“Sparkle” Cast Remembers Whitney
By: Lynn Barker
Sparkle was Whitney Houston’s last film and one she had been trying to get produced for years. According to everyone, she was professional, nurturing, happy, dedicated, very talented and funny on set.
Whitney's character at church
Jordin Sparks (Sparkle)
Kidzworld: Talk about your experiences working with Whitney Houston and did your perspective on her change after her unfortunate death?
- Jordin: Working with her was a lot of fun. You hear all these stories about people meeting their idols and it not going well. That wasn’t how it was with Whitney. She was so down to earth. She wanted to sit with us, talk with us and get to know us which was really nice. She could have been like “I’ll do my scenes and go back to my trailer”. That wasn’t how she was. Of course she was executive producing as well but she didn’t really have to be there. She was watching us and checking things out and asking us if we needed anything and if we were okay. It was amazing to go through that with this supernova, diva “The Voice” and she’s just going “So what’s up?”, just little questions that were sweet.
Actually, nothing really changed when I found out she passed. I just loved her even more because she was such a light and you see that in the film. She was just glowing and so excited and so joyous on screen. I was completely shell shocked. I was devastated when I heard she had passed. For me to feel the way that I did, I had only known her for two months but it was in an intense two months with 12 and 14-hour days. So, I can’t imagine what her friends and family who have known her for years are feeling when I was so struck by it.
A Mom/Daughter moment
The crazy thing is it’s very bittersweet. She should be sitting here talking to you. Now, it’s on all of us as the cast. Sparkle was so important to her so it’s equally, if not more important to us now, because it was so important to her. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of representing it the way she would have wanted it. She has her hand in everything we do for the film and I’m excited for people to see what she had been working on for so long.
Kidzworld: Did she have any advice for you as a person?
- Jordin: You know, everything was so crazy on set and we were just working so when we spoke it was more a fun, goofy banter. I never wanted to get too serious because we were already doing so much. I never got the chance to just sit and go, “Can you give me some advice?” but she was always very encouraging and I took from that when I had to sing her song (“I Will Always Love You”) at the Billboard awards. It was the scariest thing I had ever done in my life. I had never sung that song before. I had never performed it for anybody because it was one of those songs that you go “I’m just going to leave it in this pretty box over here. Let me go sing “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” because nobody’s going to get mad at me for singing that. But I heard her in the back of my head going “You got this. You’re good”. That’s how she was on set so I kind of remember those little things, those little moments and nuances.
Whitney with Jordin Sparks
Mike Epps (Satin)
Kidzworld: Can you talk about verbally sparring with Whitney during the dinner scene and just working with her?
- Mike: She was off the hook. She was really, really vibrant. She was just full of life and really alive. She was just happy to be there. Movie sets are totally different from music (video sets) I think. It felt like (with her) it was more settled and structured. It wasn’t flaky. It was like coming in and going to work. We were clocking in every morning and there was a set routine. That’s how she came off. But she was really cool and fun.
Mike Epps and Carmen Ejogo pull off Sparkle's sleek 60s style
Every chance I got I’d ask her about Dionne Warwick because it’s just amazing to me that she’s part of that family. My mother was a big fan of Dionne Warwick. She was telling me about Stevie Wonder and she had me die laughing. She’d say “Ya know, Stevie, he’s having a better time than anybody.”
When she first saw me on the set, she said, “Let me get a picture with you.” That threw me off. I was like, “You want a picture with ME?” She said, “My daughter, Bobbi Christina, told me “You don’t know everybody, mama”, and I said to her, ‘I know everybody in the business,’ and her daughter said, ‘You don’t know Mike Epps,’ and she said, ‘I know that nigga.’” So she kept it real. You know, I met her some years ago at a video shoot. I did a video with her and Bobby Brown years ago. It’s on YouTube. I don’t remember the name of the song. I was a paparazzi and I was taking pictures of her.
Carmen Ejogo (Sister) and Tika Sumpter (Dolores)
Kidzworld: You guys and Whitney have an amazing dinner table scene with some really serious stuff as well as humor in it. Can you talk about that?
- Carmen: The dinner table scene (in which her character brings her man home only to have mom reject him) comes out remarkably serious in the movie but it took us hours with Mike Epps acting like a total fool and being so out there. Whitney was a riot. Any chance to have a good ole laugh, she was right there. I’m trying to find all this emotion but we got there. That was crazy. We’d go over the same lines for hours. Mike started it.
- Tika: Maybe when it’s on DVD they’ll show some cuts.
Carmen Ejogo in Sparkle
Kidzworld: How do you look back on the experience of working with Whitney now that she’s no longer with us?
- Carmen: God, what a gift! It’s very easy to just be persuaded by the tabloids that it was a doomed scenario for her. But, if you take a step back, the day I found out she died I was in Belize with no TV or radio, no access to all that junk so it was just me in front of an ocean meditating on her entire body of work. That, and my personal experience in the movie with her, my connection with this real person, all of that tabloid fluff was out of the room. Her body of work is stunning. I’m so grateful to have been gifted to be part of that body of work.
- Tika: Grateful. You almost can’t believe you are in a film with this iconic person who reached people worldwide. Growing up, my sisters and I would look at her album covers. I feel so grateful to have worked with her.
Tika Sumpter, Carmen Ejogo, and Jordin Sparks in Sparkle
- Carmen: I feel like she came into the movie knowing that there was something to prove on her part to a certain degree so there was a humility she had so I forgot at times how massive she was. I wish I’d asked more questions. I realize after the fact that she was the first concert I went to see. I feel like we had a really lucky moment with her. As her sister-in-law said at the funeral, it was one of the best times of her life. That was evident every day.
- Tika: One of my favorite moments on set was the scene where she and my character are saying Goodbye. Also, one where she was yelling at Sparkle that she’s never going to be anything just because, in those moments, she was so open and giving as an actor and so present . She had such a great presence for me.
I wanted to take in everything I could from her, seeing her on set. She was nurturing, even when (her character) was being mean. She was motherly. And that dinner scene was funny. She’d be laughing, singing and carrying on. She was open and vulnerable and loving. After the funeral we got to talk with the rest of the cast and share these moments with this great woman. Just celebrate her. It felt like a family.
- Carmen: I think so much of Whitney in real life is embodied in my character Sister. That was something she was open about. We were mirroring each other in final scenes. We connected on a deep level. It was very emotional. It was a good time for her and a story she’d been dying to tell.
Sparkle Movie Trailer