Interview : Christina Milian

A talented young singer/songwriter whose initial rise to fame came in the wake of collaborations with Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez, Christina Milian has — much like her more famous musical partners — opted to pursue a career not only on-stage, but onscreen as well.

A native of New Jersey, Milian was raised by Cuban immigrant parents. An early role in the popular play Annie seemed the idea vehicle to fuse the youngster’s singing talent and acting ambitions, and before she had even reached her teens, Milian had also served as a junior journalist on the Disney Channel’s Movie Surfers. Numerous television guest roles were quick to follow, and in 1998, the young actress voiced characters in the popular animated feature A Bug’s Life. Subsequent roles in American Pie and The Wood found Milian gaining face time in front of the camera, and in 2001 she landed a prime role as hostess of the popular television series Wannabe — which was soon followed by the release of her self-titled solo debut album. As her presence on the big screen gained momentum, her musical career exploded when the young songstress teamed with rapper Ja Rule for the breakthrough hit "Between Me and You." Of course, with that kind of exposure it doesn’t take long for the phones to start ringing, and soon thereafter Milian was teaming with none other than Jennifer Lopez to pen the hit single "Play." As Milian began production on her second full-length album, she could be seen on the big screen in such high-profile releases as Love Don’t Cost a Thing (2003) and Torque (2004).

Now Milian co-stars in Be Cool, as the idealistic but brash performer taken under the wing of John Travolta’s Chilli Palmer. PAUL FISCHER reports.

How did you get this part and talk about the singing combined with the acting.

Christina: I auditioned for the movie. I wasn’t offered it; nothing like that. I heard hundreds of girls auditioned, some of the usual, your R&B girls and your rock girls, everybody, it didn’t matter. They all auditioned. And my agent called me and told me they were doing the sequel to “Get Shorty” and John Travolta was doing it and they were looking for an R&B singer and I was like ‘oh, that’s cool’. Then she said F. Gary Gray is doing it also. He’s directing it. And I was like ‘F. Gary Gray? I’ve been wanting meet him my entire life’. Well, not my entire life, for a long time because I really enjoy his work and I wanted to work with him as a director so I decided to go in anyway not thinking I was going to get it and I had to sing. I sang a gospel song and I sang “I Will Always Love You” and I had to act out like four different scenes. I think, the moment that I sang the gospel song, was the one moment I think Gary and the casting director really got it because the casting director cried and I was like ‘yes’! Next thing I know I’m going in for a screen test. Had to do the same exact thing but F. Gary Gray I think really took a liking to me. He really helped mould me into this character and really helped me in my audition to do a good job and push me and just to be normal because, at the end of the day, when you reading Linda, Linda Moon and I are very similar. We’re kind of the same person so it doesn’t require acting. So, I got the film, which I was really excited about and acting and singing one movie, this has been the most amazing opportunity for me because, I’ve gotten a lot of scripts where it’s a singer in a movie but I always turned them down because I really want to me known as a real actress. When I’m acting in a movie, that’s what I want to do mainly. So, this was the one opportunity, with this cast, John Travolta, you’re gonna win. People know me as an artist more as a performer. When I found out about the role, the type of person that she is, I really wanted t push myself to become a better singer. Vocally, I practiced a lot. I worked really hard. I had to learn to play piano for about three weeks which I had learned a long time ago so that helped. As well as acting around all this cast, I had to stay calm because that was hard. I had to act as Linda and act like I wasn’t nervous. It was a lot of work for me. But I think this has been one of the best opportunities for me because I get to showcase so many talents in one film and so many different fans are going to get to know me in so many different ways. Alicia Keys wrote one of the songs, this song called “Ain’t No Reason”. Then Will I Am from the Black-Eyed Peas and John Legend wrote another song that’s in the movie. And I really pushed myself in the studio to do a really good job so I can try and impress the audience as much as I could as Linda Moon.

Do you see parallels between Linda’s music experience, her ups and downs and your own. Also, was it amazing to sing with Steve Tyler?

Christina: First, the way that I connected with Linda, her personality and where comes from, she’s a very humble girl. She’s very sweet. She has a dream. She has a passion for music and she’s just like a lot of us that move to Hollywood for music. It’s like ‘where does it come from? What do I do?’ She’s willing to do anything. Unfortunately, she ends up stuck in a really bad record deal and eventually she meets Chilli. For me, I moved here for a dream. I moved from Maryland to California to pursue my acting and music career. I met a lot of the Nick Carrs, the Rajis, the Sin LaSalles, all the way until I got over her. Each character in this movie, Elmore Leonard did a great job writing. He did his homework because I have met each of these characters. And, I’ve been offered the bad record deals that basically sign away my life, sign away my publishing but, luckily, I didn’t sign them. My Chilli Palmer was my mother. Her name is Carmen Milian and she’s my manager. Before getting into music we actually educated ourselves and I went to college for music as a business and learned the business side and she read a lot of books. I think my climb right now is similar to the climb of stardom that Linda Moon is having. Linda Moon already reached it. I’m trying to get where she’s getting.

