In the real-life drama Soul Surfer, inspired by teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack, country superstar Carrie Underwood makes her feature acting debut as Sara Hill, the youth group leader who helped Bethany realize she could make a difference in the lives of others. When Sara took Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) to Phuket, Thailand just after the devastating tsunami there, the teenager discovered a greater purpose that filled her with a new sense of hope and direction, and gave her a renewed determination to become a champion again.
At the film’s press day, Carrie Underwood talked about why she wanted to be a part of this inspiration story, how she could identify with looking to her faith to help get her through tough times, how encouraging AnnaSophia Robb was, as a co-star, and how her love for music is as strong as the Hamilton family’s love for surfing. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
CARRIE UNDERWOOD: I have lots of people in my life, and they had heard that they were making a movie about Bethany Hamilton. I don’t know who contacted whom, but one way or another, I got a script, I got the book, I got DVDs and all kinds of information about Bethany and her story. I’d heard about it, when it happened, but I didn’t know the ins and outs, and all that good stuff. When I read the script, I definitely wanted to be involved. It’s such an inspirational story. Just to be a part of telling that was enough for me.
What was it about this specific role that appealed to you?
UNDERWOOD: I feel like so many people, especially when they’re coming over from the music world, jump into a starring role and usually end up being made fun of. I know that music is my life. It is my strong point. That’s my love. And, this seemed perfect. This is the role they had in mind, and it’s a small role, but a very important role. The whole success of the film does not weigh on my shoulders, as an actress. It was perfect. It all fit, and we made it fit with schedules, and they were like, “Well, come on, then.” So, we made it work.
A big part of this film is about faith. Was that part of the attraction for you, especially since you have a song called “Jesus Take The Wheel”?
UNDERWOOD: Obviously, yes. I grew up in church and I have a wonderful family that always supported that. I grew up going to church camp, reading my Bible, and having different faith books and movies in my life, so this wasn’t really a big departure. Hopefully, it won’t be surprising that people will see me in this film.
What was your initial meeting with Bethany like?
UNDERWOOD: I met everybody on set. It was all so quick. One minute, we’re talking about the movie, and the next minute, I’m flying out to Hawaii. It was so wonderful to have the whole family there. Bethany, her parents, her brothers and everybody was on set, working on the film. It was very encouraging. It made you feel like you were doing things the right way, and you had their blessings. She just wanted to surf. She didn’t hang around the set too much. She’d come for about half an hour or so, and then be like, “Yeah, I’m going to go.” She is what you think she would be. She’s an athlete, and she loves to be on the water.
UNDERWOOD: She is amazing! I’m very excited to see what she is going to do after this. It’s hard to believe she’s as young as she is because she is very mature, but not creepy mature. Sometimes, you run into kids, where you have to say, “Just be your age! Why are you acting like you’re my age?” But, she has got her head on straight. She’s just very talented and, being around her and being able to feed off of her, I think it would have been very different, if it had been a different actor looking at me. She helped me so much. She knows so much and she was very encouraging, throughout the whole process.
Have you had something in your life that you’ve had to overcome, where your faith helped you get through it?
UNDERWOOD: Oh, gosh, not like Bethany. I’ve been so lucky. I have so many wonderful people in my life. I’ve never had any major physical problems or an accident, or anything like that. I’m a very, very lucky person, thus far, knock on wood. But, seeing what Bethany went through and being able to get to know her firsthand, it makes me realize all the dumb little things in my life where I’m like, “Why me? This is the end of the world!” Seeing her go through that makes all of my big problems seem small. So, it’s nice when you can see somebody come through that and do things that you don’t think you could ever do.
Was there a special youth counselor in your life?
UNDERWOOD: I had various ones, throughout my church. I would say that my role model, as far as just somebody leading by example, which to me is what a great youth counselor does – they are there to talk to and lead by example – would be my mom, but she wasn’t a youth counselor. She was a teacher, and she is a good person, and definitely one of the biggest influences in my life.
