Shirley Vernae speaks with actor Arlen Escepeta who you may know from ABC’s GRIMM or Final Destination to discuss what it was like working with renowned actress Angela Bassett as director for this film, his preparation in transforming into Bobby Brown and how Yaya DaCosta balanced motherhood and work while filming. Read the full interview below.
SHIRLEY VERNAE: What was your experience like being featured in a film about the great Whitney Houston?
ARLEN: My experience working on the film playing Bobby was a blessing first and foremost. It was fun, it was magical, it was a little bit of everything. The fun times, the happy times, the tough times. It really gave me a whole new respect and view into Bobby and Whitney’s relationship and relationships in general within this crazy industry we all work in.
SHIRLEY VERNAE: What was your challenges in playing Bobby Brown?
ARLEN: Definitely one of the challenges just from Bobby’s stand point, that stage, man. King Of The Stage is a title that I definitely do not own. I had to work. I had to work, I had to work, I had to work, you know, to really bring that out and I’m proud of myself for that. The other aspect as far as Bobby and Whitney’s relationship, it was about that. When Bobby has so many different layers you know, he’s a father, he’s a provider, he’s a lover. He’s this young dude from Boston who came up in this rough neighborhood. Finding that balance and finding out when he would show those different sides of himself and when it mattered. I think Bobby, just like Whitney, they protected themselves for the most part until they got to know somebody and then the walls would come down and then they would let the other person in. We see them for who they really are.
SHIRLEY VERNAE: The world would constantly critique Bobby & Whitney’s marriage. Would you say through this role you are a lot more compassionate and understanding of their relationship?
ARLEN: Absolutely I do. I feel like from the outside looking in, the only reason why they would do that is because to them they see something and they go oh my god, does this change the way we look at her now, oh she’s different—in this industry people get really comfortable seeing you through one specific glass. You know Denzel is about to do Training Day—wait a minute, he’s not the good guy?! Wait I don’t know if I like this movie. Things change and then people’s ideas change of you. And the same thing with Bobby and Whitney—these two people who appear as if they don’t match or they don’t fit or they shouldn’t be together and people are threatened by that. But Bobby and Whitney, God bless them, they said hey, don’t worry about that. That’s the outside. It’s about how we feel and I feel that’s also why Bobby never went against that bad boy image that followed him his entire life because of how she viewed him and how they looked at one another was the only thing that mattered. The outside didn’t matter anymore. IT was about them and their family and Bobby Christina and trying their best to make this thing work.
SHIRLEY VERNAE: What did you do to prepare for this role?
ARLEN: For me it really came down to really just trying to get behind the level of passion and love and respect that Bobby and Whitney had for each other. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak to Bobby or anyone from the family and with respect to them I understand why they would keep their boundaries and put up those walls. You have to protect home and you have to protect your heart. A lot of things hurt too much you know to go back down that road. So with respect to them I completely understand that. So what I did, you know, I went through a series of clips and interviews of Bobby and Whitney sitting, talking to each other together, you know. Bobby talking about Whitney. Whitney talking about Bobby. And you know it’s funny because sometimes these conversations were very painful. Other times it was fun and magical and amazing and you can see that spark that was there you know initially that drew them together. And then for me as well as Yaya together with Angela, we would sit down and try to capture those magical moments that people did not see or don’t know about and try to put that on screen cause that’s what we’re not familiar with. You know we know the other stuff but to see that magic of when they first meet, that fun, that banter back and forth—that’s what I was really trying to get behind.
SHIRLEY VERNAE: What was it like working with Angela Bassett as a Director?
ARLEN: Every single day on set was a master class in growth and understanding and opening yourself up. Angela as a person, it’s who she is, she has this amazing strengthen and this fervor for life that is evident. She doesn’t hide it, you know it’s just there and I think she can’t help to hide it. It just comes out. And then she has this amazing heart, this love that she just gives and it opens you up as a person. It opens you up as an actor. She really just allows for you to just flow and work and let things out and it’s an amazing place to be and feel and experience.
SHIRLEY VERNAE: What did Angela bring to the table as a Director?
ARLEN: She really brought a level of respect and love for who we were as Bobby and Whitney. Clearly there’s so many connections, she knew Whitney. She knows Bobby. It was all about the respect and the love and getting in touch with how these people were as real people. Not as characters. Not as you know, front page news on page 6 or anything like that but as real people. There was no days off. There was no such thing as I just had one line today. It didn’t exist. Everything mattered. Everything counted and you know she requested the best form myself, from the crew. She was talking to me about how she put everything together and it was really about you had to love, you had to come from a place of love. You have to love Whitney, you have to love what you do because this has to be passion, you have to care. It can’t be another job. And I think that’s how she approached everything she does. Big role, small role, it comes from a place of love and you have to care.
SHIRLEY VERNAE: What was it like working with Yaya as Whitney Houston?
ARLEN: It was an absolute treat. Yaya, I’ve seen her in so many different things. I loved her in The Butler, I thought she was amazing in The Kids Are Alright and I was like wow she’s really doing her thing because so many people like to tag her as America’s Next Top Model Yaya and they don’t know! They have no idea that she’s got this whole other level and this arsenal, the weapon that she has in her back pocket. I was excited to work with her and have the chemistry read and work with her on set. It was amazing. Her work ethic her drive, her attention to detail, how we were able to just play ball and trust one another. Being on screen and working with someone you never know what to expect. Sometimes in acting people can be very selfish and try to make things just about us, how I’m feeling, what’s happening with me and we didn’t approach anything like that. It was always us—well how do you feel? What are you experiencing? What are you getting? Ok, what am I giving you? And we would play ball like that and it was monumental for me. I’m blessed to share the screen with her.
SHIRLEY VERNAE: Did she bring the baby on set?
ARLEN: Yeah, the baby was on set. He’s a sweetheart. How amazing in that? You just had your baby and here you are working the stage, she worked hard. Every single day was work for her. To balance motherhood and work–it’s a testament to who she is as a person.