She has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, achieved four #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, won five Grammy Awards, had three top five albums in the United States and is the only artist under 30 to make Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 greatest singers of all time. Now, superstar singer Christina Aguilera is making her feature film debut in the big screen musical Burlesque, starring opposite musical icon Cher.
Ali Rose (Aguilera) is a small-town girl with a big voice and big dreams. When she leaves her life behind and moves to Los Angeles, the wide-eyed young woman stumbles upon The Burlesque Lounge and immediately becomes determined to bring her own singing and dancing talents to its musical revue. Clearly meant to be on a stage, Ali quickly makes friends and enemies among the other girls at the club, wins the affection of the bartender (Cam Gigandet), comes to the attention of a charismatic entrepreneur (Eric Dane) and is taken under the wing of the club’s glamorous owner, Tess (Cher), changing her life forever.
At the film’s press day, Christina Aguilera talked about how heavily involved she was with everything from developing the character and approving the revealing wardrobe to writing the songs and performing the musical numbers. She also spoke of the priceless advice she got from Cher and revealed how much she’s looking forward to the next chapter of her life, now that she’s turning 30 in December. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: After having such a spectacular career in music, how hard was it for you to decide to do Burlesque as your first movie?
CHRISTINA AGUILERA: There has been a lot of attempts at making movies like this that haven’t turned out so well, and I definitely had to think it over to do Burlesque. They had to rewrite the character because I was just like, “This girl doesn’t have a lot of drive. She doesn’t have enough meat. I think you should give it to someone else.” I had an initial meeting with Amy Pascal and Clint Culpepper, and I said, “I just don’t think she’s for me. I want someone with more bite and more passion for what she wants in life.” And so, they rewrote it. I also had to have a balance of starting out very vulnerable and wide-eyed and naive. I put that energy into how I really was feeling, approaching acting in the first place, which was wide-eyed and as a newcomer who was open and vulnerable to everyone’s opinions and ideas, and ready to learn.
Did preparing for a movie like this, where there’s so many musical numbers and dances to learn, compare at all to preparing for a tour?
AGUILERA: It’s different. Even though I was a performer first and did music, first and foremost, and my first love is my singing, doing this movie was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was so much work, and I knew it would be, going into it. I knew there would be a lot of challenges that would rise up. I had to wear so many different hats. When I went in to write the music, I wasn’t just writing it from my own point of view. I had to look at the scene and look at what the motivation was behind the scene. I had to look at Ali and see what makes her tick and what makes her feel this way, in the moment. I had to look at all those bullet points and write it from her perspective. Then, I had to record the songs and figure out where I wanted to come from in my vocal approach. Then, there was intense dance rehearsals. I never danced in my life before Burlesque. [In my stage show] I’m vocals first, so I’m very much about my mic and working everything around my vocals. But here, everything was pre-recorded, so I fully had to solely concentrate on the dancing, and I really haven’t ever danced before so much, in my life. The technique I learned, the different styles I learned, and referencing certain things from Cabaret and Liza Minelli for this film was a different style for me, but it felt really good in my body, and that’s what you walk away with. As a female, watching and living in this movie, you feel very empowered.
Did you hurt yourself at all, during filming?
AGUILERA: Oh, I had so many bruises every day, especially when I was whipping that long strand of diamonds around for “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” I smacked my leg so many times in rehearsal before I got it right. Getting down on my knees for some of the movements bruised me. I bruise easily, but I looked like I got in a car accident on some of the days after rehearsals.
How did you meet Cher for the first time?
AGUILERA: I was on my way to dance rehearsal. I was in sweat pants and flats and I had my baby on my hip. Clint [Culpepper] came up to me and said, “You’ve got to meet Cher. She’s right over there in the next soundstage. She’s rehearsing for her Vegas show.” And I was like, “Clint, you can’t put me on the spot like that. I have sweat pants on and I’ve got my baby on my hip. I need my high heels. I’m going to meet Cher. What are you thinking?” And he was like, “No, she doesn’t care about that. Just come meet her.” I was like, “But she’s so tall and I’m so short. It’s not going to be right.” I wanted to look good. Lo and behold, he twisted my arm and I went. I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to go and do this.” So, I went over with Max, my son, on my hip. After I found out Cher was a possibility to star in the movie with me, I wouldn’t let Clint take no for an answer, in getting her to sign onto the film. I was like, “Go stalk her. Sleep outside her door. Do whatever you need to do to get Cher to do this film with me because I can’t see anybody else being Tess.” He told her, “[Christina] loves you. She wants to be in this movie with you. She would drink your bath water. She’s in love with you.” Then, she signed on. As I walked up to meet her, all shy, I just went for it and put my hand out and said, “Hi, Cher. I’m Christina. I’m the one that wants to drink your bath water.” She laughed and opened her arms up to me, and it was just a bonding love fest from that day on.
