Arlen Escarpeta talks playing Bobby Brown

Whitney' star opens up about bringing one of R&B's most controversial love affairs to the screen

Tuesday January 13, 2015 04:00 am EST

"Whitney," Lifetime's controversial film, isn't what most will expect. Instead of a down and dirty biopic steeped in the highs and, later, lows of Whitney Houston's complicated life, first-time director Angela Bassett (who famously co-starred with Houston 20 years ago on the big screen in Waiting To Exhale), has surprisingly opted to focus on the icon's relationship with R&B singer Bobby Brown, her ex-husband and father to her only child, Bobbi Kristina. Whereas the chatter around the film centered almost squarely on Yaya DaCosta's portrayal in the titular role, Brown's influence can't be left out of the equation.

For younger audiences who know Houston as "the Voice" behind the timeless hits, a formidable Brown, who was a star in his own right, will be a revelation. Sadly for all of his great work with New Edition, his influence on Atlanta music, and Billboard chart-toppers, including "My Prerogative," the younger generation's impression of Brown has been largely shaped by his once ratings-generating Bravo reality series "Being Bobby Brown," along with his highly publicized court appearances and jail stints. So actor Arlen Escarpeta certainly had a job to do.

"I wanted to make sure to not play Bobby as a caricature," shares the Belize-born actor whose budding résumé includes roles on the NBC series "American Dreams" and the 2014 film Into the Storm. "I was born in '81 so I grew up listening to his music and, rest assured, he was the man."

The L.A.-raised actor dug deep to show how Brown fit into Houston's orbit. "Honestly, for me, I really came in trying to ground myself in the foundation of how they felt about one another," he explains. "I watched so many interviews of them together paying attention to them talking to the camera, the way they played and had fun, watching individual videos, him talking about her or her talking about him. Once I finally did get a script, I just went through that whole thing and tried to find all of those sweet beautiful moments that exist in a relationship that the public isn't privy to, like the stuff that's not written on the blogs or in the tabloid magazines."

According to Escarpeta, "Everyone's goal was to focus on their love and that struggle, that beautiful struggle of them trying to keep this thing together." It wasn't easy, of course, and Escarpeta, himself, is even saddened that their relationship didn't work.

"It's hard for me to watch the film and not feel pain," he says. "You see so many times and opportunities for them to make a left where instead they make a right and, if they make this choice, maybe things turn out a little bit different."

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