Natasha Bassett had no idea what she was getting herself into when she auditioned for “Britney Ever After.” In fact, she didn’t even know it was about Britney Spears.
“They didn’t give me a script and her name was Jenny Jean,” Bassett said over the phone. “For some reason, I thought it was set in the Fifties.” She was only about half a century off — no biggie.
Born in Sydney, Bassett caught the acting bug when she was 13 years old. She participated in theater productions throughout high school and moved to New York at 19, eager to pursue a career in the field. After a year in the city, she relocated to Los Angeles, where she’s lived for the past three years.
The “Britney” opportunity came to Bassett just two days before she was meant to travel to London. Less than an hour after completing the audition, she was checking in at the airport when she got a call from her agent. “He said, ‘You may not be able to get on the plane! Just hold up!’ So I sit around awkwardly at check-in, just waiting to find out,” she said. “I ended up being able to go for a shortened trip, and a few days later, my agent called back and told me I’d been offered the role and ‘by the way, it’s about Britney Spears!’”
Playing a pop icon is no small task. Bassett grew up listening to Spears; like any fan, she’d imagine the hairbrush was her microphone and would put on shows in her bedroom to Spears’ songs. But she didn’t know much about the singer’s personal-turned-public affairs, including her infamous 2007 meltdown and her whirlwind marriage to Kevin Federline.
“Those were were really pivotal moments in her life that played out very publicly,” Bassett said. “As I played her, I was just trying to bring to life the emotions that led to those moments. Of course it’s not easy, but she’s overcome everything so beautifully, and is now stronger as a result of what she went through and you really see that in the movie.”
She referred to biographies, interviews and documentaries to help her prepare for the role. She’d “obsess over them,” studying Spears’ disposition and facial movements and keeping interviews on repeat on her phone. “Every second I wasn’t rehearsing or filming, I was listening to her,” she said. And of course, she had to master the accent.
“As soon as I found out [I got the part], I went straight into accent,” Bassett explained. “I drove my mom and my friends crazy for weeks before I went to Vancouver, and stayed in accent the whole time before I got back on the plane to L.A.”
As has been the case with previous Lifetime biopics, fans raised questions over the casting choices of “Britney” shortly after they were unveiled, and Spears’ team later revealed that the singer did not approve of the movie altogether. Despite these reactions, the “Britney” crew stayed positive.
“It is really difficult to play someone who’s still with us,” Bassett said. “It’s a huge responsibility, which is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. But the film shines a really positive light on Britney and how not only is she one of the world’s greatest entertainers, she’s a mom to two gorgeous boys, she has a residency in Vegas, and it shines a light on all these positive attributes to her personality. I can only hope she watches it and she enjoys it. I hear she’s a fan of Lifetime.”
Filming “Britney Ever After” taught Bassett a great deal about just how much of a hand Spears had in her own creative direction. It also gave her a newfound appreciation for Spears’ epic python moment at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards. After a period of denial that she would actually have to encounter a python for the Lifetime movie, Bassett took on the beast.
“There were no stunts, no special effects — just me and a massive python,” she said of filming that particular scene. “I had the producers off-camera try to distract me with off-topic, random questions, trying to distract me from this seven-foot python wrapped around my shoulders.”
Since filming finished, Bassett has been spending her time completing a Fifties romance novel. “It’s about a girl who makes her way from Mississippi to Hollywood and it becomes quite dark when an estranged half-sister tracks her down and insinuates herself into this actress’ life to seek her own revenge,” she said. “I was working on the novel before I started working on the Britney project, and Britney was born in McComb, Mississippi, so that was quite coincidental. My main character’s from there, too.”
Call it coincidence; call it fate. Some things are just meant to be.
“Britney Ever After” premieres on Lifetime on Feb. 18.