Had things turned out differently, it might have been Angela Bassett, not Halle Berry, baring all for ''Monster's Ball'' -- and shedding copious tears on Oscar night as the first African-American to win a Best Actress trophy. But Bassett tells Newsweek that, despite a screen career drought, she turned the role down because she found the part demeaning. ''I wasn't going to be a prostitute on film,'' she says. (Not literally a prostitute -- the character is a waitress who has an affair with her convict husband's executioner.) ''I couldn't do that because it's such a stereotype about black women and sexuality.'' She says, ''Film is forever. It's about putting something out there you can be proud of 10 years later. I mean, Meryl Streep won Oscars without all that.''
The 43-year-old actress says she has nothing against Berry, that it was just the role. (Vanessa Williams and other actresses turned it down, too, Newsweek reports.) She tells the magazine she loved Berry's performance and cried herself when Berry mentioned her in her acceptance speech. ''I can't and don't begrudge Halle her success,'' Bassett says. ''It wasn't the role for me, but I told her she'd win, and I told her to go get what was hers. Of course I want one, too. I would love to have an Oscar. But it has to be for something I can sleep with at night.''
Bassett came close to winning an Oscar herself when she was nominated for her starring role as Tina Turner in 1993's ''What's Love Got To Do With It.'' In the years since then, however, the offers didn't exactly pour in for the actress. After ''What's Love,'' she says, ''I didn't work again for another year and a half. I guess I was pretty naive to think it would be different -- that it was just about the talent -- particularly for someone who looks like me. You forget that sometimes.'' Her last starring role was in 1998's ''How Stella Got Her Groove Back.''
She says she was also up for the starring role in the 1999 thriller ''Entrapment,'' opposite Sean Connery. ''I remember him saying how beautiful our skin would look next to each other's, and how I was perfect. I left the meeting thinking, 'It's mine.' But a few weeks later, they cast a lesser-known actress at the time.'' (That would be Catherine Zeta-Jones.) Bassett currently costars in John Sayles' indie ensemble pic ''Sunshine State.''