Inspired by true events, the biopic offers an intimate look at the highs and lows of parental, familial and romantic love complicated by fame through the eyes of a sensitive, vulnerable young woman.
Actress Joy Rovaris revealed to EUR/Electronic Urban Report that the toughest challenge about playing Bobbi Kristina was being able to find “a genuine love” for Krissy’s allegedly abusive ex-boyfriend, Nick Gordon.
“Feeling so personally connected to Krissy. I couldn’t stand Nick Gordon. In order for me to play her genuinely and authentically, I had to find a real true reason why she loved him so much and then I just had to embrace that. So I had to see Nick beyond what he did wrong and what he did right, what was so appealing to Krissy. So finding that and removing Joy’s feelings about Nick was probably the toughest challenge,” she says.
Bobbi Kristina was 14 when her parents divorced and when Houston died in February 2012, Brown was named as the sole beneficiary of her mother’s estate. That October, she made headlines when she announced her engagement to Nick Gordon, a man she previously considered her “big brother.” The announcement caused controversy within both her parents’ families.
Throughout her teenage and adult years, Bobbi Kristina was the focus of gossip column speculation, including stories about her purported drug use, which Rovaris said Krissy turned to as a “coping mechanism.”
“For Krissy, she grew up with rock star parents and Whitney was the greatest thing in Krissy’s world, so whatever Whitney did was very normalized for Krissy. So the drugs, the crazy relationship, the severe up and down, all of that was very familiar for Krissy,” she says. “That was her normal. Even her relationship with Nick was like finding her own Bobby because it was so extreme. The love was extreme the hate was extreme, the fighting was extreme. And when she’s hurting she goes to drugs ‘cause that’s what she saw her mom doing. Her world is very different than someone who’s not exposed to those things. So it, hopefully, gives a “Why?” understanding for the judgment that people have possibly made. You can see how these choices came about.”
We caught up with Joy, Demetria, and Hassan ahead of the biopic’s premiere to dish about the creative process behind capturing the essence of these pop cultural icons.
Check out Part 1 of our conversation with the cast below.
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Demetria, talk about your process behind capturing Whitney’s spirit for this project?
Demetria: First off, I’ve been, and am, an avid Whitney Houston fan, and this project has done nothing but intensify that feeling for her. Coming into this, I was so stoked to play Whitney. And it wasn’t until about two weeks in, at 3 o’clock in the morning, on a weekend, after we’d been filing and this thing had been settling on me and I’m realizing that I’m playing Nippy. Which means I had to get down to the core of who Whitney Houston was, minus the hair, the make-up, the wardrobe, the accolades, the voice — who she was as a person. And that responsibility and realization kind of humbled me to understand that the biggest thing I had to tackle was my ability to let her be human. I never judged her for any of her choices but I never realized who was making those choices. Whether it was her professional ones by her record label, whether it was her choices as a mom, whether it was her choices as a singer, whatever it was, those choices were kind of taken from her (and) made her choose other things. And that humanity that we didn’t get to see, that desire for love that she expressed with her daughter, was something that was so intense and so strong for her because it was all that she ever really wanted. So really understanding the humanity of Whitney Houston, understanding the choices and allowing those things — just like we are allowed to make mistakes, just like we’re allowed to grow in our way — allowing for her to shine through all of the other stuff that people would have be remembered.
Was it ever difficult to stay in the moment without having to struggle with your energy wanting to pull from the tragedy of their deaths?
Demetria: I know Joy felt it. I saw it on Joy. I felt her all over the place. Even when I did not want to think about who she was, how she was, live her, be her, I could not get her off of me. It was really strong because we care. It wasn’t a project so that we could say, “Yeah, I did that.” It was a true story that can truly help people and I feel like their spirits were there with us, wanting us to do that. That being said, I didn’t get a chance to dwell on the tragedy of the deaths. I got a chance to understand the tragedy that we didn’t get to see them in real life. Everything that we saw sensationalized in the media, everything we saw as far as the bad, everything we saw as far as the ugly, everybody wanted to remember that.
Nobody really connected to just how deep they were to each other. Nobody really connected to the fact that these were all people, including Nick, who were just broken but still found a way to love in the way that they knew how. So I think the bigger tragedy for me in going into this wasn’t necessarily the deaths because that’s finite. The fact that there is still this lingering tragedy that those human beings, those people who were in love, those people who celebrated are the people not getting to be seen, is what I focused on.
Joy: That was one of the things that I really wanted to focus on with Krissy. Showing you who Krissy is as a human being, aside from all the tabloids and all the gossip and rumors. To show you this girl’s funny side, her angry side, her vulnerable side and then to really show you how much Whitney meant to Krissy and how much Krissy meant to Whitney. That relationship was so extremely dynamic. I felt almost like I had a responsibility of showing the world this side of them. Like Demetria said, I really focused on making sure the audience could see this connection as a mother and a daughter, aside from everything else.
Did you get an opportunity pick Bobby Brown’s brain to gain insight on how you could truly embody him?