Were you able to meet the actual youth counselor who you were playing?
UNDERWOOD: Yes, I met Sara Hill.
UNDERWOOD: Everybody was there, every day. Sara was there, every day. Bethany was there, every day. Her parents were there, every day. Everybody that had anything to do with Bethany and her life was there, which was awesome. I feel like we are probably a lot alike. I haven’t gotten to spend that much time with Sara, but she is very direct. She’ll be honest and tell people how it is. I really respect her. I learned more about her from listening to other people talking about her than I did from talking to her myself. Bethany’s parents said, “She has helped so many people. She helped her family so much.” They love her to death.
Was it intimidating to play someone who was right there, especially for your first acting experience?
UNDERWOOD: No because, in the end, although the movie is based on a true story, it’s still for entertainment value as well. I didn’t feel that much pressure. I wasn’t worried that she was going to be like, “I wouldn’t say that!” Everybody made it a very comfortable setting.
How was it to film in Hawaii?
UNDERWOOD: It was great! I was only there for about a week, so I didn’t actually get to see Hawaii. I saw Thailand in Hawaii. I didn’t really get to participate in all the wonderful things about it. I would like to go back and see what I missed.
Are you a surfer yourself?
UNDERWOOD: I’ve been surfing once, in my entire life, but I wasn’t terrible at it. My love for music is like the Hamilton family’s love for water. I understand it, but I’ll stick to music.
Would you ever go back into the water, if something like this happened to you?
UNDERWOOD: It’s tough to actually ask yourself that question because I have no idea what I would do. But, I would hope that, if there were some random voice accident, that I would be able to go back to singing. It’s a tough thing, to put myself in her shoes. Maybe other people will see the movie and stuff that they thought they couldn’t do, they will be able to do again.
You studied journalism at a university and you have a degree, but now you’re sitting on the other side. The tabloid culture is big right now, and many people like reading gossip stories. How do you see society now, on those terms?
UNDERWOOD: It’s not the content of the story. I know the whole celebrity culture, and people being really interested in everything that the celebrities are doing, even if you don’t consider yourself a “celebrity.” But, I took ethics classes in college, and it always amazes me how they will blatantly say something that I did not say, in quotation marks. The first thing that we learned in ethics is that you better have it right. If you’re putting quotation marks around something, it better be exactly what that person said. Being on the other side of it, it just gets so frustrating that it seems anybody can make up whatever they want to, and say you said it or did it. There are just no ramifications. There’s nothing that you can do about it. If you contest it and say that it didn’t happen, then it’s, “Oh, thou doth protest too much!” And then, it causes more attention. It’s just a big lose-lose situation, sometimes. But then, you can use your celebrity power to do good in the world, so I guess it all evens out.
You understand what comes with celebrity, but you don’t consider yourself a celebrity. What do you consider a celebrity?
UNDERWOOD: I live in Nashville, and I love to sing. When I’m on stage, I feel like a performer, for sure. I know people are looking at me and taking pictures and singing along, and that part’s wonderful, but I do live in Nashville. I live the most boring life, away from what you see me on camera doing. The other 300 days out of the year, I’m just the most normal person in the universe. I’m a wife. I’m a mother to my doggies. I’m a maid, and I clean the house. I’m pretty boring. We don’t ever go out to eat. We don’t do anything. I think that’s why I consider myself not a celebrity. I don’t know. I’m a normal person that likes things on stage.
So, you don’t think of yourself as a brand?
UNDERWOOD: A brand is a little different. Me, as Carrie the person, wanders around in sweatpants. And then, when I have to be Carrie Underwood, there is definitely a departure from your human side . You work side is for everybody. When you’re at home, you’re not wearing heels and your work attire. It’s good to make that separation from person to brand. I think that if I were Carrie Underwood the brand everywhere, my friends wouldn’t like me very much. It’s like a bigger personality. If I look like this and always wear make-up, all my friends would be like, “What are you doing? We’re going to TGI Fridays!”
