"I'm not gonna tear her down," Bassett insists, getting candid with ETonline in a new interview to promote her directorial debut focusing on the life of the late pop-music legend.
In Whitney, premiering Jan. 17 on Lifetime, the actress-turned-director gives the public a peek into the singer's trials and tribulations behind the mic -- but don't go misreading her intentions, she says. Bassett went as far as cutting scenes from the film to avoid tarnishing Houston's legacy.
"There were certain things in the script, and it was like, 'No, we're not gonna show that!'" the director says. "With the song with Babyface ("I'm Your Baby Tonight"), the way it was written (in the script was) she picks up a cigarette and can't concentrate on finishing the song because she's thinking about what's not going right with Bobby. It was like, 'Uh-uh! This girl has a gift, and on her worst day she sung better than some folks on their best Auto-Tune day!'"
Aside from for her incomparable vocal talent, Whitney also became known as an actress with a string of widely recognized roles in The Bodyguard, The Preacher's Wife and 1995's Waiting to Exhale, alongside Bassett.
"Acting wasn't her strong suit -- singing was," says Bassett, who bonded with Houston during the Forest Whitaker-directed feature. "She may have been dealing with [Bobby], but when she showed up on set to do what she did, she put it down. In this moment, we're gonna pay tribute to that."
While researching for Whitney, the director was most struck by "the duality she possessed." "[Houston] was just the most regal and the most regular, and that's what I loved about her. Not always 'on.' She was the most professional, and when she had fun, she had fun. I loved that about her."
Though Bassett's film spotlights some of the dramatic tabloid fodder of the singer's storied life, the director says she didn't experience a troubled Whitney while shooting Exhale. "I never knew her as fragile or frazzled," she says. "I just saw her full of joy, singing, working it out."
The actresses' bonding behind the scenes led to a spontaneous "riffing" moment that Bassett reveals to ET was unscripted and used in the final cut of the film.
"We just had the radio on and began singing ["It Might Be You," rerecorded by Roberta Flack for the final film], and we didn't have [rights to] that song! [The producers] had to go pay for it; it was something real that happened in the moment. It wasn't in the script. It wasn't planned. And so that's how I saw her: head back, laughing, joking, hugging."
Whitney presents many sides of the singer, especially the one on everyone's mind: Her relationship with Bobby Brown. Bassett says her interest of their torrid love affair stems from her own curiosities about the couple.
"Listen, I'm a girl who always has and always does believe in love," she says of the film's focus on Whitney and Bobby. "This was a very important and instrumental person in her life -- the love of her life -- and the two of them produced the joy of her life, Bobbi Kristina, and (Whitney) embraced his children from other relationships. You know, I guess they really were meant for one another."
Check out a very shy Whitney Houston in her first interview with ET in 1984!