If “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is the definitive musician biopic, it’s because Bassett gave the definitive biopic performance as Tina Turner. If you watch the film today with Tina and her various Turner-isms in mind, you might experience some whiplash. Wisely, Bassett seemed to understand from the start that a stage and screen presence as idiosyncratic, highly identifiable, and utterly intense as Turner’s couldn’t be replicated. So why try?
Among the great actors of her generation, Bassett is one who you could say has her own idiosyncratic, intense, highly identifiable style. The rigid jaw, the stammering exclamations, the balletic physicality, magnanimous laugh, and ability to make any inconsequential line of dialogue sound like it’s coming from Hamlet — those are Bassett’s trademarks, and they differ starkly from Turner’s. Her stage presence is so unique and so invigorating it almost can’t be described. Her unpredictable kicks and spins, campy ha-cha-cha jaw rolls, alternation between staccato spoken word and booming vibrato belting, wordless, almost spiritual synchronization with her background dancers, and the limitless energy she relentlessly burns through. The differences are so great they virtually eclipse the similarities.
But Bassett seemed to understand the uncanny valley one can fall into when portraying real famous people: Get too close and all anyone will see are the slight failures to conform, but stay too far away and they’ll dismiss your performance whole cloth as disrespectful editorializing. Bassett went through rigorous movement and vocal coaching to become Turner, even being coached by Turner herself. But by strategically diverting in certain respects, she created a performance that stands on its own two feet while honoring Turner’s inherent incomparability.