'Sparkle' Power Couple Open Up About Whitney Houston's Final Performance

Joe Pugliese

"I'm not saying I was oblivious to who Whitney Houston was," Salim tells THR of the singer, who died of a drug-related drowning. "I grew up around people with a bunch of serious problems."

Though she would die of a drug-related drowning after it had wrapped, Whitney Houston was nothing short of a "wonderful actress" while on the set of Sparkle, the film's director, Salim Akil, says.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston 1963-2012: The Iconic Singer's Life and Career in Pictures

The star's shocking death was devastating to Akil and his wife, Sparkle screenwriter Mara Brock Akil, who in the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter say that Houston seemed to be free of demons while on the set. Despite a reputation for erratic behavior that followed her in her final years, the Akils insist that Houston was joyous and generous during the shoot. 

“I’m not saying I was oblivious to who Whitney Houston was,” Salim tells THR. “I grew up around people with a bunch of serious problems. Shit — I got a lot of serious problems. But I went into it expecting that anyone standing in front of me is ready to work. When Whitney stepped on the set, all I saw was a wonderful actress.”

Recalling her jittery first encounter with Houston, whom she calls "an inspiration," Brock Akil says getting the singer's approval was her highest priority.

STORY: Hollywood's Undercover Hitmakers: Salim and Mara Brock Akil

"I wanted everybody to love the script," she says, "but I particularly wanted her to like it."

Houston did, and spoke about her hopes that the movie -- a remake of the 1976 film about a Supremes-style singing group -- would inspire girls in the same way the original had inspired her.

“'If you ever get nervous or you feel that things aren’t going the way you would like,'" Brock Akil recalls having promised Houston, "'get on my back and I’ll carry you.'” 

VIDEO: Whitney Houston's Final Performance Teased in 'Sparkle' Trailer

After the shock of Houston's death wore off, they were left with complicated feelings.

"It was very painful when she left us,” Akil, who grew up in a neighborhood ravaged by drugs, says. “It brought up a lot of older issues and feelings with me, about my friends and having come up the way I did. But I would hate for people to concentrate on that aspect of who she was.”