On November 1, 2011, we were lucky enough to get to visit the Detroit set of the remake of 70’s cult classic musical Sparkle, which was meant to be a comeback vehicle for pop superstar Whitney Houston. She sat down with us to discuss the film with her production partner of nearly 20 years, Debra Martin Chase, and seemed happy, healthy, and in good spirits about the film.
“She’s killin’ it! We’re having a great time!” said Chase.
Now with Houston’s tragic death, this proved to be one of the last opportunities for the press to speak with her, and the discussion took an especially ironic turn when Houston discussed the film’s original leading lady Aaliyah, who also died tragically.
“It was so tragic. We didn’t want to touch it, that was it for us, ’cause she was so perfect for it. She wanted it.”
But they did go back to it, and Sparkle will see a release this August as a tribute to Houston in her first film role since The Preacher’s Wife. In the film, Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) struggles to become a star while overcoming issues that are tearing her family apart. Houston plays her single mother.
Q: What was your first experience with “Sparkle”?
Whitney Houston: As a young girl back in the ’70s there was the black exploitation movie thing. This was a positive reinforcement for young African American women. For anyone who wanted to pursue their dream and present their gifts it just appealed to me. I would go every Saturday for four months straight to watch the matinee to the evening show. I would just never let go of it. Fifteen years later Deborah and I were talking and I said, “Debra, have you ever looked at ‘Sparkle’?” She said, “Wow, great project.” Sony picked it up, they moved some folks out, moved some folks in. As the cast came together it worked out perfectly.
Q: What’s it like working with the cast?
Houston: Now that I’m older and more seasoned in this form of entertainment, it coincides with my life as a mother. Now I have three daughters, but I have one daughter that adds up to three for me, as far as I’m concerned. (laughs) I’m comfortable with it because I’m an on-hands monther, and a disciplinarian mother. I don’t make idle threats, you know what I’m saying? It’s a good position for me to be in because I feel close to all three of them as my daughters. I’m very comfortable with it.
Q: Are you contributing to the soundtrack?
Houston: I am contributing to the soundtrack. Robert Kelly is doing the soundtrack. Jordin has some great material on there, we’re compiling the material as we speak. My name isn’t Effie, not in this version. I’m not gonna tell you what it is. (laughs) I chose my name and they accepted it.
Q: How have you changed the story from the original?
Houston: What you will find in this version is we have a foundation. We start in church, which is different from the original. We had no idea where the girls actually came from, so we twisted it a little bit so we know where they came from, which is starting off singing gospel.
Q: What do you think is the target audience for this film?
Houston: The grand part of this movie is you’ll be able to go with your children to see this movie. It’s a family movie. It’s inspiring, it’s encouraging. You’ll see the ups, the downs, the all-arounds, and we still come out alright. We’re not trying to set precedents for other black movies to be done. If so, then God bless it, but we just want to make it available to families and mothers and daughters and fathers. My daughter goes to see movies and I’m not going to see that, you know what I’m saying? (laughs) That’s our goal, for families to go back to the movies together.
Q: Do you see this as a “comeback” project?
Houston: I don’t think of it as a comeback. I don’t think of it as a pressure. I think of it as a gift God gave me to contribute to a cast of people who are working as hard if not harder than I. I have two jobs and executive of the soundtrack. I’ve done it before. In my life it was not that I want to be an entertainer, it’s in my family bloodline. I can’t help it. It is something that God said this is what you do. It’s in me. To me it’s not a comeback, it’s innate, it’s natural.
Q: How are you balancing doing this film here in Detroit with your family life?
Houston: I have priorities. Maintaining my daughter is my first. She also has it in her blood too. She does her acting classes and her vocal coaching so I keep her busy with that. She’s very happy with that. She’s 18 now, gonna be a woman in a minute, Lord have mercy. I also have a godson, he’s 22, a well-balanced young man. That I took care of first, and now I can keep my focus on what I have to do here. In pre-production you have to do prep work, and you never know what happens in between but you be ready for whatever it brings. You try to balance it and you try to make the proper decisions and be prayerful about it. Make sure you confer with that inner spirit and do whatever you can.
Sparkle is still scheduled to be released by Sony Pictures on August 17, 2012.