Ebony - January 1993

Ebony, Vol. 48, January 1993

Whitney Houston: model, singer, actress, wife and mother-to-be
by Lynn Norment

To say that Whitney Houston can sing is an understatement. That this striking young woman can do with a song what Michael Jordan can do with a basketball has been a well-known fact since the dazzling singer made her recording debut in 1985. So fans and critics alike expected great music from Houston's debut movie, The Bodyguard, and that is what they got.

But the big question was, "Can Whitney act?"

Feedback from moviegoers reverberates in a profound "yes!"

Not only does this pop diva possess phenomenal vocal powers, but she also is quite convincing on the silver screen. In Hollywood, the word is that Whitney Houston can anticipate, if she so chooses, a long and prosperous future if the film industry to complement he, successful recording career.

So now, Americas darling songstress: has added yet another trophy to her mantle--actress. In fact, this multitalented, Grammy Award winner, who started as a model before launching her singing career, has added a few other titles to her persona in recent months, for she is also a new wife and mother-to-be. Last July, in an elaborate ceremony at her ultra-contemporary New Jersey mansion, she married popular recording star Bobby Brown, whose current release, Bobby, continues to ride high on, the charts. Champagne flowed and culinary delicacies were devoured during the festivities attended by some 800 family members and friends, including many from the entertainment industry. It was followed by a honeymoon cruise on the Mediterranean aboard a luxury yacht. The showbiz newlyweds are expecting their first child in March.

Houston is confident that somehow, some way she will be able to manage all her new personas and responsibilities, and with the class and style that characterize her lifestyle in general.

Concerning her starring role in The Bodyguard opposite Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner, one of Hollywood's most acclaimed leading men, Houston is exuberant but modest. Word is that Costner, who starred in and directed the critically acclaimed Dances With Wolves, which won seven Academy Awards, decided Whitney Houston would be the perfect leading lady and he didn't want to make The Bodyguard with anyone but her in the lead role. In the movie, Costner portrays Frank Farmer, a bodyguard and former Secret Service agent who is hired to protect Houston's character, Rachel Marron, a world-renowned singer and actress whose life has been threatened by an obsessive fan.

"There are certain singers that occupy that territory that includes a world-class voice, real elegance and a physical presence," Costner says. "Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand are two. Whitney Houston is another."

The movie is a romantic thriller about power, obsession and surrender, and the unfolding story line never mentions the obvious--that the singer is Black and the bodyguard is White. "I don't think race is an issue here," says Costner. "The film is about a relationship between two people, and it would have been a failure if it became a film about interracial relationships... some of my choices are real simple, and its very easy to fall in love with Whitney."

Houston did not immediately say yes when approached about the movie, so Costner delayed the shooting schedule and persisted in pursuing her "I promised her two things," he says. "That I would be right there with her, and she would not be bad, because I refuse to let anybody fail around me."

She finally agreed, but the two did not actually meet until pre-production work began on the film. By the time the cameras actually started rolling, they were fast friends. "It was really nice, really a joy to work with Kevin," she says, "and it had a lot to do with his personality. He is down-to-earth; he doesn't trip. He's into his work. And he's very kind, he's effective and he's considerate.

"I liked the fact that he knew what he was doing as far as the film was concerned. He's an actor, director, producer and involved in other aspects of film. And he'd had the experience with Dances With Wolves. So he was able to act and give me good direction. I enjoyed watching this hunk, this man who everybody calls the sex symbol of America, actually be into what it takes to do a film, other than be a hunk. He was very involved and concerned about every aspect of the film. And if there was something that needed to be done, he put the time into it and we stayed lot hours and worked out the scenes. I enjoyed watching him do a good professional job.

"It was exciting to work with someone who has such notoriety in Hollywood and experience in doing films," she adds. "That was more exciting for me than the actual idea that he is this hunk Kevin Costner. Yes, he's a hunk and he's sexy. We all know that, but that's not what I was looking for."

Rather, says Houston, she was looking for support and coaching. "We kind of made a deal," says Houston. "He loves to sing, he loves music, even had an album released in Japan once. I said, Okay, Kevin, I'll help you with your singing if you help me with the acting."

She adds that during filming of the pivotal love scene, she had no apprehensions, for nudity was never intended. (It has been reported that Houston refused to strip for the scene.) "The movie was meant to be tasteful; it wasn't about having sex and acting crazy... And whatever I do, I'm not going to incriminate myself in any way," Houston adds. "It wasn't required that I have to take off my clothes. Its a film with integrity."

When asked how her husband felt about her intimate interaction with Kevin Costner, Houston laughs girlishly. "I didn't go into this movie wanting to fall in love with Kevin. I was already in love," she says. "Being my man and my husband--though when I was doing the film, Bobby and I were not married-- we talked about the movie. I let him read the script. He did say: 'Well, how are these scenes going to be played? How much are you going to be involved in this?' and so forth.

"Bobby knew me and trusted me. I was not in the movie to be with a sex symbol. It wasn't about sex. Bobby was comfortable with that. You have to have a trust between the two of you. I think Bobby and I have that."

