Singer, songwriter, performer, producer, director and actress —is there anything Christina Aguilera hasn’t done? One of the most accomplished performers of the last decade, she has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, achieved four #1 singles on the Billboard hot 100 chart, and has won five Grammy Awards, as well as three top five albums in the United States. Aguilera is also the only artist under 30 to make Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 100 greatest singers of all time.
In writer/director Steven Antin’s finger-snapping, eye-popping and atmospheric musical “Burlesque,” a time-honored tale of showbiz aspirations fulfilled – and the hallmarks of a classic form of live entertainment – get a dazzling, fun movie makeover. For Ali (Christina Aguilera), a small-town girl with a big voice, there had to be somewhere her dreams could be fulfilled, rather than remain an empty goal. Enter the world of burlesque.
MoviesOnline had the pleasure of sitting down with Christina at a round table interview in Los Angeles this weekend to talk about her new film. She told us what it was like to work opposite the legendary Cher, how she approached the challenge of transitioning from one area of show business to another, and what she enjoyed most about playing the character of Ali who, like herself, is inspired by naysayers to keep going after what she wants and not take no for an answer.
CA: (calling her dog) C’mon Stinky! (after running into Cher in the hallway) I’m so excited I got to see her! I haven’t seen her for a while. I love it! I’m all dressed up and she’s in her boots!
Q: Was this the first time you’ve seen Cher since the movie?
CA: Maybe. Wow! We’ve talked on the phone. We’ve emailed and everything.
Q: So you’re keeping in touch?
CA: Uh huh. C’mon Stinky!
[Stinky jumps up on the chair next to her at the table.]
Q: It’s a little Lassie. How cute! That’s your only dog?
CA: Yeah. He’s a Papillon. He’s like 12 years old. He’s a mama’s boy.
Q: He’s cute.
CA: Thank you.
Q: Does he travel a lot with you when you’re touring?
CA: He does when I do the States. Whenever I travel to Australia, parts of Asia and Europe, I can’t take him with me.
Q: You’re on tour a lot so you’ve probably had other chances to do a movie but had to turn down things and say no. What was it about “Burlesque” that made you want to say yes?
CA: There have been a lot of roles and scripts that have come my way but nothing that really inspired me or intrigued me like when “Burlesque” showed up at my door. Just the whole concept of burlesque, I’ve always been fascinated with it. I’ve always collected so many books about burlesque. I’ve been intrigued by the time that it’s set in, in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and so I knew it was a no brainer for me to be a part of once I met with the team.
Q: There’s obviously quite a cinematic element to a lot of your music videos. Does any of that help in preparation for a feature film like this?
CA: No. (Laughs) No, it doesn’t actually. Yes, I’ve been around the block with it before but doing a movie and doing this kind of a movie is a whole different animal. I completely had to throw away everything I knew about anything and approach doing this movie with an open heart, being truly vulnerable, truly naïve as my character is, and open myself up as a newcomer in a whole new way for everything that I did on this movie.
Q: Most singers would say that when you play a song, you can sing a song because you’re kind of acting. Would you agree with that?
CA: I lose myself in my performances so I wouldn’t say that I ever act on stage. I don’t find it to be an acting drill for me. I just find it to be something very real that comes from a very gut-driven, honest place. But definitely in the sense of me trying to portray Ali, I guess you could say I had to throw away any self-expression and really get up into why Ali is feeling this certain way in this particular place in the movie, write it from her perspective, such as “Bound to You” or “Express” or “Burlesque the Finale” that I wrote. So I really had to come from her perspective.
Q: What was the experience like playing opposite Cher?
CA: (Laughs) Unbelievable. I left that movie a completely changed, different person for so many reasons but a lot of it did have to do with Cher and what I learned from her – just on all counts – as a person, both personally and professionally, the way she has such a tranquil, calm, loving energy when she enters a room but still is such a presence, the way she works, the way she allows herself the freedom to throw the dialogue out the window and just go on a tangent and let things feel real and natural in front of the camera gave me priceless information that I’ll cherish forever but yeah, she’s just one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
Q: What about the scene where Cher does your make-up for you while she tells you a story? How was that experience?
