Natasha Bassett grew up in Sydney, Australia, singing Britney Spears hits into her hairbrush. Now, the 24-year-old actress plays Kentwood, Louisiana’s girl-next-door turned pop superstar in Lifetime’s biopic, Britney Ever After. The movie charts Britney’s rise to fame as a teenager in the late ’90s and the eventful decade that followed, with all its python-wielding highs and razor-wielding lows. Natasha, best known previously for her role as Gloria DeLamour in Hail, Caesar!, talks to FLARE about what it’s like to be Britney.
You’re 24, so you were about five years old when Britney broke onto the pop scene with “…Baby One More Time” in 1998. Were you a fan of hers before you got the role in Britney Ever After?
Yeah! Pop music was a big part of my childhood, and I would perform catwalks for my parents in my living room to Britney’s music and have a hairbrush microphone in the mirror and pretend to be her. So I already had a little bit of practice!
Can you tell us about the audition for this role?
I was on my way to London to visit family, and I walked into the audition on the way to the airport, with all my suitcases in the room, and did a 23-page audition. The character’s name was “Jenny Jean,” and for some reason I thought it was set in the ’50s. My agent me a few days later saying I’d been offered the part, and by the way, it’s about Britney Spears! I’d had no idea going in, so I was thrilled.
It must have been daunting to take on the role of Britney; she’s such an icon, and she has so many fans that are very protective of her.
It was really exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. But once I read the script I felt compelled to tell the story, because I think it’s a feminist story at its core, and I think it’s a love letter to Britney and it shines a really positive light on her. It shows how she’s faced challenges in her life but she’s come out in the end on top, and so much stronger. It shows that not only is she one of the world’s best entertainers, she has so many other positive attributes to her personality. There’s a purity to Britney that’s uncommon in her industry.
Can you elaborate on why you feel the film tells a feminist story?
Because it’s depicting a woman who has been faced with challenges and was able to come through them with such grace. There’s a real fearlessness to her, and, as a feminist, fearlessness is imperative. The media tends to bring down celebrities no matter their gender, but I do think had Britney been a man, perhaps she would have been treated differently. I get the feeling there’s something ingrained, something that needs to change.
How did you prepare for the role of Britney?
I was in London [UK] when I found out I got the part, and I went to every bookstore I could find and asked if they had anything on Britney Spears. I watched every interview and documentary available. I threw myself into dance lessons right away, and learned how to walk, stand and move like a dancer, too. I only had a little over a week to prepare, so I started talking in her accent right away with all my friends and family, driving them crazy. It was Britney Spears 24 hours a day, and I stayed in that accent the entire shoot. The assistant director didn’t realize I was Australian until the very last day and I broke out in my Australian accent once we finished the final scene.
Which scene did you have the most fun filming?
Definitely the one where I’m performing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” because the Rolling Stones are my all-time favourite band. That was an exhilarating experience, acting out that song on a massive stage with a crowd of people in a stadium.
Britney has so many iconic outfits! What were some of your favourites to wear?
We counted over 300 costumes—we had three 12-hour days of JUST costume-fittings. It was insane! The performance outfit for “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was a blast to wear, and wearing the punk-rock outfit for “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” was a lot of fun.
What was the hardest scene to film?
The scene with the python [Britney’s 2001 performance of “I’m a Slave 4 U” at the MTV Video Music Awards]. It was petrifying—and I’m from Australia, where there are snakes everywhere, so it’s kind of pathetic! It took half an hour before I could even touch it, and the whole crew was just standing around waiting for me. Tears were streaming down my face. But I ended up holding it, and by the end of the tenth take, that python and I were best friends. Later I found out that Britney broke out in hives when she had to hold her python, Banana, so I didn’t feel too bad.
Which scene was the most challenging emotionally?
The most challenging scenes emotionally were the ones depicting darker times in Britney’s life, like at the end of 2007 and early 2008 when things weren’t going so well. That was a very dark place to be. Sometimes we would do 20 different camera angles for one emotional scene, so you’re just sitting there crying for six or seven hours, and that is not always fun!
How would you get yourself into that dark place, mentally?
It’s important for me to totally immerse myself in my character’s world, so I’m in a position to best experience their journey. For Britney, I created a visual storyboard of key moments in her life with images of landscapes and objects that helped me place where she was emotionally, so I’d keep those handy whenever I had an emotional scene, and I was also able to align some of her experiences with painful experiences I’ve had in my own life. Everyone’s had a painful break-up or a horrible family fight.
Katy Perry recently made a comment about her mental health at the GRAMMY Awards, saying: “I haven’t shaved my head yet.” A lot of people took this as a dig at Britney’s head-shaving incident in 2007. What do you make of that comment?
I don’t know much about that, but I’ll always stick up for Britney no matter what!
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Britney during your experience on the film?
She writes a lot of her own songs and creates her own music video concepts. For “…Baby One More Time” the director was planning to shoot it as an animated video presenting Britney as a Power Ranger character, and Britney thought that was ridiculous and refused to do it, so she was the one who came up with the idea to play a schoolgirl in a hallway. She also created the music video concept for “Oops!…I Did It Again,” where she plays the Queen of Mars. I obsessed over that video as a little kid, it got me really interested in space and space travel.
How do you feel about the fact that Britney hasn’t given the movie her blessing? Do you hope she’ll watch it anyway?
Yeah, I hope she watches it. I hear she’s a fan of Lifetime. I have so much respect and admiration for Britney, and it’s really difficult to play somebody who’s still with us and can see the work you’re doing. You just want to do them justice.
Lifetime movies are known—and loved—for their epic cheesiness. Do you feel Britney Ever After lives up to that reputation?
I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I think they’ve done a really great job. Lifetime has a way of telling iconic stories in a very graceful way.
What would you say to Britney if you met her?
I would tell her how much love and respect I have for her, and thank her for being the inspiration that she is, and express how she’s changed my life in some ways. She’s inspired me to become stronger and more honest in the decisions I make.
Britney Ever After premieres Saturday, February 18, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime Canada.
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