Some may remember Arlen Escarpeta for his role in the horror film Final Destination 5, but now Arlen is stepping into the shoes of R&B bad boy Bobby Brown in Lifetime’s biopic of Bobby’s late ex-wife Whitney Houston, in which the biopic is directed by Oscar nominee and Whitney Houston’s former costar Angela Bassett. We caught up with Arlen where he discussed working with Angela, Yaya and more.
How did you go about getting role of Bobby Brown in Whitney biopic?
Arlen: Getting the role like every other actor came through via audition and I was excited of course. It was a great opportunity. Once I saw Angela Bassett’s name on there I was even more excited because I respect her and love her as an actress. I was like wow and she’s directing now it would be a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the project. At that point it was all about putting in work with the audition material and at the same time I had worked with Angela’s husband Courtney on Final Destination 5, so I had met Angela a while back. But Final Destination 5 and playing Bobby Brown are two different things, so I was really excited to get in the room and let her see me in a different light than her seeing me in a final Destination film. Then from there I tried to kind of do my thing and thankfully she saw something in me in what she was looking for Bobby. Everything kind of worked itself out the way it was supposed to.
Can you elaborate on the audition process, did you have to sing, as well as dance in the audition?
Arlen: You know what’s funny, I actually had to sing a little bit originally, and that part of the script actually didn’t make it. It was a (first) previous draft so as we started filming that draft didn’t make it into the actual filmmaking. I did have to dance which was ok with me because I went to a performing arts junior high school and high school, so I been trained in a bunch of different types of dance and stuff like that. I love to dance, I grew up dancing to Bobby Brown anyway. It was a blessing for me because I served myself much better with the choreographers I got to work with. I got to work with Fatima, my friend Jimmy, Wood, Goof. These guys along with Fatima took what I had and took it to a whole other level. So I didn’t have to dance at the audition, however the first audition I did get to read with Angela. Angela read the role of Whitney opposite me in the initial audition . For me I was just excited to say hey if I don’t get this job I just did this scene with Angela Bassett and that in itself is an accomplishment for me. The second audition was actually the scene test, they brought me back and I got to do the scene with Yaya, and that was just phenomenal. There was a lot of trust there, there was a great connection between Bobby and Whitney. It was great. I felt good, and as an actor you want to walk out the room feeling like wow I could have done that onset and that could have been it. That’s how I felt when I left the room, but at that point it was out of my hands. It comes down to what they like, what they want, am I tall enough, am I this, am I that. God blessed me, everything worked itself out.
Did you speak to Bobby himself or anyone that personally knows him in preparation for the role?
Arlen: No. A lot of the family are keeping their distance, rightfully so, some things are too close to home, and some people don’t want to rehash old wounds and old scars so I wasn’t able to speak to Bobby at all. I tried to watch as many interviews of Whitney and bobby together and alone, to get how she spoke about him, and how he spoke about her. I really tried to get behind that love and that passion, and that crazy amazing side of their love, the passionate side, the family part because you know in our film Whitney had their daughter. I tried to get behind all those elements that way. Even when I first auditioned that was my first foundation in playing Bobby, was loving Whitney and loving their relationship. As far as the bad boy side, that you know I felt like everyone is familiar with that, everyone knows that but let me focus on the side that people don’t get to see that often.
Would you say not getting to talk to Bobby was one of the biggest challenges?
Arlen: In a sense I would say yes, with that person being alive still and still doing his thing and not being able to speak to him. On the flip side of it, it was a challenge as an actor, which you know I accepted the challenge. At that point you gotta do your job, because you won’t always have access to the person or to information or to family, and at that point you kind of have to really open yourself up as an actor and try to go go above and beyond who you are. I’m not Bobby, I tried to get myself in his mindset, where he was in this state in time, like ok he just won Soul Train Award for Best Male R&B artist, ok he’s at the top of the world, I’m trying to feed these things into myself, and play those out within these moments onscreen.
Can you take us to the day onset where you were filming the performance scene at the Soul Train Awards?