Steven Tyler, I love him. I don’t know if you guys have gotten to meet him yet but he is so cool, so humble, the sweetest guy ever. He’s another person, besides John, that I was so nervous about meeting and he was so cool. He had these great stories to tell and when I found out we were going to be performing live in Boston in front of an Aerosmith crowd, it was 30 thousand people at a real Aerosmith concert, I was really nervous. So, singing the song “Crying”, that’s another situation because that’s one of my favourite songs and I didn’t want to screw it up. When it came time, we didn’t rehearse it too much because if you overdo it, it’s (CAN’T UNDERSTAND) and it’s really wack and I’m used to performing anyway. But, by the time I got out on that stage, my confidence could reach the sky and I think having him up there, he really has got this energy about him that really pushes you and the chemistry was like that (snaps fingers). It was automatic. We shot it three times live and Joe Perry’s the bomb too, playing right next to me. I felt like a rock star and I’m officially an Aerosmith groupie now. It was great.

Do you have a tattoo?

Christina: It’s hidden. They’re worth getting a tattoo for.

In what way is your mom your Chilli Palmer?

Christina: She’s somebody who sat everything aside. Chilli Palmer sets everything aside. He’s a shylock. He comes out of producing movies and now he’s helping me out and is going out of his way beating up all these people, helping me get out of my contract, doing all this stuff for me . My mom has gone out of her way in her personal life. She’s been with me on the road. She’s had to deal with people giving her the ‘that’s the mom’ and arguing. Just little things as a businesswoman. She’s had to deal with people trying to get their respect that she definitely deserves. She’s worked really hard for me, taking me under her wing and help get me to the top. So, I think the John Travolta character Chilli definitely takes her under his wing and he’s willing to anything for her and that’s what my mom does for me.

Is she a widow?

Christina: No. She’s not. My parents are divorced and he’s on the East Coast so it’s just me and my mom and my sisters.

Can you tell us about the F. Gary Gray experience?

Christina: F. Gary Gray I think, is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with in my life and I’d love to work with him again. From my first audition, he was directing me. It’s great to have a relationship like that, a director that actually works well with the actors. Sometimes we have to work on our own and it’s hard. For me, working with a cast like this, I really needed that. So, it was important. He spent a lot of time. He’d call me, “I’ve got this idea. I know you’re gonna kill this. I know you’re gonna do a good job’. He was always inspiring me. And we’d talk about the fact that he worked with Chris Tucker and Queen Latifah. Look at all these people. They first worked with him and now look at them. It’s amazing. I’m hoping to reach the same level as them working with a director like him. He’s extremely sweet. He’s got an infectious laugh. He’s funny. He would laugh in the middle of the set all the time. We’d be shooting a scene and he’s just there laughing. You can’t help it when you’re got Vince Vaughn there acting like a goofball and The Rock. I had a great time with him. He’s a really cool guy. Even out of work, he’s a really cool guy too.

I wonder what your boyfriend Nick Cannon thinks about your crushes on Steven Tyler and Brad Pitt?

Christina: (laughs) For both of them he’s like ‘Ewww’. Of course he wants me to only have a crush on him. He thinks it’s interesting. He’s obviously afraid of me running away with Brad Pitt and the Steven Tyler thing is interesting. I became a groupie once I met him. He’s got this thing on stage that’s really hot. It’s totally different than when you just look at him on television.

Who are some actors you would like to work with?

Christina: The actors I would like to work with are Julia Roberts, just because I’ve admired her work for a long time, well Brad Pitt. I think you know my reasons. Then, I really enjoy… she was in “Lost in Translation”. Yes, Scarlett Johansson. I really enjoy her work. I like her. She’s young. We’re around the same age range and I could see us possibly working together in the future. And, Keira Knightley. I really like her too. I enjoy watching a lot of people my age right now and, of course, the people that I’ve always admired but I’m kind of more realistic in who I probably will work with.

