“At this point, sometimes I feel like [the audience] has been there, done that, they’ve heard it before,” Luke Cage actress Gabrielle Dennis says of the enduring, controversial, ever-evolving legacy of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston — the central couple she and actor Woody McClain bring to life in BET’s upcoming two-part biopic The Bobby Brown Story. “But it’s different when you’re hearing it from a voice of a person who was [on the] inside…. it was very interesting for me to have heard his story for the first time.”
For Brown himself, who worked closely with the network to bring his version of events to the small screen, The Bobby Brown Story is a long overdue reframing of his personal and professional imprint on pop culture, one that, as recent documentaries like Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney and Showtime’s Whitney: Can I Be Me recently reaffirmed, has long been defined by a singular narrative: That he was jealous of ex-wife Houston’s mammoth success, supposedly harbored a violent streak, and grappled with his identity during their 15-year union. According to its cast, however, The Bobby Brown Story is here to change that.
“He’s a bad boy…. but at the core he was a loving person and is a loving person. It’s unfortunate that a lot of times other outside influences and distractions take us on a different path. A lot of times audiences are only seeing where he ended up and didn’t make it to see the journey of how and why he got to where he was,” Dennis says of the Kiel Adrian Scott-directed film, which spans 30 years of Brown’s life from his New Edition exit through his tabloid-fodder marriage to Houston.
“Yeah, Bobby’s definitely a lot,” McClain adds. “But once you get to know him, you get to peel back all the layers he has. You see that he’s human. He’s been through a lot, he’s going through a lot, and to see him overcome that is amazing…. He has so many stories that I didn’t know. Reading the script I had to call him and be like, ‘Yo, Bobby, is this something you really want to say?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, it’s true.’ So he didn’t want to hold back. So there’s a lot of juicy stuff that people don’t know…. “
EW’s exclusive clip from the film (above) teases the dramatic bits that often played out behind the scenes and in public headlines (in this case, Houston finding out about the pregnancy of Brown’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Kim Ward), but The Bobby Brown Story centers on exposing a warmer side of the former New Edition heartthrob as a husband and father to the late Houston and their daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who died in 2015.
“This story’s about the family: His family. New Edition was all about the brotherhood and what they went through as brothers, but we all act different with our friends than we do with our family. This one is strictly Bobby and his family. There’s a whole different tone,” McClain, reprising the role from BET’s 2017 biographical drama The New Edition Story, assures of this version of Brown.
Dennis agrees: “He really reveled in the memories of the good times they had, how funny and goofy they were together and they loved to laugh and play jokes…. those things were definitely a lot more fun than the heavier scenes.”
But those appear in the film as well, including the ups and downs of his struggles with relationships (it’s been alleged Brown abused Houston multiple times throughout their marriage, which Brown has denied), substance abuse (which ultimately played a role in Houston’s 2012 death), and the decline of his artistic output. But Dennis wanted to make sure her portrayal allowed for McClain — and Brown’s perspective — to shine through Houston’s presence.
“She loved her husband, her child, and she loved God…. What people will take away from this film is watching her in a supporting role of wife, because it is The Bobby Brown Story,” Dennis, who didn’t speak to any members of the Houston family before cameras rolled (but “prayed about” giving a loving, respectful performance “every day”), explains. “Even now during press, there are moments when we’ll be out and [Bobby’s] like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re just like Whitney.'”
“There are a lot of things that go on behind closed doors and people don’t realize add fuel to the fire. And he went through a lot of pain and a lot of personal losses that happened throughout the course of their relationship and his career that I don’t think people are aware of, and that will be enlightening…. even now when people are hearing Bobby Brown Story, they’re still asking questions about Whitney Houston,” Dennis finishes. “Yes, she was a huge part of Bobby’s life, but there’s so much to Bobby Brown people don’t know and I think this will be different from the other [projects] because it’s his voice and he’s actually here to tell it.” For better or worse.
The Bobby Brown Story airs in two parts beginning Sept. 4 at 9:00 p.m. ET. Watch EW’s exclusive clip from the project above.