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Angela Bassett Opens Up About 'Fight' for Her Oscar-Winning Career — and the Lessons She's Teaching Her Twins (Exclusive)

Bassett, who is PEOPLE's Women Changing the World cover star, says she hopes her children "see that hard work pays off. And they’ll be about that life for themselves”

<p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/johnrussophoto/?hl=en">John Russo</a></p>

Angela Bassett has long reigned over Hollywood, but off-screen her powerhouse career — which now includes a gleaming new Oscar — has hinged less on glamor and more on grit.

For the actress and mom of twins Bronwyn and Slater, 18, with the Emmy-winning actor Courtney B. Vance, it’s always been about “the work, not the fame,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story kicking off the 2024 Women Changing the World issue.

“I've always been a hard worker,” the 9-1-1 star says. “You have to know what to say no to as well as what to say yes to. And during this time, a lot of things have been worthy of me saying yes to.”

With more than 100 roles under her belt and two Oscar nominations, behind Bassett’s successes (she’s also an executive producer of 9-1-1 and 9-1-1 Lone Star and has a new fantasy film, Damsel, hitting Netflix March 8) are long days, tough choices and an unwillingness to accept reductive roles.

<p>Frazer Harrison/Getty</p> Slater Vance, Angela Bassett, Bronwyn Vance and Courtney B. Vance at the 2024 Governors Awards

Frazer Harrison/Getty

Slater Vance, Angela Bassett, Bronwyn Vance and Courtney B. Vance at the 2024 Governors Awards

Often leaving her home before the sun rises and returning after dark to film 9-1-1 (which kicks off season 7 with a honeymoon cruise disaster on ABC March 14) some days, she feels guilt about the time away from her teenage children, who are heading to college in the fall.

Related: Angela Bassett Smiles Alongside Husband and Their Two Kids in Rare Family Moment at Governors Awards

“But also I hope that what will come out of that is that they see a mama, a woman, a Black woman achieving her dreams, having success,” she says. “They’ll see that hard work pays off. And they’ll be about that life for themselves.”

And when Bassett, 65, can make dinner, there’s new competition in town. “Now it's a switch. They're older. They like to DoorDash. I'm like, ‘I'm going to cook tonight.’ [They go], ‘Oh, mom, my meal's coming in five minutes,' " she laughs. “So much for me being spontaneous.”

<p>20th Television</p> Angela Bassett and Peter Krause in a scene from '9-1-1'

20th Television

Angela Bassett and Peter Krause in a scene from '9-1-1'

Born in Harlem and raised largely in Florida by her mother Betty, Bassett says as a child she felt propelled by the challenges her family faced. “Growing up with a single parent and when she retired, only made $11,000 a year, it's something about growing up there and not having, where you got to fight to get it,” she says.

Related: Angela Bassett Recalls How Tina Turner Took Years to Share Her Reaction to 'What's Love Got to Do with It'

In January, Vance, 63, and their children were proudly by her side as Bassett took home an honorary Oscar celebrating a career that began with her breakout in 1991's Boyz n the Hood and saw Oscar nominations almost 30 years apart for playing Tina Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It and a grieving queen in 2022's Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Many viewed her Academy Award as long overdue, a reminder of sobering statistics around women of color at the Oscars (in 95 years Halle Berry remains the only Black woman to have won Best Actress). In her January acceptance speech, “I tried to make that clear in a gentle-to-receive way,” she says, while honoring trailblazers like Cicely Tyson and Ruby Dee.

<p>Everett</p> Angela Bassett in 'What's Love Got to Do With It'

Everett

Angela Bassett in 'What's Love Got to Do With It'

Vance notes that in her private life, Bassett is “very shy” about her accomplishments. “She’ll never toot her own horn,” he says. “The honorary Oscar was a wonderful night, but I flashed back to 30 years ago when they didn’t call her name, and then when they didn’t call her name last March. This was an opportunity for her to stand up there. A lot of people saw it, but not the billion people that would see it at the Oscars. But it meant everything to her.”

“One of the things that always that I say to myself and to my kids is, ‘Find the good and praise it,' ” Bassett tells PEOPLE, noting a “confluence of wondrous events” lately: Her twins turned 18, her career is stronger than ever, and an Oscar sits in her living room.

“The fact that it’s happening all at the same time, it can be a little overwhelming unless you just breathe through it and remember to be grateful,” she says. “For all of it. For what you prayed for, what you worked for, for what you dreamed of.”

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