"Pregnant Pause"- Entertainment Weekly 1993
"I can't really be the average pregnant woman," says Whitney Houston. "People say, ~God, you got biiig!' For some reason, I'm not supposed to be pregnant. I'm not supposed to be a woman. I'm supposed to be something else. What, I have no idea." She shifts around, trying to get comfortable on her couch. "A guy who was once my manager told me, ~You're an icon!'" She thrusts her arms up and throws back her head in laughter. "I was like, ~What the f--- is an icon?' He said, ~People look up to you and they think you're a god.' Maybe that's what it is, I don't know."
At this moment, in the living room of her elegant North Miami Beach condominium, Houston, 29, doesn't look much like an icon, but she is unmistakably pregnant. Her face, though undeniably pretty, is puffy and devoid of makeup; her eyelids are swollen, and so are her feet. Eight months into her pregnancy, she has added nearly 40 pounds to her 5-foot-8-inch, 125-pound frame. In baggy black sweatpants and an oversize white T-shirt, she seems a world away from the svelte pop diva everyone knows. And the contrast is all the more striking because right now, that other, glamorous Whitney Houston is virtually inescapable.
The Bodyguard, Houston's film debut, in which she plays a singer who falls for an ex-Secret Service agent (Kevin Costner) hired to protect her from a crazed fan, has so far grossed more than $106 million for Warner Bros. - making it one of the biggest hits of 1992 and one of the most profitable movies in the studio's history. Its soundtrack album, containing six Houston songs, has been No. 1 on the pop and R&B charts for seven weeks and has already sold 6 million copies. And then, everywhere, there's That Song; Houston's remake of Dolly Parton's 1974 ballad "I Will Always Love You" has been No. 1 on the pop charts since Nov. 28 (two weeks before the movie opened), has sold 4 million copies, and has achieved near-total dominion on radio and MTV.
And this success is particularly stunning because it comes at a time when Houston's career seemed to have lost momentum. Her third album, 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight, sold only 3 million copies - a smash for most artists but a comedown for a singer whose first two albums sold 15 million copies combined. Moreover, a number of stations at first refused to play "I Will Always Love You" on the grounds that listeners would be turned off by its quiet, a cappella opening. And with reviews that mostly ran the gamut from bad to worse ("the year's highest-profile stinker," wrote Mike Clark in USA Today), The Bodyguard is hardly one of the season's prestige movies, although it gained respectability when it made $16.6 million its first weekend.
Yet Houston, far from being smug about her vindication, seems oddly detached from it. "I feel kind of embarrassed," she says quietly. "I almost wish I could be more exciting - that I could match what is happening out there to me. I wish I could tell you I wake up in the morning and play ~I Will Always Love You.' Sometimes I sit around and go, ~You're a bad, bad entertainer'" - she slaps herself on the wrist - "~Bad, bad. You're supposed to be into this s---.' But I'm not. These days, the first thing I think about when I get up is labor."
Houston, who married singer Bobby Brown last July, is due in March. Though she won't confirm she's having a girl, she repeatedly refers to the baby as "my daughter." She has just spent a week on the road with her husband, who is on a yearlong tour in support of his own album, Bobby. Now she has taken refuge in her Florida vacation home (her primary residence is in Mendham, N.J.) to swim, lie in the sun, and take long naps. When she's not working, this serene laziness is what Houston craves.
The serenity extends to her reaction to The Bodyguard's reviews. Houston, who has been criticized in the past for selling out her soulful voice by singing middle-of-the-road pop ballads, seems untouched by the critical trouncing her first film has received. "The public is intelligent enough that they are willing to say, ~I want to see it for myself,'" she says. "I worked so damn hard on that movie, and I put a lot of time into it, as everyone else did. I'm grateful that people get it, that they're open enough to understand it."
"I Will Always Love You," the ballad she sings at the end, has been a major part of the film's success. "You hear the song, you think of the movie," she says. "I think about people who have passed away, people in my family I've been close to. Certain parts make me think of my husband.
"Whose heart can't this movie touch? We've been missing that level of, ~Oh, God, I can lose myself in this movie.' That's the key element. It's not offensive to anybody."
One element in The Bodyguard - the interracial romance between Costner and Houston - might have been expected to offend at least some people, but it never became an issue. Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Grand Canyon) wrote the screenplay 15 years ago, and at one point Ryan O'Neal and Diana Ross were considered for the leads. Had the movie been made in the '70s, the interracial romance would probably have dominated discussions of it. But The Bodyguard never even acknowledges that aspect of the story, and neither did test-screening audiences. "When we put a card in front of someone for comments, it never came up," says Rob Friedman, Warner Bros.' president of worldwide advertising and publicity.
"I don't think it's a milestone that a black person and a white person made a movie together," Houston says, stretching forward on the couch to take the weight off her back. "I think for people to look at this color-blind is a milestone."
The milestone may owe as much to Houston's enormous mainstream appeal as it does to America's changing attitudes about race. "Whitney, in a sense, is to music and now to film what Cosby was to television," says Sheldon Platt, her attorney. "The American middle class looks upon her as a person, and they extinguish other ethnic or racial boundaries."
"The black community sees [the movie] as something larger," Houston says. "Black women tell me, ~This is something we've been waiting for, for somebody to kick it down so we can play these roles. We can be powerful independent women." Black men have a sense of pride too. They say, ~It's so nice to see a good-looking sister playing a part that has intelligence.'"
Houston wasn't even sure she wanted to make The Bodyguard in the beginning. Costner, its coproducer, originally approached her about it in 1989 and was so eager to have her costar he was willing to postpone production for two years so she could work it into her schedule. But Houston, who has never taken acting lessons, was skeptical. "I kept saying to him, ~What makes you think I can do this?' And he used to say to me - she launches into a playful imitation of Costner's flat Southern California drone - "~Whitney, listen. Every once in a blue moon you get this person who just comes around and has this quaaality. When you thought about a movie that had music in it, you used to think about Barbra or Diana. But now it's you.' And I'm like, "That's what I want. I want it to be meeee!'" she sings, laughing.