Hassan: I had a lifetime of research with Bobby. I don’t think I missed a step with the timeline of Bobby Brown, from New Edition to now. One thing I knew about Bobby, ‘cause I did know him personally, we didn’t get to reconvene or huddle up as far as the role was concerned, but I didn’t really need to and I think he probably would have the same sentiments being that we know each other personally — Hassan should be able to get the job done. I know Bobby wore his heart on his sleeve. A lot of us do, some of us don’t but Bobby didn’t have a problem with that. And so, there’s this obsessive and detachment. He was obsessed and detached at the same time, it’s been my opinion, and the detachment was emotionally. I think that’s what the dynamic between Bobby and Krissy was. He loved Whitney, we all know that, but… I have a daughter, who’s my only child, and you want to do above and beyond what you can do and muster up inside for them, and I just think that’s what it was, and then all the other demons. Like Demetria said, the sensationalized rhetoric and the negatively kinda takes its toll and it kinda takes over and then they gotta battle with that and then trying to have some normalcy in your life, which can almost never ring true for you. There’s just those dynamics and those conflicts and Bobby had those conflicts. I was enthused to get involved and be able to bring that to fruition.
Were any of Krissy’s family and friends, those who most influencial in her life, instrumental in enhancing this narrative?
Joy: Her best friend in real life, Alex Reid, who also plays herself in the movie. There’s this scene where she and I have this other-worldly communication where we just stare at each other, and talking to her off camera I learned so much about Krissy that it was overwhelming. She’s talking to me and I’m just boohooing and she’s boohooing because, at the time, I looked so much like Krissy so it kinda gave her this sensation that she had her friend back. But a lot of the things she told me that really resonated was how soft and gentle Krissy was and that her bad girl, I’m tough — I don’t care, all of that was such a front. So for me, I took that as Krissy was kinda like an oyster, her shell was hard but then her inside was soft and there’s this pearl.
So speaking with Alex really gave me the deepest sense of who she was because Alex was her best friend towards the end and a lot of times, when Krissy and Nick were fighting, Krissy would call Alex from the closet and sit on the phone with Alex for hours until she felt safe enough to come out. And so Alex, being so open and vulnerable with me, shared everything, like their deepest conversations, Krissy’s bruises and teeth missing and everything. Everything she would cry to Alex, Alex kind of poured into me and then in the scene, I went and poured it back out to her and so it was really powerful. I’m getting chills right now talking about it. It was almost supernatural.
In what ways do you think this project will add to Bobby and Whitney’s legacy?
Demetria: I think it will add so much dimension to it. Everything just seems so black and white. For a long time, I think Bobby got a lot of flack that he wasn’t deserving of. For along time, I think people speculated on what caused what, but they were truly in love and I don’t think a lot of people gave them an opportunity to be. Of course he was a bad boy, I used to love his antics but when it came to Whitney, he was not playing with nobody. And y’all saw how scrappy Nippy was over that Bobby. But I think that because everything else was encompassing it, it just kinda drowned out the love factor. The biggest thing for me, in regards to she and Bobby’s relationship, as crazy as it was, it was based out of love. What Pat did to protect Nippy and Krissy, was based out of love. Was it always the right thing? Maybe not. What Whitney did was base out of love. Bobby having to make decisions about his life, was still based out of love. And if we keep that at the forefront I think people give the opportunity for the forgiveness that everybody is deserving of. I think that people give an allotment for the hard shell to come off of the whole situation and then Bobby can get a chance to continue loving Whitney and his daughter in the way that he does and go on with his life being the great husband and father he is still.
Hassan: I think it colorizes their legacy. It beautifies and colorizes everything.
Joy: I feel like the movie will curb a lot of the criticism that they got. I also want Bobby to have some sort of closure. I don’t know if he’s missing it or not but my hope for Bobby would be to see this movie and feel really good about his daughter, about Whitney and about them being in a better place together.
As far what what new the world will see of Krissy, I really think it’s everything. Because everybody has their opinion about Bobbi Kristina but nobody new the real girl. All they knew was Whitney’s daughter who died just like Whitney. But you see four of them, Nick included, as human beings. And I think that’s what kids going through similar situations will connect to. Everybody’s been in a position of hurting in love and I think everybody will be able to connect to that.
What message do you think Bobbi Kristina would want young women to take away from this story?
Joy: I think her message is, you are beautiful enough. You are strong enough. You are smart enough. You are capable enough to do it on your own. You don’t need the approval of a lover. You don’t need the approval of parents either. It’s about finding that inner self-worth and just believing in yourself enough to go out and pursue your dreams. I mean, it sounds kinda cliché but I think her message to young people would be, you’re enough. You’re enough to stand on your own two feet.
Hassan: Basically, love what you do and do what you love. I think that’s what the message would be overall as well.
Demetria: I talk about this all the time, the power of choice. God gave us free will for a reason because it is a very powerful thing. So if we recognize that each choice led to a whole ‘nother choice that led to another choice that directly affected another choice that somebody else had to make which even trickled down to the choices we had to make as performers. If you recognize that your choices are not just for you. If you recognize that your choices affect the future then I think that we take those choices a little bit more seriously and I think we’re a bit more forgiving with people’s choices because we make some bad ones too.
“Bobbi Kristina” airs Oct 8. at 7/6c on TV One.
Check back soon for Part 2 of our conversation with the cast.