During the production of this film, what were your girl talks with Cher like and what did you learn from her?
AGUILERA: Priceless information and valuable stories for days. We would talk about love and relationships a lot. She’s been there and done everything, before any of us. How could you not learn from Cher with her work ethic and the way she commands attention when she walks into a room, but exudes such peaceful tranquility and love for everyone. She just makes you feel warm and welcome and more inspired to do a better job because you want to step up to the plate.
What was the best bit of advice you got from Cher that you’ll remember the most? Did she give you any good relationship advice?
AGUILERA: In her case, it was, “Husbands come and go, but you’ll always be Cher.”
Did you intentionally want to make sure that your character, Ali, didn’t come across as a hardened person, by the end of the film?
AGUILERA: There was a fine line. I definitely wanted to portray Ali in a very likeable sense. In some of the scenes, I have to yell at Cher and there are moments that are explosive, and I never wanted to come across bitchy, but rather believable. I was very fearful of that. I put forth my best effort in making Ali someone that every girl could relate to and every girl wants to be, in the sense that she starts out really vulnerable, scared and afraid. She wonders, “Is this going to work? Should I really leave my small town?” And then, she ends up conquering what she goes for, kicks her foot in the door, takes risks and ends up taking over the club and changing it for the better.
How many songs did you write for this?
AGUILERA: A lot of them were covers. There were Etta James covers. “Guy What Takes His Time” is an old Mae West song. I’m not sure who “I’m A Good Girl” is by, but I remember loving it from Crazy Horse in Paris. I was thrilled about those songs. But, I wrote “Express,” “Bound to You,” the big ballad of the movie, and “Burlesque,” the finale.
Did you write a bunch of different versions of the songs, or did they come easily?
AGUILERA: I knew what I wanted to do with it. I’m not going to exhaust myself, on that level. When you have a specific vision for something, you just go in and attack it. Maybe there were a couple line tweaks after I’d ask Steven [Antin] if he wanted this or that.
Have you ever shocked anybody with your voice, the way you do with Cher in this film?
AGUILERA: I’ve been a local performer since I was six years old, around my hometown, so everyone knew about it. I was known as the little girl with the big voice.
Did you have that moment in your own life where you knew that you wanted to be up on a stage performing?
AGUILERA: Yeah. I remember watching the Grammys and looking at the performances and crying to my mom, saying how much I wanted to be there. Thank god, cut to years later, I won Best New Artist at the Grammys and performed there, and now made a movie with one of my idols – Cher. It was easy for me to get into character, in that way.
What was your biggest misconception about making a film that was proven wrong?
AGUILERA: Probably learning lines. It was so overwhelming looking at this entire script. I said, “Oh, my god, how am I going to memorize all of this at once?,” but you don’t. Some days, you’d have no dialogue and it was just about a walk or a look. Each day, I would take it as it came. I would do more or less studying the night before or the morning of, running lines. That actually was a little bit less strenuous than I thought it was going to be.
Even though it helped lead to your casting in this film, was “Saturday Night Live” a big risk for you, as far as doing live comedy?
AGUILERA: It’s always nerve-wracking when you’re hosting “Saturday Night Live.” You either sink or swim. But, they actually did say that part of the reason why I got to do this movie was because of my Samantha impersonation from Sex and the City. They said, “You have comedy chops.” That’s partly what they wanted me to do this for.
Were you nervous about this being Steven Antin’s first feature film, as a director?