Houston goes on to make references to Brown's videos, which are noted for sensuality and explicit sexual messages. And in most of them, there is an abundance of beautiful women to which Brown directs his bumps and grinds. "I look at Bobby's videos, and I go, 'Oh Honey, God!' But I know that that person in the video is my husband and he comes home to me. He loves me. And that [the bumping and grinding] is his business, that's what he does for a living. That's part of his entertainment, his career.

Since launching into this new dimension of her own career, Houston says she's learned that Hollywood is another world. "It's a different level, a whole new facet of entertainment," she says. "Acting requires a lot of concentration. While music has a rhythm that comes naturally to me, acting takes concentration. I would compare it with starting my music career and working the dubs. It was like starting all over again, but in a new field."

Compounding her adjustment with moviemaking, Costner insisted that she not take acting lessons, for he wanted her to be "natural" and "charming."

She says the scene she had to work hardest at revolved around a confrontation between her character and Costner's. "I was supposed to be hysterical, and it required a lot of emotions," she says. "And I had to slap him several times. I kept saying, "Oh, God, I don't wanna hit this man 'cause this man didn't do anything to me. 'And I had to really slap him hard. That was a very difficult scene. Very difficult."

However, to pull it off, Houston said: "I just had to reach down inside of me and bring it out. It takes a lot for me to cry, a lot to make me mad, and acting took a lot of concentration."

In addition, Houston says the "confinement" of moviemaking was most "trying" during the six months of filming. At the same time, she spent many nights in a studio recording tracks for the movie and its soundtrack, which includes six new Whitney Houston songs.

Her "I Will Always Love You" immediately rose to No. 1 on the record charts.

Houston confides that her miscarriage last spring while working on the film probably resulted from the stress of making the movie. "During that pregnancy, I was under such pressure and such stress," she says. "People don't realize--though they should--how stress will tear you down, how it will wear out your body. I was giving just so much to this film role, and I went right from the concert tour to filming. My body was not ready to carry a child. I think of it as Gods way of saying, This is not right this time; lets try it another time.'

"This time I was so relaxed. I was happier. I had just had my wedding. I wasn't under any stress like I was before. I had done the movie, I had done the music. I was relaxed."

Family is important to Houston; it always has been. As a youngster growing up in East Orange, N.J., she accompanied her mother, singer Cissy Houston, and her cousin Dionne Warwick, to numerous recording sessions, coming to know legends like Aretha Franklin as extended family. Every Sunday, and many days in between, she could be found at New Hope Baptist Church, where she sang in the choir.

Tall and photogenic at age 17, Whitney started modeling. Though she found modeling "degrading" and did not pursue it as a career, she became a much-sought-after beauty and graced the pages and covers of popular publications such as Glamour, Seventeen and Cosmopolitan. During those early years, Houston also sang backup for a number of artists, and she appeared on several television shows. She also began singing "The Greatest Love Of All" as part of her mothers stage act.

At age 19, after being pursued by several record labels, Houston signed with Arista Records and in 1985 released her first album, Whitney Houston, which sold more than 18 million copies and became the all-time best-selling debut by a solo artist. Her second album, Whitney (1987), debuted at No. 1 on the record charts, the first for a female artist. With a three-octave range and commanding stage presence, she had seven consecutive No. 1 hits, outdoing the Beatles.

After meeting Bobby Brown backstage at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards, the two became friends and later started dating. When asked how she'd rate herself as a wife, she says, "You'll have to ask Bobby that one," before erupting into laughter. "I love my husband. I really do, and I know my husband loves me. And I support him. I love him and I will do whatever.

"Yes, I love being married," she adds. "I want to spend my whole life with him, to give to him and take from him. I wanted to be married."

And she wanted to start a family. In fact, she wants to have a second baby soon after the first one is born in March. In the meantime, Houston is experiencing the mood swings that are inherent to pregnancy. "Yeah, I'm good today," she says, chuckling. "But you have those days when your body and your hormones are doing such crazy things... On those days I just like to be by myself. You just don't know what's going to come out or how you are going to feel. You feel like crying one minute, laughing the next. Sometimes you don't want to be touched or bothered or asked any questions."

And, yes, there are the cravings. "I have to have a [turkey and cheese] submarine every now and then, and it has to be Blimpie's," says the expectant mother. "And potato chips and ice cream."

Houston adds that she hopes to be a "good" mother, "whatever that requires." And she wants to pass on to her children the credo her mother instilled in her. "When I was a child, she often said, 'Mommy always wants you to remember this one thing: To thine ownself be true,' and that always stuck with me. And she'd say, "You'll understand it better as you go through life.' And she's so right. It is so important."

To be true to herself, Whitney Houston must successfully balance singing, recording, acting, marriage and motherhood. So far she hasn't encountered any serious obstacles, in her personal life or in her multiple careers. While she emphasizes that caring for her child will be her top future priority, already she anticipates the little one accompanying her to the recording studio and other places that her busy lifestyle takes her, for that's the way she grew up. She's considering television projects that will involve acting as well as singing, and she's also pondering whether to record new music or release a greatest hits album.

While Whitney Houston's life greatly parallels that of Rachel Matron, the heroine in The Bodyguard, Houston says she's thankful that she has not needed the type of security that her character required. "Yes, I've had people threaten me, but not to the degree of a Rachel Marron," she says. "Thank God, because that's crazy. And I hope that's where it stays--in the movie."



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