Exhale (1995), and has only fond memories of the experience.

"She was just an absolute delight. She was deeply appreciative of working with me and Forest Whitaker and the others, and she was just a beautiful, beautiful person.

"She could sit around and sing out loud at the top of her lungs, and she was just easy to be around."

Whitney, which stars newcomers Yaya DaCosta as Houston and Arlen Escarpeta as Brown, premieres in Singapore tonight on Lifetime (StarHub TV Channel 514).

Despite Bassett's good intentions, the Houston family has slammed the unauthorised work, which aired in the United States last month, as "opportunistic".

The director declined to talk about their response, but admitted that she was fully aware of the flak that she could receive for making the film.

"As a first-time director, you hope that it won't fail miserably. And this being a biopic, people will always have opinions.

"But the story moved me. It wasn't like I was deliberately looking for a biopic to direct for my first film. I was interested in these people, why they make their choices, the many facets of this man and woman, how they are resilient and get back up," said the actress, who is married to actor Courtney B. Vance and has two children.

"As an actor, I've certainly done a lot of biopics myself, so I guess I wasn't in completely unfamiliar territory."

Controversially, the film depicts Houston consuming drugs long before Brown did. In one scene, she offers drugs to him at a party and he flatly rejects her and says he is "not into that stuff".

This depiction is vastly different from the common perception that people have of the couple, that he was the one who got her addicted to drugs.

The director said: "I saw an interview with her brother, where he admitted that he introduced her to cocaine. He admitted it sitting next to their mother. If you're strong enough to admit something like that in front of your own mother, I take that as close to the truth.

"But it's true that both Whitney and Bobby came to the relationship with their own substance abuse problems. My research found that she did cocaine and he had alcohol issues."

Bassett is known for playing legendary singer Tina Turner in What's Love Got To Do With It (1993), which garnered her Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Actress.

These days, she is gaining notice for her performances on acclaimed TV anthologies American Horror Story: Coven (2013) as a voodoo queen and American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014-2015) as a hermaphrodite.

"I'm still excited about acting, that's for sure. I'm still excited to act, especially when you get a great cast and a great script.

"But I also caught a bit of the directing fever and I'll be on the lookout for other directing projects. I certainly hope to be able to do both. It's nice to have a good mix in your career."

yipwy@sph.com.sg

Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

Whitney premieres on Lifetime (StarHub TV Channel 514) tonight at 9pm.