Ruth Kinane
February 15, 2017 AT 11:30 AM EST

 

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The Lifetime biopic treatment is reserved for the most revered pop superstars, and now Britney Spears joins the ranks of greats Whitney Houston, Aaliyah, and Toni Braxton.

In Britney Ever After, Spears is played by Natasha Bassett, who credits YouTube with helping her practice Spears’ Louisiana accent: “I had her interviews playing in my headphones every second just to keep her voice in my head,” Bassett, 24, tells EW.

Tracing the pop legend’s career from her TRL-era highs (remember when Spears toured with *NSYNC in low-rise jeans?) to her umbrella-wielding lows, the two-hour unauthorized Lifetime feature is pure nostalgic bubblegum for super-fans who tuned into Diary and Chaotic back in the day. But creative licensing promises some surprises in between the iconic moments. “It’s not a biography,” explains Bassett. “So some things were altered slightly, but what was really important to me is that we conveyed the essence of Britney, and I’m sure that we did.” (Spears did not contribute to the film “in any way, shape, or form… nor does it have her blessing,” her rep told EW in August.)

Some highlights come straight from the widely known stories of Spears’ Blackout days, including one scene where Bassett’s Spears reaches for the razor to shave off her hair, which Bassett filmed with the help of prosthetics. “I feel that she came through the struggle she went through in her life with a great deal of strength,” the actress says. “Even though she’s a huge superstar, she’s also a human being and all those struggles are under a microscope.”

Previews also capture Spears’ early romance with Justin Timberlake (played by Nathan Keyes), the pop duo’s breakup, and Spears’ whirlwind romance with ex-husband Kevin Federline (Clayton Chitty). “These were really pivotal moments in her life that played out really publicly, and as I played her I was just trying to bring to life the emotions that led to those moments,” Bassett says.

Although she’s been a Spears stan for years — “Pop culture was a big thing for me when I was a little tween so I was really into Britney’s music and all the fashion habits of that time” — Bassett only had one week to formally prepare for the role. Anyone who’s seen the superstar on the MTV VMAs stage knows that dancing like her is no easy feat. “There were some amazing performances I got to do on stage,” reveals Bassett, who stops short of sharing which songs she performed. “It was exhilarating.”

Perhaps wary of Spears’ denouncement of the project, the Australian actress is keen to point out that the movie’s tone is triumphant, ending with Spears back on top of her game — or at least backstage at her ongoing Las Vegas residency. “It’s about who she is when the performance ends: an inspiring human being who’s overcome everything so beautifully,” she says. “At its core, it’s a feminist movie.”

Britney Ever After premieres Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.

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