CA: That was a very interesting day because of what was happening on camera and what was happening off camera. I was getting my make-up done, yes, by Cher on camera. That was a real story that she told from her own childhood. It was very sweet. We were bonding almost in a maternal way on camera but behind the scenes we were like old, chatty girlfriends that could not stop talking and they actually had to drag us to set a few times because we were late just talking, talking about love and relationships in life on a personal level. So, it was a girlfriend moment and a mother-daughter moment on screen.
Q: Your character comes along like the new girl in town, do you think Lady Gaga is like that in real life? Is there any kind of competition there?
CA: No, no, no. We’re two completely different women, but I can respect her work ethic.
Q: Is there a prejudice against people making it from one area of show business to another? Cher obviously did it in three different areas. You talked about making this choice, how do you react when people say “No, you can’t do that”?
CA: No one was saying I can’t do that. I knew that there are many people that make the transition and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Cher is the perfect example of someone that it does work with. I’ve always been inspired even more by any naysayers to keep going for what I really want and they’ve almost been my inspiration many times more so than any positive people around me to conquer. But yeah, you have your reservations and your fears, but like Ali does, she just kicks in the door, doesn’t take no for an answer and goes for it.
Q: What do you like most about Ali and to what extent did you connect with her?
CA: I liked her drive. I liked her passion. I loved the way she wouldn’t take no for an answer – not from Jack, not from Tess, Cher’s character – how she steps up to the plate whenever Kristen (Bell) pulls the mic out and just goes for it. In many ways, I would do the same in that kind of a situation. I’m a go getter and I don’t stop until I get what I want in the most positive way.
Q: How much of your personal life is reflected in your songs?
CA: In the movie or in real life?
CA: A lot, a great deal. It’s all motivated by personal emotions and stories and feelings. I think that’s the best way you can get honesty across in your music to connect and relate to people.
Q: Have you written a song for your son?
CA: I did. On my last record, “Bionic,” I wrote a song called “All I Need” for him.
Q: How do you balance motherhood with your personal life, movies and singing?
CA: It’s a juggling act. It’s really hard. Today he actually has a little fever and he’s a little sick and it just breaks my heart I can’t be with him. But I think one day he’ll be able to look back at my body of work and feel proud of it and hopefully it’ll motivate him to then be an individual himself and really go for what he wants out of life.
Q: Does he have a favorite song or does he spark to something that you play for him?
CA: Yeah, there’s a song on the sound track actually that’s called “Beautiful People” and he really loves that song. He was there in the studio while I was recording it and he’s like “Put on ‘Beautiful People.’” He loves the song.
Q: Do you think he’s going to become a singer like you?
CA: Who knows? I mean, he’s musically inclined. I can tell. But he’s so smart and such a character. I could see him doing something in the entertainment business.
Q: What was the biggest thing you learned about acting in the movie?
CA: The biggest lesson learned? Oh, so many! How to stay focused and keep every moment as real as possible when you have to go in and repeat it over and over, especially for a crying scene. It’s really hard to find the motivation over and over again to create those tears. I found it very dark and depressing on those days because I had to revert back to memories that weren’t so nice from my childhood and really go there and feel them in a way that I don’t care to feel on a daily basis.
Q: Do you have any respect for actors who get into these really dark roles?
CA: Absolutely. But it’s intriguing though for me to go to that place. I don’t know, sometimes dark and depressing can be a comfort zone for me. (Laughs)
Q: It’s clear that you’ve been really excited about this project. Now that it’s finished, can we expect to see you doing more films?
CA: Yeah, I look forward to doing more films. Yes. One thing at a time, but over the holidays I’m actually looking forward to reading the scripts that have been coming in and figuring out what the next plan of action is.
Q: Would that be another musical?
