‘The Bodyguard’ actor relives pop diva’s first screen test in a poignant eulogy on Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church.
By Rebecca Thomas
On Saturday afternoon (February 18), Whitney Houston was sent to rest by family and friends at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, during a stirring funeral dubbed her Home-Going. While the pop diva’s onetime leading man Bobby Brown reportedly left moments before the noon ceremony began, the pop diva’s onscreen leading man Kevin Costner delivered a poignant eulogy in her honor.
In 1992, Houston made her film debut in “The Bodyguard,” a star turn that paired her in the lead with Costner in the title role. Written by Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Mick Jackson, the romantic drama followed Frank Farmer, a Secret Service agent-turned-bodyguard tasked with protecting pop star Rachel Marron from a stalker.
The film would go on to gross more than $400 million at the worldwide box office, and the diamond-selling soundtrack spawned Houston’s game-changing rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” the best-selling single of all time. But according to Costner, Warner Bros., the studio behind “The Bodyguard,” not only had to be convinced that the film’s signature song should be a cover of Dolly Parton’s country tune — but also that the part should go to Houston.
“At the height of her fame as a singer, I asked her to be my co-star,” Costner recalled on Saturday.
Filmmakers were concerned, however, suggesting they should “think about another singer … maybe somebody white.” Though Costner conceded “nobody ever said it out loud,” he agreed that the implications were fair considering how much was at stake. The only problem was, as Costner put it, “I thought she was perfect for what we were trying to do.”
Costner remained steadfast about his casting choice, even delaying production by a year so that Whitney could complete a tour. And though the actor knew he’d already all but given her the part, he submitted her to a screen test because he wanted to be “fair.”
Houston, possibly the biggest pop star at the time, was frightened. Costner went to her trailer the day of the test to reassure her, holding her hand and telling her that she looked beautiful. Still, the singer zeroed in on a million things she imagined to be wrong. Feeling insecure, Houston scrubbed her camera-ready makeup job in favor of the thick layer of cover-up she used on the road. The patina of cosmetic paint was perhaps an apt metaphor for how the megastar masked her insecurities.
Of course, four minutes in, Houston’s makeup job was streaking; the singer was devastated. “I just wanted to look my best,” she told Costner.
“Call it doubt, call it fear, I’ve had mine,” Costner said of the internal struggles that come with fame. “The Whitney I knew, despite her success and worldwide fame, still wondered, ‘Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?’ It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end.”
Houston famously battled substance abuse issues, in particular during her tumultuous 14-year marriage to singer Bobby Brown. She was found dead a week ago in a Beverly Hills hotel; the official cause of her death is still being investigated. But Costner insisted her personal turmoil should not muddy her legacy. “As the debate heats up … about the greatest singer of the last century, as the lists are drawn, it will have little meaning to me if her name is not on it,” Costner proclaimed to applause.
“Off you go, Whitney, off you go,” Costner continued tears, “Escorted by an army of angels to your heavenly father. And when you sing before him, don’t you worry — you’ll be good enough.”
Stay with MTVNews.com all day Saturday for continuing coverage of Whitney Houston’s funeral services.