Whitney Houston enjoying family feel on Detroit set of 'Sparkle'

Whitney Houston, right, and producer Debra Martin Chase at the Music Hall.(咱家天后Whitney Houston與'Sparkle'Movie的製作人Debra Martin Chase在片廠的合照。)

The Whitney Houston who came to Detroit last month to begin filming "Sparkle" is a different actress from the one who debuted on the big screen in 1992's "The Bodyguard."

How? "Well, I'm older now and more mature," said the singing legend via e-mail to the Free Press.

"Sparkle," which was scheduled to wrap filming Thursday, marks a return to movies for Houston, whose public and personal ups and downs have long been the subject of media attention.

It's been more than a decade since she starred in a feature film. In the 1990s, her appearances in hits like "Waiting to Exhale" made her the rare singing icon who segues successfully into acting.

Houston recalls those projects now with fondness.

"I was really scared to do 'The Bodyguard' and put Kevin Costner off for 2 years out of fear! 'Waiting to Exhale' was fun because it was an ensemble cast of great actors, and 'The Preacher's Wife' -- well, starring alongside Denzel Washington with Penny Marshall directing and getting to sing all those gospel songs made it a pleasure."

Houston has been busy rehearsing and filming during her stay here, but she thanked the Motor City for its hospitality. "Detroit has been a great temporary home," she messaged. "Everyone has been really kind and I have some family and friends here and the cast is now like family."

"Sparkle," a remake of the 1976 movie, began shooting in October. It has filmed at locations like Music Hall, Detroit Opera House, Masonic Temple, Fillmore Detroit and Cliff Bell's jazz club.

The movie was approved for a film incentive of $3.1 million on about $7.4 million of estimated in-state spending.

"Sparkle," which is set to be released in 2012, has a cast that includes "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks, Derek Luke of "Antwone Fisher," Mike Epps, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter and Omari Hardwick. Pop-soul star (and NBC's "The Voice" coach) Cee Lo Green and Detroit singer Kem also have roles.

In the new version, Sparks has the title role -- played by Irene Cara in the original -- of a musical prodigy who forms a singing group with her two sisters.

Unlike the earlier movie, which was set in gritty 1950s New York, this one places Sparkle in an affluent neighborhood of 1960s Detroit during the height of Motown.

Houston portrays Sparkle's mother, Emma. The role was played by veteran character actress Mary Alice in the original, in which the character was named Effie.

Besides acting in the movie, Houston is an executive producer who's serious about the responsibility of updating a film that continues to have a special place in the hearts of many fans for giving African-American actresses of that era a chance to play glamorous, complicated leading roles.

"The biggest challenge for us as the production and for me, is to do justice to the story and for me to play my role to the best of my ability," said Houston.

In a recent interview, Houston told "Access Hollywood" that the project, which she's been involved with for more than a decade, was set at one point to star Aaliyah, who grew up in Detroit. It was put on hold after the 22-year-old singer-actress died in a plane crash in 2001.

Houston has been talking to nationally syndicated TV shows about the current production and her bond with Sparks. The family theme of the script seems to have filtered onto the set. Houston said via the Web that one of her favorite experiences working in Detroit was filming a dinner scene where all of the cast was present.



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