Arlen: That was a fun scene and stress at the same time. We had a real audience there, and I’m really out there trying my best. The first couple of takes I felt a little bit stiff I was a little nervous, and once I got those first two takes out of me, Angela came over to me and was like you gotta cut loose you gotta work this crowd. As a director that’s how she works, she really just reaches inside of you and talks to you and allows you to pull these things out of you. By the time we got to the third and fourth take, I was loose I was having fun my energy was there and I really started enjoying the performance and that’s when I had to remember Bobby is king of the stage, this is his world, so let me really enjoy this moment and not be Arlen, put Arlen to the side and really enjoy this moment for what it is. It was fun, it was amazing, it was scary at he same time. Backstage I thought that was another beautiful scene when Bobby and Whitney first meet officially, she comes over to apologize and he takes the opportunity to ask her on a date and God bless them and she said yes.
What is one piece of advice you took away from working with Angela Bassett that stuck with you most?
Arlen: To say one piece of advice wouldn’t do her justice, every single day on set was a master class. Work ethic, going above and beyond, and really living these moments the passion the love for yourself. That’s maybe the best advice is to own these moments to own these moments, own the pain, own the passion, own it hundred percentage because if you don’t own it all the way well then I don’t believe you or you can’t go as far as you can go. But if you really own it well then you can really go all the way deep and even further and if need be she can pull me back and say that was fun, we went way too far let’s pull that back a little. That’s a better place to be, then not being able to go further and not have a wall in front of you. We wanted to make sure that wall was down in every scene of the film.
What misconceptions about Bobby Brown do you think the biopic might clear up?
Arlen: Misconceptions is such a strong word, I will say that I really feel that the media does what they’re supposed to do it sells stories., and whatever is the hot story is what is gonna sell and there is truth there, and then there’s a little of what the audience thinks they want to hear, and see and read and the media job to deliver that at the same time. I really feel that Bobby accepted that role, he accepted that bad boy image, he accepted that because he loved this woman so much that it didn’t matter to him how the outside world saw him. The only thing that mattered to him was how she saw him, how his kids looked at him, how his family saw him, that was his concern, everything else didn’t matter so much because that was the outside world and that wasn’t where he lived. It sold magazines, and it sold music but it wasn’t his life.
What stood out to you about working with Yaya?
Arlen; Strength she just embodied every element of that script. The page it didn’t matter. When we were filming our scenes we were so in the moment that there was trust. From day one when we auditioned together there was trust there. I trusted her and she trusted me, and it’s a beautiful thing as an actor to know that, the other person trust you, because then you could just play ball, you can live these moments and enjoy them for what they are. She didn’t hold back, I so enjoyed watching her bring Whitney to life and I’m so fortunate that I was able to be onset and watch it happen as we did. I expect nothing but wonderful things from her in the future. I really think she left her mark without a trace of doubt.
In your research and preparation for the role is their anything in bobby and Whitney’s story you feel could have been included or wanted to see more of but didn’t?
Arlen: I’m sure if anything, because I’m a fan like everyone else, music. You would love to just sit back and watch both of them perform their hits back to back, back to back and that’s the fan in me talking. On the flip side, I feel that we touched on everything that we needed to touch on in the right ways we didn’t overdo anything and I don’t think we underdo anything either. I think there was really good balance there, and if someone things something is missing I’d love to know what. I think Angela along with Shem Bitterman who wrote the script gave us great balance across the board from performances, to personal life to business to everything.
Is there any other real life figures you would like to portray on film?
Arlen: I haven’t thought about it in that sense as an actor, you’re just grateful to push forward to work and create, and let your creative muscle flex. I don’t know if there was anyone specifically that I would want to portray. I will say that I just want to continue to work, to continue to grow and if it leads me to portraying someone else absolutely, if it leads me to writing absolutely, leads me to directing absolutely. I just want to continue to grow as an artist, continue to grow as a person, and wherever it takes me God knows.
What’s next for you?
Arlen: Pilot season is upon us, I’m up for a couple of things right now, nothing official that I can actually speak about. If things fall my way, then you’ll probably see me this upcoming season on your television screen. Movies are kind of quiet right know so once those come back around we’ll see what’s what. After the film, maybe more doors will open, I think you guys will absolutely see me because I definitely not stopping. If you don’t see my name onscreen you’ll probably see my name in the credits because I do want to write and direct. I’m not stopping any which way shape or form.