As a kid growing up in Australia, Natasha Bassett would prance around her bedroom belting out Britney Spears hits into her hairbrush. Little did she know that when she auditioned for the role of “Jeanie Jean” in a mystery movie, that she was in fact trying out to portray the iconic singer in television biopic “Britney Ever After.”
The unauthorized Lifetime movie chronicles the ups and downs of Spears’ life, including her rollercoaster ride to fame, high-profile romance with Justin Timberlake, head-shaving incident and shotgun wedding in Las Vegas. We talked to Bassett about immersing herself in the world of Spears, channeling the pop star’s darkest moments… And the scene she almost couldn’t film. Edited for length.
How much were you into pop music growing up — and what were your favorite Britney songs?
Pop music was a pretty big thing for me growing up. I listened to Britney a lot — and also the Backstreet Boys, who were the very first concert I went to. I would perform Britney songs in my bedroom as a kid… hairbrush microphone in my hand. My favorite music video was “Oops! …I Did It Again,” where she’s Queen of Mars. I obsessed over that video.
How was it switching from an Australian accent to Britney’s southern drawl?
As soon as I found out I had the role I started talking in her accent, which drove my mum and friends crazy! I had her interviews playing all the time on my phone. My headphones were stuck in my ears every second of the day, when I wasn’t filming or rehearsing, and I stayed in accent the entire shoot. I think some of the crew still don’t know I’m from Down Under!
How else did you immerse yourself in Britney’s world?
It was pretty much Britney Spears 24 hours a day. I read every book that exists on her, watched every interview and documentary, and threw myself into dance lessons — to learn not only how to dance, but how to walk, stand and move like a dancer.
Before I started shooting I created a visual collage of key moments in her life and stuck that up in my trailer and hotel room. It was a combination of images of Britney and different images, objects and places that were symbolic to key moments in her life, which would propel me into the right mood for each scene.
What was the most fun part to film?
The scenes where I’m in the stadium, in amazing outfits, pretending to be Britney were pretty exhilarating! I really loved performing “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” because it was really punky — and showed the fearless side to Britney, which I have a lot of respect for.
And the hardest scene?
The scene where I had to hold a python! I’m from Australia, so it’s embarrassing that I wouldn’t be able to do that. I used to do ten-day survival trips in the bush with our own food and water, where we would witness brown snakes all the time — so I didn’t realize how petrified I would be…
It was humiliating. It took half an hour before I would even touch it, and the whole crew was standing around waiting for me. But by the end, me and that python were best friends!
There was criticism about the lack of resemblance between the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, and some of the actors cast to play them in the film. What were your thoughts when you saw who was playing the boy-banders?
I actually think the casting has been really great. Being on set, it was bizarre to look around at all these characters — because everyone looked extremely similar to the real-life people!
With all your research, and having walked in Britney’s shoes, what’s the biggest insight you’ve had about her?
I learned so much… I was in primary [elementary] school when I was into her music, so I didn’t know a lot about her personal life. I certainly do now! I found it really interesting that she writes a lot of her songs, and creates concepts for her music videos.
For “Baby, One More Time,” the director was planning to shoot it as an animated video, presenting Britney as a Power Ranger — but she joked to her mum, “I’m not doing this. They’re gonna kick me out of the country if I do this!”
She came up with the idea of being a student, singing and dancing in a school hallway instead, and it ended up being one of the most popular videos in music history. So I learned some cool stuff — but she has also inspired me to become more honest and strong in the decisions I make in my life.
And you went to her Las Vegas residency show?
I did! I’m glad it was after we filmed, because I would have been way too intimidated after seeing her up there. She’s an incredible performer and it was very inspiring.
Did you get to meet her or have you had any feedback about her thoughts on the movie?
We haven’t had a great deal of communication, but I hope to meet her someday — and I hope she sees the film, and knows how much respect I have for her.
If you walked past Britney on the street tomorrow, what would you say?
I would explain how much respect and admiration I have for her, and how much she’s inspired me to incorporate more fearlessness in my life as a result of playing her. And wish her all the happiness in the world.
What else do you have coming up?
I have another movie, “Desolate,” that’s coming out soon — and I’m also working on my novel. I started writing it before I played Britney and it’s completely coincidental — but the character in the book is a girl from Mississippi, and she makes her way to Hollywood to become an actress. It’s a noir thriller.
“Britney Ever After” premieres Sunday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.