AGUILERA: I had a few reservations about that, as I’m sure everyone had a few reservations about me acting in my first film. But, I went into the office of Steven Antin for the first time, looked at all of his mood boards that were strewn all over his walls, and they were referencing Cabaret and beautiful women, and you could tell this man appreciated a woman’s beauty, her body and the way it moves, in the way he wanted it to be lit and the way he wanted it to be shot. There are many ways that you could perceive or interpret burlesque, and I wanted to make sure he had the right idea involved. And he appreciated the art form so much that I knew it was going to be a perfect fit with him and I. We hit it off like we’d known each for years. Once I met him, I knew that it was going to be done in an elegant, beautiful way.
Did you and Cam Gigandet have a lot of fun together?
AGUILERA: Yeah, we had a blast. We teased each other a lot. There was a lot of cat-and-mouse stuff.
Were you the cat or the mouse?
AGUILERA: I’m the cat!
Did you have any input with the costume designer, as far as what you wore in the film?
AGUILERA: Yes, I did. We worked closely together on a lot of the costumes because you need to feel comfortable. He also needed to know, from my standpoint, what the dancing was going to do whenever certain materials stretched or didn’t stretch, so we were definitely collaborating on ideas constantly.
What was your favorite costume?
AGUILERA: The one for “I’m A Good Girl” with the feather bustle in the back and the crystalized bra.
Did you watch the dailies while you were filming?
AGUILERA: I didn’t! Clint [Culpepper] would always try to drag me in to watch dailies and I really wanted to stay focused on the work at hand. I didn’t want to start critiquing myself and get out of that head space. Even though he was like, “You need to come see and see how great it’s turning out,” I would just avoid him for all I could because I really needed to stay focused and in my character.
How was it to manage being a mom with making this movie?
AGUILERA: It was hard, but it’s always hard. As a mother, that’s your first priority. I have good help and I had the weekends off, which was good. They tried not to let me have weekends off, but when you’re working 17- or 18-hour days, you’re like, “Oh, no. This is my first movie and I know you’re trying to take advantage of me, but I’ve gotta put my foot down on this one.” So, I was a mom on the weekends and I spent as much time as I possibly could with him. You just do it. I knew going into it that I would not stop working after I became a mother. It’s important for me to continue to work too, so that he can have an example of a strong woman in his life, and one that has her own passion, so that he can then have his own goals and dreams.
How has being a mom changed your life? Has it opened you up as an artist?
AGUILERA: Tremendously, yeah. He brought elements of play out of me that I hadn’t experienced in a long time, as well as unconditional love and unconditional patience. Of course, it changes your life. It actually has made me become more comfortable in my own skin and my own body because it’s such a growth and a learning lesson.
You had your first professional setback this year with your album, Bionic, not doing so well. What did that do for you? Did it make you re-evaluate what you want to do, as a musician?
AGUILERA: No, I was really proud of that record. I think there was a lot of promotion issues, coming from a standpoint of how everything resulted. But, I started recording that record before I went in to make the movie and, by the time I ended the movie and came out of it, I had to jump right into that record. By the time I was done with the movie, I was just a completely different person, and I had new things to say and new points of view. Now, I’m in a place where I’m very much in an introspective state of mind, have a lot to say, and have grown leaps and bounds from that film. I’m a changed woman. So, I’m very much ready to actually make a new record. Nothing is ever a setback. If anything, it just motivates you for what’s next.
Would you say that about what’s happened with your marriage?
AGUILERA: I’m looking forward to the next chapter. I’m a smart girl. There are decisions that I make for reasons, and the most important thing is that my son is happy and he always will be. He’s surrounded by love.
Do you have any ambitions to direct?
AGUILERA: One thing at a time! The sky is the limit. I’m just following where life takes me. It’s been an incredible journey, thus far, and I know that this next chapter in my life, and doing this movie, opens up a whole new world of opportunity for me. I’m just excited to see where it goes.
With Christmas and New Year’s Eve coming up, do you have any plans to celebrate the holidays?
AGUILERA: My actual birthday is December 18th and I’m turning 30 years old this year. It’s a big one. It’s the next chapter of my life. I’m a Sagittarius. But, because I’m working so much on the movie, I’m postponing my birthday party, so New Year’s Eve will be my big 30th birthday party. And, I’m looking forward to spending the holidays with my son. I’m doing a lot of travel for the movie, and I just can’t wait to be home with my son, playing Santa Claus.
Is being 30 any different? Is it just another year, or is it a new era?
AGUILERA: Well, it’s better than being 20, I’ll tell you that. The lessons I’ve learned and how I’ve grown is incredible.