CA: Not necessarily. No, not at all. I wouldn’t even mind doing a small independent film, just the sky is the limit.
Q: A lot of musical performers are often apprehensive to go into a film project when music is involved. Were you conscious of that?
CA: Yes. Absolutely. I actually didn’t want to do my first film as a musical because I did want to be seen in a different light. If I was going to go there, I really wanted to go there in a different way. But the fact that Burlesque as a concept is so different than what I do and Ali has a different story and such an inspiring one, I really could relate and I really wanted to interpret her in a fresh way.
Q: I really like the choreography. It’s a different kind of dance than you usually do in your music. Was it hard to adjust to that and sing at the same time?
CA: Well I always say I never danced before in my life until I did the movie. It was intense. It was intense dance rehearsals and I’m a vocalist first so I’d never spent so much time perfecting moves and everything because they always surrounded me holding a mic and being on stage and working my mouth first. But everything full circle came into focusing on my body and my movement and critiquing the dance as far as the technical aspect. The choreographers on this musical were amazing. They were so incredibly talented and I was so blessed to have worked with them. I’ll definitely take what I learned from the movie and incorporate it in my own things that I do in my own work.
Q: Do you have a favorite outfit from the film? Your character changed into so many different wigs and costumes.
CA: I love the “I’m a Good Girl” outfit — the one with the crystallized bra piece and the feathered bustle. I thought that married and tied in with the song perfectly – very flirtatious, very coy, playful and fun. It’s the first time she sees herself in a wig so it was a really cool moment for Ali, I think.
Q: What type of music and movies do you like to listen to and watch in real life and what about musicals?
CA: Everything. I mean I’m very eclectic in what I like and what I listen to. Musicals? My favorite musical ever is “The Sound of Music.” That was actually one that inspired me to sing. I love “Meet Me in St. Louis” with Judy Garland. What else do I like? I like old soul blues and jazz. I like rock. I love John Lennon. I love Etta James, Billie Holiday, Marlene Dietrich.
Q: You have a unique singing style. Was there ever a time when somebody said “Maybe we can change that and make that a little bit different”?
CA: Yeah, for sure. When I got my first record deal, I was 17 years old. There was a big pop explosion going on at the time and there was a specific sound on the radio and it definitely wasn’t an Etta James style of singing or an old soul, bluesy style which is what I’m inspired by first and foremost at the heart and at the root of what I do. So I went in to get my record deal. I landed it, but then when I started recording my record, Ron Fair was actually like “We need to tone you down. There’s too many ad libs. There’s too much riffing. You sound too powerful. It’s just too much.” I’m sitting there about to cry like this is just the way I sing and it was definitely a turning point for me or not a great moment for me just because it was really hard. That was just the way I sang. That was my voice. And years later, he actually called me and apologized because he said “I just watched your biography and I was looking at old footage of you when you were like 7 or 8 years old and you still had that voice and you were still ad libbing like that and sounding the way you did when you were 17. I always thought you were just putting on a show for me extra because you’d just got a record deal and you were trying to do too much. That’s just the way you sang. I’m sorry. (Laughs)
Q: Do you have friends or family that expects you to sing all the time and say to you “C’mon, sing something”?
CA: In school that used to happen a lot. They’d get me to sing and then they’d hate me for it.
Q: You do a lot of firsts in this movie. What about the love scene. Was that a little nerve wracking?
CA: Yeah. Of course, there can be awkward moments with that. But me and Cam (Gigandet) have a very funny, playful, teasing sort of relationship with each other that we can kind of have a laugh about it and get lost in the moment. Plus, it’s very unsexy when there’s a zillion people looking at you.
Q: You mentioned you had a great experience with Cher. What stands out in your mind? What did you guys talk about?
CA: Well, one thing that she said that was really, really funny that’s her own quote is “You know, honey, husbands come and go but I’m still Cher at the end of the day.”
“Burlesque” opens in theaters on November 24th.