Sparks plays the title character, the youngest of three sisters who has the gift of song — writing and singing. Her two older sisters, Tammy “Sister” Anderson (Carmen Ejogo) and Delores “Dee” Anderson (Sumpter), can also sing.
“Sister,” the eldest, has a troubled past and a bad reputation while “Dee” has medical school in her future. Although the sisters are going on different paths in life, music is their bond. They live with their ultra religious and strict mother, Emma (Houston).
Sparks, the youngest winner of “American Idol,” has acted on Broadway in “In The Heights.” However, “Sparkle” is her first film role. Irena Cara originated this character, and Sparks said she was completely drawn into the new version.
“It says ‘Sparkle,’ but it’s a lot grittier and darker than you think it’s going to be,” she said. “I really love that twist.”
Although Sparks admits she was out of her comfort zone at times, she was able to overcome her fears with the help of the cast.
“Sparkle is a loved character, and so many girls related to her. I said, ‘I cannot walk in here and be horrible,’” Sparks said. “The cast was so great for me. I was such a sponge. It really helped because they all gave so much, and it helped me give me more.”
Sumpter is a model, actress and singer. Her latest roles include “Jenna” from BET’s “The Game” and Raina Thorpe on “Gossip Girl.”
She had not seen the original “Sparkle” before she became involved in the remake but said her older family members were “obsessed” with it. Sumpter said the cast, which also includes Cee Lo Green, Derek Luke and Omari Hardwick, took the essence of the original but were still able to make the 2012 version stand on its own. For example, she said her character, originated by Dwan Smith, is stronger in this version.
“‘Dee’ didn’t have a real voice in the first one, so there wasn’t anything to build upon. I had to bring a voice that wasn’t there before and kind of create this new character,” Sumpter said.
Houston spent more than 10 years trying to bring this film to the big screen and served as one of the executive producers. Sparks said she was preparing to walk the red carpet with Houston at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party for the first round of “Sparkle” press when she got the devastating news from her publicist.
“I don’t think I’ve cried that hard — ever. I couldn’t handle it. I cut myself off from everyone, except my family, for about a month,” Sparks recalled. “The last time we had all seen her was in Detroit when we were filming the movie. The next time was at the funeral. It was this surreal, weird moment.”
Sumpter was in Los Angeles when her makeup artist told her Houston was dead.
“Literally, I don’t know what happened inside,” she said. “I said it had to be some stupid rumor.” Once she got confirmation, Sumpter said, “I just sat there and cried.”
However, they burst into smiles when reminiscing about the first time meeting Whitney, dancing on set, and the advice she gave them.
Sumpter said, “She wanted to get to know all of us on a genuine level. She was always there to encourage us. She really wanted all of us to have our moments. That’s major.”
“She was just this ray of light,” Sparks said. “She told me, ‘Believe in your gift. Believe in the talent you have.’ That stuck with me. I will never forget that.”
The original trio — Cara, Smith and Lonette McKee — are slated to appear at the L.A. premiere Friday. Sparks, who gushed about how she found all three actress on Twitter, said “Sparkle” is a movie that will touch people from all walks of life with its universal themes of family, struggles, love and dreams. Sumpter agreed, saying, “It’s a family drama. It will appeal to everyone.”