Meeting Selena Gomez, itʼs hard not to notice what she doesnʼt do as much as what she does: she doesnʼt slouch or hesitate answering questions; sheʼs not testy or fatigued on this last stop of a cross-country mall tour; sheʼs punctual and conscientiously professional; and she seems perfectly content to be in Detroit during a stressful, career-defining week. Gomez is preparing for a summer music tour, having already made the transition from Disney Channel star (Wizards of Waverly Place) to successful singer, like Miley Cyrus before her. Sheʼs on the cover of this weekʼs Billboard, and When the Sun Goes Down, the third release from Selena Gomez & The Scene, climbed rapidly into the iTunes Top 5, buoyed by the platinum (1 million units sold) single “Who Says.” But itʼs another project that prompted the mall visits and rounds of publicity.
The romantic comedy Monte Carlo (opening today) may not be a make or break movie for Selena Gomez, who turns 19 in July, but it is the first film built around her, and sheʼs eager to establish a substantial career. “I think of myself more as an actress,” she says. “I love making music, I love inspiring people, I love making songs that are just really fun. But thatʼs all it usually is for me: I love touring and singing great songs. I donʼt think Iʼll ever win a Grammy one day, and Iʼm totally fine with that. I do work really hard when it comes to acting and I want to do that for a long time, so I hope to be recognized professionally.”
This female friendly ensemble co-stars Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) and Katie Cassidy (Melrose Place) – who each have their own fan base – but the success or failure of Monte Carlo falls on Gomez, who plays two distinct characters: the quiet Grace Bennett, high school graduate and diner waitress from a Texas small town; and British heiress Cordelia Winthrop Scott, jet-setting fashionista and mean girl extraordinaire. While on a trip to Paris with her prim future stepsister (Meester) and brassy waitress best friend (Cassidy), Grace is mistaken for Cordelia, and the trio are whisked off to a host of charity events in Monte Carlo, where luxurious accommodations and serendipitous romance await.
Monte Carlo is PG summer escapism in the vein of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, where coming of age means leaving familiar places behind, and the bonding between girlfriends is an all-important part of the process. “A lot of people arenʼt going to like the movies I make, Iʼm sure,” says Selena Gomez, “but as long as Iʼm proud of the movie, and Iʼm not selling out and Iʼm doing things that make me happy and make me grow as an actress, Iʼll be good.”
Gomez, who began performing professionally at seven on Barney & Friends, has had only had a few substantial movie roles, including 2009ʼs Princess Protection
Program (with Demi Lovato) for the Disney Channel, and Ramona and Beezus (2010), based on Beverly Clearyʼs childrenʼs novels, where she played the levelheaded older sister. “Monte Carlo is definitely still a teen comedy,” she says. “It is a bit older than some of the things that Iʼve done before, but I still feel like my younger generation [of fans] can watch it as well as an older generation.” Yet she is acutely aware that this movie signals a graduation of sorts.
“Iʼm in a very weird place, a very crucial place in my career,” she explains, “because Iʼve been a Disney kid for the past five years. So obviously, whenever theyʼre putting together a film with Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio, theyʼre not really thinking, ʻSelena Gomez would be a good fit for this movie,ʼ and Iʼm totally aware of that. So for me, itʼs all about choosing the right roles and fighting for the roles and really working hard. I donʼt think that Iʼll always necessarily be famous – hopefully Iʼll just have longevity in what I love. So I think itʼs about taking the right steps, and the right roles.”
That means taking an even bigger step than what Monte Carlo offers and choosing characters that arenʼt sympathetic, and a movie not so tailored to her audience. “I donʼt know what will come for me in the future,” says Gomez. “I like to make sure that my life is separate, so me as a person, I know that my fans know me, but as an actor I like to do different things and Iʼm going to want to try new things that may not necessarily have a positive message.” She could take some lessons from another former Disney kid, Jodie Foster, who in 1976 appeared in one of the studioʼs signature hits, Freaky Friday, along with the very adult film that would change her career, Taxi Driver.
As for Gomezʼs career path, she wouldnʼt mind following in the footsteps of publicity shy Canadian actress Rachel McAdams: “You never see her do the same character and you probably never even know half the movies sheʼs in, I mean she went from Mean Girls to Notebook to Wedding Crashers to Family Stone to Red Eye to Time Travelerʼs Wife. Sheʼs done so many films and theyʼre all different, and I admire that. Plus, sheʼs not in the public eye that much.”
Selena Gomez has lived with that bright glare of the spotlight throughout her teens, and her fame has grown exponentially since she began dating pop star Justin Bieber. “Itʼs weird and confusing, but itʼs something that I also try not to focus on,” she says. “I really try not to hide or live my life according to what people say about me. I try my best to be as normal as I can. At the same time I donʼt understand it, I donʼt understand when thereʼs like grown men following me with cameras – that confuses me, a lot. So I just try to be as normal as possible.”
Which makes Gomez a modern paradox: she yearns for normalcy as more than six million people follow her on Twitter. But she funnels that celebrity into charity work, with animal rescue foundation Island Dog, as well as being an Ambassador for UNICEF. She plans on taking her second mission trip with the United Nations Childrenʼs Fund after completing her summer music tour. But the position that she finds herself in most often – and one that makes her uneasy – is role model.
“I never pursued that, I never said I wanted to be a role model,” Selena Gomez explains, “but I have that title and Iʼm fully aware of that. I think itʼs helped me as a person. Having a little girl coming up to you, saying she wants to be you when sheʼs older, is a lot. So whenever publically Iʼve been scrutinized, which I have been since I was 14, Iʼve always just thought to myself, ʻIf I ever lashed back, I donʼt think that would make them proud to say Iʼm a role model.ʼ I think that if anything, theyʼve made me better, because Iʼm very aware. But at the same time, I let them know Iʼm not perfect, because Iʼm not. I make mistakes all the time. Iʼm figuring out who I am, Iʼm growing up, but I do try to be the best I can be because ultimately you have to treat people how you want to be treated.”
In May, Gomez shot the final episodes of Wizards of Waverly Place, where she had received on-set tutoring instead of attending traditional high school. While on the Monte Carlo set, she collected her own diploma on the day they were filming Graceʼs graduation scene. As for her continuing education, she doesnʼt see the Ivy League in her future, but does envision exploring some other options. “I do think I would like a break,” she says, “my dream, though, would not be as intense as Jodie or like Natalie Portman, because they went to incredible elite schools. I actually would like to go to culinary school. I want to take a course in Italy – that would be really amazing.”
As Cordelia, the couture-clad spoiled princess, Selena Gomez is delightfully wicked, but itʼs the good-hearted Grace whoʼs the sweet heart and moral center of Monte Carlo. In her few film roles, Gomez has positioned herself as the underdog, the overlooked girl who gets an unexpected opportunity to shine. “Obviously itʼs easy for me to play,” she says with a laugh. “Itʼs nice to have that whole, start as this character, and get to see her journey, and see her end as another character, which I really like playing. I do see myself as that a little bit, but I think thatʼs good. I think thatʼs a good quality to have, and I never expect any of this. So whenever I take a project, I treat it as if itʼs my last so that I do my best. Iʼm surprised and thankful for everything I get.”
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