Gabrielle Dennis has an aura of fearlessness about her. The Howard University alum first rose to fame in 2008 when she stepped onto the television scene as Janay, the woman who came between Derwin (Pooch Hall) and Melanie (Tia Mowry-Hardrict) on the long-running dramedy The Game. Since then, Dennis has claimed her spot in the Marvel Universe in Netflix’s Luke Cage, starred opposite Morris Chestnut on the medical drama Rosewood and has even appeared on the beloved Issa Rae comedy Insecure.
Now, Dennis is taking on the role of a lifetime as the late Whitney Houston in BET’s The Bobby Brown Story. Houston left behind a voice and legacy that was so impactful that it still rings out across the globe, so it wasn’t a role that Dennis took lightly. “I wouldn’t say there was necessarily a fear,” she explained to me ahead of The Bobby Bown Story premiere. “Going into it, understanding how important this role is, how important the need for me to approach it with a certain level of respect and being very delicate because of who she is, it was definitely a challenge. The hardest thing, I think, was that it was such a rushed project. We shot two films in six weeks. It’s just such a whirlwind. Things go so quickly. It was a lot of hard work in the preparation and the studying of her. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time on set to just be playing around. It was just kind of like, ‘Girl, during your time off, it’s just … it’s watching videos; it’s studying your lines.'”
Though Houston had such an energetic spirit, many aspects of her life, especially her marriage to Brown, were often filled with darkness. It was a weight that Dennis had to shake off when filming wrapped. “When I finally wrapped, it was definitely a relief,” the Luke Cage actress said. “It took a while to get Whitney off of me because I care so much about her, and I feel like there’s this relationship that I have with her now, even though I’ve never met her — it’s a relationship that I have with her now that’s different from the one I had with her before. I went on a journey of trying to understand her, her mental space and the things that she went through, especially during her relationship and her marriage. So there’s a lot of that darkness and that heavy weight that I had to sit with during that process, and it was hard and very emotional. At the end of the day, you get so upset. She’s not here, and she should be here. It’s very heartbreaking.”
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