Since Lifetime’s announcement of its forthcoming Whitney Houston biopic, fans have wondered how the cable channel will depict the singer’s dramatic life and those around her.
Part of that answer arrived when TheWrap broke the news that Yolonda Ross had been cast as Robyn Crawford, Houston’s longtime friend, personal assistant and alleged lesbian lover.
The movie, directed by celebrated actress Angela Bassett, portrays Houston as a woman who was naïve about romantic love and who was perhaps never able to properly express herself due to her strict upbringing. Although the film does not go so far as to imply that there was ever a romantic lesbian relationship between Houston and Crawford, it implies that Crawford did battle with Houston’s husband, Bobby Brown, for the singer’s affection.
“There were maybe three or four pictures of Robyn that I could find,” Ross told TheWrap about the lack of background information for Crawford. “And production couldn’t do much better – they found one tiny clip of her talking, just so I could get an idea.”
“So, it was taking what I could find out about their friendship and how long they knew each other, and that was it. So, I was just acting off emotions – what’s on the page and what these two people in this particular situation, how they would be acting and reacting to each other.”
Ross explains that although very little was known about her character’s relationship with Whitney, she drew from the emotions of being in love with someone who is in love with someone else.
“It’s someone who you’ve grown up with since the age of 16 – that you’re now their personal assistant – so you’re the person that was with them before they became famous,” Ross said. “So, they’re counting on you a lot. So for Whitney to be at the level that she was during the time of this movie – and just where she was in life period, as Whitney Houston — to have that confidant or that person who you know is going to take care of you no matter what … that’s a really close relationship, you know? It’s a trusting one, it’s a loving one — it’s not just a business relationship.”
As for whether she believes that Whitney and Robyn ever were romantically involved, Ross prefers not to speculate.
“Whether or not it was more than that in terms of them being a couple, we can’t say that because it was not confirmed,” the “Go for Sisters” actress said. “But I know that I could play the emotions — how I’d feel, if I was that close with somebody. And if then, they started seeing someone else. I think as a human, jealousy comes into mind… hurtfulness… all of these different emotions. And so they’re all played. As the actor playing them, I hit all those notes and felt all of them. I played it as somebody that loved another person.”
The film also portrays several more of the most important figures in Houston’s life, including family (mother Cissy Houston and father John Houston), her music mentor Clive Davis, as well as producers Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and L.A. Reid, Brown’s first love Kim Ward (also the mother of two of his five children), and Brown’s childhood best friend Steve.
But ultimately, Ross says that the film centers on Houston’s life, not Bobby’s — or anyone else’s for that matter.
“It’s [about] the drugs, and all the craziness that Whitney and Bobby went through in their relationship — with the addition of [Bobby] and I pulling at her at the same time,” Ross said. “We’re both just one of several things that she’s dealing with… I think the film will show that Whitney already had a life before she got famous. She had a personality. She already partied, before becoming Whitney, before Bobby Brown.”
“I just think the whole thing kind of escalated, as she got more famous. There was already partying happening with her. The movie shows that she wasn’t just a straight-laced church girl.”
“Whitney” premieres on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.