At this point, the Lifetime network has a fully stocked arsenal of controversial made-for-tv biopics and unauthorized stories. The network has taken on the lives of fallen stars like Brittany Murphy and Anna Nicole Smith, as well as the behind-the-scenes stories of shows like Full House and Saved By the Bell. The films' subjects typically scorn the two-hour pop culture lightning rods. (Whitney Houston's sister-in-law, Pat Houston, spurned the network for their depiction of the late star saying, "If you watch this movie, watch it knowing that Lifetime is notorious for making bad biopics of deceased celebrities and brace yourself for the worst.") But there's a reason these movies keep getting made: They're extremely popular, even if a large number of viewers claim to hate-watch them. In 2016, the network boasted cable's top two original movies of the year, Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart and Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Michel'le.
The latest biopic to join the Lifetime pantheon is Britney Ever After, the unauthorized story of Britney Spears. Britney's team has said the star is not participating, "in any way, shape or form… nor does [the project] have her blessing." But the show must go on. The flick is purported to be about a whole swath of Britney's life—from her Mickey Mouse Club days, to her mega-success, to her Vegas wedding—but if the trailer is to be believed, the bulk of the film is about the star's notorious 2007 breakdown. The woman chosen to portray Britney is Australian actress Natasha Bassett, best known in the States for her role in Hail, Ceasar!
In the lead up to the Lifetime premiere, Bassett spoke to Broadly about how she perfected Britney's Louisiana twang, the most horrible moment on set, and why she views Britney Ever After as a feminist film. This interview has been edited and condensed.
BROADLY: How did you end up playing Britney Spears?
Natasha Bassett: Funnily enough, I didn't actually know I would be playing Britney Spears when I went to the audition. It came through the same day I was traveling to visit family in London, and I had a 23-page audition to learn and no script had been provided. Her name was Jenny Jean, and I thought it was a period piece set in the 50s. I went in there and did this 23-page audition, and had all my suitcases in the room, and then I went straight to the airport. I got a call 45 minutes later when I was checking in saying, "Hold on, you might not be able to get on the plane because they really like you for this part." I awkwardly stood around waiting for ten minutes until my agent called back. I ended up being able to go for a shortened trip, but I got a call a couple of days later saying, "They want to offer you the part, and by the way it's about Britney Spears."
Were you a fan?
Absolutely. I grew up performing catwalks as a kid in my bedroom to her songs. I would use a hairbrush as a microphone in the mirror and pretend I was Britney Spears.
How did you prepare to play her?
The minute I found out, I started talking in her accent right away. I drove my mom and friends crazy putting on this southern accent—I didn't not talk in that accent. I only had about a week to prepare before I went off to Vancouver to shoot, so I had to fly back right away. But before I got on the plane I went to so many London bookstores asking all the salespeople for anything on Britney Spears. I found some really valuable books, and I started reading. There were also some biographies that I found online which were imperative for me to understand her experiences. I also watched pretty much every single interview and documentary available online about Britney, and I started to take some dance lessons to learn how to get more in my body, and just to learn how to stand like a dancer and how to move like a dancer in everyday life. I stayed in accent the entire shoot as well. I think some of the crew didn't even know I was Australian. They still don't know!
Do you think you look like Britney?
I don't know! People tell me I do. But they sent me to a tanning salon once a week, which was weird. They bleached my hair blond, put in extensions, picked up my eyebrows, and there you have it: Britney Spears! I also went on a Britney diet.
What's a Britney diet?
I commend her for her amazing dedication to her workout schedule. She does about 800 to 1,000 crunches a day (I didn't quite reach 1,000), and that's on just an alright day! She'll do another 800 in the evening. It's a lot. I can probably only do about 100. From what I understand she also eats a pretty high-protein, low-carb diet.
Have your feelings about Britney changed since playing her?
After playing her she's really inspired me to change the way I deal with with things in my life. She's inspired me to become more honest and strong in the decisions I make.
What was the hardest scene for you to perform?
The scene where I have to hold a python. It was horrible. I'm from Australia, so it's kind of embarrassing that I wouldn't be able to do that. I did not realize how petrified I would be. The whole crew was standing around waiting for me, tears were streaming down my face, but I ended up holding it, and by the end of that take, me and that python were best buds.
Does the movie do Britney justice?
I hope so. I think it's nerve-wracking when you're playing someone who's still with us and can view the work you're doing because you do just want to do them justice. And I have so much respect and admiration for her, and she has such a loyal fanbase. I hope we did accomplish what we aimed to do.
Did you have any worries? I know that Britney's team didn't give the project their blessing.
Once I read the script, I wasn't so worried. What attracted me to doing this project is that at its core it's a feminist story, and I was really excited to work on a female-driven project about this amazing woman's rise to success, and the way she deals with challenges in her life, and [how she] comes through so strong at the end. I found it to be a really inspiring story.
What was the lowest moment for her that you guys depict in the film?
I couldn't say a specific moment, but there were definitely very emotional times when she was 26, 27 years old that we delve into in the story.
If you were to meet her, what would you say to her?
I would say, "I have so much admiration and respect for you. I feel so fortunate to have had this amazing opportunity because it's changed the way I've dealt with things in my own life." And I would share with her all the happiness in the world.
"Britney Ever After" premieres on Lifetime on Sunday, February 18.