Angela Bassett makes her directorial debut with the TV movie which is set at the height of Whitney's fame. But Bassett says the the movie handles her drug use and troubled marriage to Bobby Brown head on.
"We don't shy away from that," she tells ET. "We can't tell a story without that. We're being honest."
"This is a love story," she adds. "It's a complicated life that she lived. Just she herself alone as an icon, as a singer, as an artist-- and [Bobby's career] as well and theirs combined-- but the most important aspect in life is love and I think they had it."
Former America's Next Top Model contestant Yaya DaCosta, who most recently co-starred opposite Forrest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniel's The Butler, takes on the role of the legendary singer, and told ET she studied all of Whitney's videos to get her moves down right.
"We're focusing on a really beautiful time," the 32-year-old adds. "We're focusing on her rise and we want to celebrate her life and celebrate this wonderful woman."
The film has drawn controversy because the Houston family was not involved, but among the biggest challenges Bassett faced making the project come to fruition was recreating Whitney's iconic voice. There were problems getting the rights to use Whitney's actual vocals, so singer Deborah Cox is the real voice behind Yaya's portrayal.
"I just focused on the job at hand," Cox told ET. "Angela really wanted me to invoke the spirit of [Whitney] and make sure the songs we're going to be a great tribute to her."
As for her critics, Bassett admits she anticipated them "to come with bricks."
"I love when they talk trash and don't think they're going to get anything because we have an opportunity to really show you something."
Feb. 11 will mark the third anniversary of Whitney Houston's death, which will not be portrayed in the Lifetime movie. The singer was found dead in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the day before the Grammy Awards. Houston's death was caused by accidental drowning, but heart disease and cocaine use were contributing factors, according to coroner's officials.
Watch the video for more behind the scenes of Whitney and to find out which scene gave Bassett chills while shooting.
Whitney premieres Jan. 17 on Lifetime.
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