What advice would you have to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Christina: My advice to someone to follow in my footsteps is to have patience. I’ve been doing this for twelve years. To focus, because I’m very extremely focused. I enjoy my fun time and everything like that but I love what I do. That’s my fun time so, to me, doing my homework, studying on what I do, watching the movies, listening to music, all that inspires me so I focus a lot on that and practice. Even if I don’t have the money to take vocal lessons, I’ll practice in the house by myself singing out loud. I would also say, other than patience and focusing, to educate yourself on everything. Like I said, with music, I took college courses on music as a business, constantly educating myself, looking at albums and paying attention to who produced this and who’s at the record label and hustling my way through it and singing any and everywhere. Same thing with acting. It takes a long time even for me to have gotten where I am right now, so patience.

How do you conquer being nervous?

Christina: Prayer for me. Because I get nervous all the time. It’s weird but I think it’s fun and it’s refreshing. It’s always good to be that way. That keeps me appreciative of everything. Prayer and I do have to meditate. I have to have a little bit of time to myself right before whatever it is that I have to do because most of the time I’m sitting in my head convincing myself to calm down, all right, show down. You’re good. Okay you’re fine. That’s mostly my conversation in my head. I spend a lot of time talking to myself.

What’s next for you on the music front?

Christina: I’m going in the studio at the end of March and working on my next album which is my Sophomore album here and it’ll be my Junior album overseas. Then, after that, for movies, I have a movie called “Man of the House” coming out February 25th with Tommy Lee Jones. That’s also a starring role I have in that. It’s an action comedy. I’m reading some scripts so we’ll wait and see. Hopefully I’ll be shooting another film by the summer.

Are you one of the cheerleaders?

Christina: Yeah. I’m one of the cheerleaders.

What do you think is the key to being cool?

Christina: To me, it’s just being comfortable with yourself. When I think of the definition of cool and when I look at people, John Travolta is really the definition of cool because, not only is he great in all his movies, but, as a person, he’s just really cool. He’s comforting. He’s humble and it’s nice to see that. As long as you’re comfortable with yourself, that’s cool.

You just worked with John and then Tommy Lee Jones. What was “Man of the House” like? How different from “Be Cool”?

Christina: Well, Tommy Lee Jones is a little bit more intimidating. He’s definitely a cowboy. He’s from Texas. I think it was a little hard for him in the beginning just because he’s dealing with five girls. But, eventually, he had a comfort level with us. It was almost like he had to treat us like his daughters because he has a daughter. So, that was his relation to us. He would surprise us on the set. Every now and then, he’d throw out a joke or something. He’d get caught off guard. But he’s also really smart. I was very careful not to talk too much. We’d usually sit in a room and (whistles). I didn’t want to say anything stupid but he’s actually a really nice guy. He’s intimidating but he’s nice. Of course, with John, he’s got a natural chemistry with everybody. From, the beginning, it doesn’t matter who it is on the set whether it’s the star of the movie or the grip, the make-up person, it doesn’t matter. He greets you from the beginning and he’s just as sweet all throughout. I got to know him much better than I did Tommy but they’re both cool.

What is your personal taste in music?

Christina: It’s a little of everything. I have a huge variety I was raised on. I’m Cuban. So we listen to salsa and meringue in the house as well listening to things like R&B. I grew up on Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, the Motown oldies, the Beatles, Elvis. My variety is from here to here. Still, to this day I go back and listen to music that inspires me to write now. I usually look back to what I used to listen to. As far as my next album, I’d like to make it more urban crossover. Vocally, I’d really like to push myself on this next one because, in the past, I’m more of a performer. People hear me sing on a record but they’re still not sure, ‘0h, there’s a talent there’. So, vocally, I’d really like to improve next time around and then write. I really want to give people insight into who I am on this next album. So, every, single song I would prefer to write. I get to work with people like Jay-Z and L.A. Reed now on my next album because I’m signed to Island Def Jam so it’s going to be a nice collaborative effort between all three of use.

Did you get any feedback from Elmore Leonard?

Christina: I did. That was an Honor because he came the last day to the set and being Linda Moon, I was hoping that… I mean I’m different from the character that he wrote in the book in some ways but I was hoping I could fulfil the character that was written in the script and, in some way, the character in his book and he was very happy which was good.

What kind of Cheerleading do you get to do in “Man of the House”?

Christina: We’re University of Texas cheerleaders and we had to do real deal stunts and everything. They sent us to Austin Texas for four months to shoot and one month of it was all training. We didn’t have stunt doubles. The first day they showed us what we had to do. We were like ‘ha ha, what are we doing?’. They’re like ‘you’re doing everything’. We were literally stunting. We were being thrown up in the air doing pyramids, double coupees and all these crazy names that they have but we had to do the real deal. I don’t know what’s in the movie though. I heard they cut a lot of different things out. Who knows if we’ll even see it but it was a lot of training we had to do.


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