"Barbra is definitely a role model," Houston continues. "The Way We Were? God, I listened to that album every day when I woke up. I feel privileged to be in that group now."
Unlike Streisand, Houston isn't sure she wants to focus her energies on a film career. "I'm not dying to be a movie star," she says. "I'm a singer, that's what's in my heart." But how she will mix movies and music is still unclear. "She has the instinct of a performer," says Bodyguard director Mick Jackson (L.A. Story). "I think her range will grow movie by movie." Clive Davis, president of Arista Records, who has advised her since signing her in 1983, says, "I think it really depends on Whitney now. She can pick and choose what she wants. She's got to feel comfortable with it. She's got to want it."
According to her executive assistant and longtime close friend, Robyn Crawford, Houston's management company has already "nailed down a producer" for her next film, though the exact project hasn't been chosen and there has been no mention yet of a Bodyguard sequel. "When time is of the essence and you're hot, you don't sit back," Crawford says.
Houston seems to feel less urgency. "In the summer, after the baby's born, I'll pick up a few scripts and see what's appealing," she says. "I'm not rushing to do a film right now."
A certain diffidence has always been her style. "Whitney likes doing what she does, but I couldn't possibly think of her as a driven person," says her father, John, who is her business manager and CEO of her management company (called Nippy, Inc., after Whitney's childhood nickname). Though she makes all final decisions, the singer has very little to do with Nippy's day-to-day operations. "My people go out there and they know what they're working toward," she says. "When they come back to me, they say, ~Whitney, this is what we've got, what do you want to do?' It took me a long time to become boss lady and it wasn't a position I was enthused about, either. But I'm very much aware of what's happening."
Then she shifts from business talk to point out that the baby's position has changed. "Ooh, she's poking me in my side. See that? Isn't that amazing?"
Houston's abrupt transformation into a newly wed expectant mother was, in some circles, a surprise. For years there have been rumors that she is gay and that she and Crawford were lovers. Houston has always flatly denied it, but the talk goes on.
"Once someone gets to be a success, there are a number of things that are going to be said about you automatically," Houston says. "One is that you're gay. One is that you've got a drug problem [a rumor that has circulated about Brown and that he has denied]. The other one is that you have no idea what the hell you're doing. At one point it hurt me to have to dignify what I wasn't with an answer. It used to f--- me up, to be honest with you. I used to go to my mother and say, ~Why, why, why is this happening? I can't be friends with women?' The [media have] to have some sort of tag on you, especially if you're private. That's the only thing I can come up with. You got an other theories?"
"It's because Whitney doesn't wear clothes up to her behind with her tits out, excuse my French," says her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston. "Either you're the biggest whore or you're a lesbian."
"You develop a core, a hard one," says Whitney, raising her hands in front of her face like a protective shield. "People looove scandalous s---, girl, they do. I think, for the most part, people respect and like me. I really do. But I think [the tabloids] would rather say, ~Oh, she's a nasty old freaky witch.' People go, ~Oh, really? Let's buy it and see.'"
Still, it's understandable that there have been a few questions about her marriage. Brown, who is five years younger than his wife, already is the father of three children born out of wedlock to two other women; he and Houston are rarely together for more than a few weeks at a time. In fact, even as Houston is talking about her marriage in her quiet, softly lit apartment, Brown is on stage in Augusta, Ga., simulating sex with a woman stripped down to her lingerie, an act that earns him a police citation for "sexually explicit presentation."
"Everybody says, ~How can this be a real relationship?'" Houston says. "He's the bad boy of the business, and she's the good girl.'
"First of all, I would not marry anybody that pleased me just a little bit, or that satisfied just one need. It's not good to be away from each other all the time, but it's not necessarily good to be around each other all the time either. We talk on the phone, and he'll say, ~What do you have on?,' stuff like that, to keep it romantic. It makes it fun. It's like, ~I'm going to see my boyfriend.' It's exciting." (Brown refused to talk about his wife or his marriage for this story, despite repeated requests for an interview over the course of a week. "He is on a 50-city tour and is in a different city every night," his spokesperson says. "Due to his rigorous schedule, he doesn't have the time.")
But even Houston must admit it can't be easy being the husband of Whitney Houston, pop icon. Though Brown, who began his career with New Edition, is a strong success in his own right - his 1988 album, Don't Be Cruel, sold more than 6 million copies, and the follow-up, Bobby, has so far produced two top 10 hits - his wife is clearly the bigger celebrity. Houston simply says their marriage has never been about work. "I married a man who says to me, ~Honey, I want you to do what makes you happy,'" she says. "The first thing Bobby ever said to me about this movie was, ~That movie's doing good. What is it, $88 million?' I was in the bathroom, putting on makeup. I answered, ~Yeah, honey, isn't that something?' And he said, ~Yeah, that's great.'"
Houston stretches again, strokes her belly, and returns to the project she cares about most right now: the impending birth. She is reading a book called What to expect When You're Expecting and has decided against natural childbirth. "I told my doctor, ~If the pain goes on for more than an hour, shoot me up, shoot it wherever you think you have to shoot it,'" she says, laughing.
"It's so weird watching [the media] talk about The Bodyguard," she goes on. "I mean, I'm lying in bed, holding my stomach, watching my baby move around, and they're talking about ~the Bodyguard phenomenon.' I just feel far removed from it, like it's deja vu." In the morning, Houston will head down to Nassau, the Bahamas, for some vacation, hoping to feel as far removed from that other life as she can.
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