Angela Bassett and Phylicia Rashad on 'Soul' and Remembering Chadwick Boseman (Exclusive)
By John Boone
In Pixar's Soul, Jamie Foxx's animated avatar, Joe, becomes a mentor to reluctant new soul 22 (Tina Fey) in the Great Before. But here on Earth, it's Joe who's in need of guidance, which comes courtesy of two women in particular: Renowned jazz saxophonist Dorothea Williams, and his strong-willed mother, Libba.
ET virtually sat down with Bassett and Rashad (which is probably as good as a Zoom call gets) to discuss the significance of Soul, as well as to reminisce about the late Chadwick Boseman, with whom Bassett co-starred in Black Panther and Rashad taught when he was a drama student.
ET: Do each of you have an animated movie that has had a defining impact on your life, whether it was in your childhood or something that came later on?
Phylicia Rashad: I remember Johnny Appleseed. I remember that final scene in Johnny Appleseed where he was just planting apples everywhere on up into heaven, and I thought as a child, "That's all right." [Laughs] "That's all right."
Angela Bassett: There's certainly many that I've liked and enjoy -- especially having kids -- with the sophistication that animated movies have come into. I've loved a lot of them from Bolt to WALL-E to The Incredibles. I find myself from time to time remembering some of the dialogue or if something's happening, I might go to Bolt and go, "Wait for it... Wait for it... Aliens!" [Laughs] When it's something you're anticipating, but it reminds me of that moment in the movie when the pigeons are pitching their screenplay. Just, "Wait for it..." In life, wait for it sometimes.
Soul now makes history as the first Pixar film with a Black lead. Signing on to this, what did that mean to you?
Bassett: I don't know if it was pitched to me that way, but I was certainly intrigued with the title -- Soul. I thought, "Well, that's some big shoes to fill." Because I grew up with soul brothers, soul music, soul food. It's about comfort. The connotation is big and expansive. And I don't know to what degree I was aware of it till I actually sat and saw the film and was like, "Oh!" I really didn't get it until I saw it in its entirety, because I only got a scene or two. I only got Dorothea's scenes. I wasn't privy to the whole of the script as you can imagine.
Rashad: Yeah, it was comfort for me too.
Is there one thing that really spoke to you or to your experience in this movie, whether a moment or something about your character?
Bassett: One that spoke to me is after this glorious night of music and Joe thinks he's arrived. Our lead character, he gets to play with Dorothea and they exit the club late, early, early, early morning after the best night of his life -- not just of his musical experience, but you imagine of his life, just everything coalesced and came together for him -- and he's like, "What do we do tomorrow? What do we do tomorrow!" And she says this little thing to him, this little riddle or rhyme, basically, "We come back and we do it. There's no big ocean that we're trying to find, we're just right here where it's wet. And you still give all that you've got and this is it." I think as actors, Phylicia, I'm sure you've heard it before, folks are like, "I want to work with you one day. Will we get to do it one day?" or whatever, and it's like, yeah, yeah, yeah. It's this big dream. But it's you go to work every day and you do it again and again and again, or you go to the theater every day and you do it again. You chase that moment. You chase the zone. You hope to get in the zone. But you do it again. It's not a one and that's it -- arrived -- no, it's that consistency. That steady, giving, emptying, of the best of yourself to the moment.
You both have been part of projects that have been undeniably momentous in terms of representation, be it The Cosby Show or Black Panther or what have you. How have you personally experienced the impact of being part of something like that?
Rashad: Well, for me, every single experience like this has been reaffirming my deepest belief that people are much more alike than we could ever be different. And that given the opportunity, people are willing and wanting to embrace the likenesses.
Bassett: Beautifully said. I love that. Whenever I agree to come on and do something, it's because there's something in that project that intrigues me and rarely is it thinking, "Oh, this is going to be a blockbuster. This is going to be bigger than ever." It's just these things, the humanity of these people, this opportunity for me, I embrace that. And then when it has the impact that it has, oh happy day! And sometimes it doesn't have quite the impact that you would wish or what you thought the measure of this project should have been. And it's like, "Oh, well." But I still got something from it, because it was an opportunity for me to grow, to work with others whom I respected, I thought the words were worthy. The ideals of it were worthy. So, whichever way the mop flops, you have to be clear about why you said yes, and you gave your time and you gave hopefully the full measure of your devotion to it. And I think that's how you stay clear about your purpose in life. You're able to give your full measure. And you asked about this being one of the first animated movies starring a Black cast and how do we feel about it? That'd be an interesting question for Tina.
Bassett: I think being the lone non-African American in that major role, how was it presented to her and how does she feel about that? I always feel great about being with family and showing the complexity, diversity and beauty of my family and community. And a lot of times I am in Tina's shoes. I'm in the Mission: Impossible. [Laughs] So, it's curious and interesting, but it's a wonderful experience, I'm sure.
I wanted to end by sending you both my condolences for Chadwick. I know how important you both were to him and vice versa. You've both spoken such beautiful things since then. What does it mean to hear one another's memories of him amidst this outpouring of love?
Rashad: People's feelings and remembrances are so consistent, don't you think, Angela?
Bassett: Absolutely. Absolutely!
Rashad: Mhmm. We all saw the same person. We experienced his appreciation for life and for people and for the arts of writing and performing in the same way. And we all, all of us, feel better and blessed for having known him. Because he was really something special.
Bassett: Like you said, the writing, the projects that we're able to go and to see and that seem to be programmed around the clock recently, but there's something-- And we have marvelous actors, but it was something truly special and unique and specific to him. And it touched not only us who knew him -- who interfaced with him early and later in his life -- but those who never met him, they get a sense of that, too. So, there's something really deep and special about that soul. There's just something about people sometimes, you don't know what it is, but they just make you happy. They just make you know that there's a greater, better way to be to live your life.