UNDERWOOD: I try to dress appropriate for the event that I’m going to. Some events are more elegant, and some events you can be a little more edgy and have fun with it. The style thing had evolved, just because I have more options now. Before, it was about wherever I found things, or it belonged to one of my friends or my sisters. I still have hand-me-down stuff from my sister, who’s a decade older than me. That tells you something.
How do you think the new season of American Idol is going, with the new judges?
UNDERWOOD: I think the season’s going along really well with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. I feel like Randy [Jackson] stepped it up and he’s a little more honest and blunt. Steven is much more warm and caring than I ever expected a rocker guy to be. I like him, as a person. I think he’s very charming. J-Lo obviously looks gorgeous. Week to week, she’s more and more opinionated, so it’s really good. Everybody’s figuring out their roles. It’s doing well. I think other people are enjoying them as well. It’s a good crop of contestants. They’re all very different. I do enjoy going back because that is the only reason I’m in the music business, period. I had no idea how to get in, any other way. It was this random shot, and I thought, “If I get cut in the first round, nobody will know. I might as well do it.” So, I did, and why I do what I do now is because of that show. I love seeing other people get the same opportunities, and get to go on tour. You learn so much, in such a short amount of time. I love going back because it’s nostalgic. I’m like, “That was me!” It’s like going back to school.
What does it mean to you to be a permanent part of “The American Idol Experience” at Disney World?
UNDERWOOD: It’s such a phenomenon! American Idol is THE biggest television show of my generation. To be a part of the show and the brand, and a part of everything that has come since then, there are a few people that can say that, and I’m very honored to be one of those people.
Do you feel the pressure that everyone in Hollywood seems to feel about getting pregnant?
UNDERWOOD: No! We just got married. We haven’t even been married a year yet! I would want to be married for a little while. It definitely does make me choose my wardrobe differently because, if I wear something a little baggier, I’m like, “I’d better not wear that! People are going to think I’m hiding something!” It does make me think a little extra. I don’t want people assuming that I am pregnant, until I say that I am.
So, you don’t plan on it happening, anytime soon?
UNDERWOOD: No. We just got married. He was in Canada for the first six months of our marriage, and now we are just having fun, and we should. I’m 28. I don’t need to have kids now. We have plenty of time!
UNDERWOOD: We ran through such a gamut of emotions, especially on that day. He played for Ottawa for 11 years. That’s a long time to just be in one place. He was lucky. He was so close to his family. He actually sent a text. He was calling me, and I was trying to get out of the shower to figure out why my husband was calling me, and he eventually sent me a text and said, “Traded to Nashville, babe.” I called him and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” So, it was disappointment first because he had only ever played for Ottawa, but then, it was excitement after that. After the first few hours, it was like, “He’s coming to live with me! This is amazing! We’re going to be in the same house. I can go to work, he can go to work, and we can both come home and we’ll be together. This is crazy!” I know there were some people who thought that I had something to do with it. My friends were like, “How did you pull it off?” I was like, “I swear, I’m flattered that you think I have that much power.” Out of the 29 teams he could’ve come to, he came to Nashville.
What do you guys like to do together in Nashville?
UNDERWOOD: To be honest, on our collective days off, we just hang out. We are just your typical, domestic couple. We hang out with friends, go to church and do stuff like that together. It’s just nice to share the same space.
What was your biggest surprise, in being on your first movie set?
UNDERWOOD: It’s just so funny how sterile things can be. You’re trying to be in the moment, but there are 50 people watching you, at any given time. I’ve always done video shoots and stuff like that, but that’s a smaller scale and there are not really any lines that you have to memorize. But, everyone was super-nice and made me feel very comfortable. They were very understanding that it was my first movie role. Everybody helped me along and realized that I’d never been on a movie set before. It was very comforting.
What kind of movie would you like to do next?
UNDERWOOD: I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of girl. I take my opportunities as they come. I’m not like, “I want to do another movie this year. What’s it going to be?” Opportunities present themselves, just like this one did, and I took it. I don’t know. It’s just how I roll!