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
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