LOS ANGELES She's sold more than 100 million records and her face is known the world over. Yet Mariah Carey wanted to give movies a try because she has sort of a self-esteem problem.
"I'm driven, because I don't think that I'm famous," she said, laughing. Never mind that she was relaxing on a couch near a personal pool at the swank Beverly Hills Hotel while a half-dozen minders touched up her hair, makeup and barely-there outfit as she typed away on her two-way pager. Jokes aside, the pop superstar hopes her film debut in "Glitter" (August 31) will help her become almost famous, at least in terms of showing another side of her personality.
"I don't talk about my past a lot," Mariah, 31, explained. "The thing is, I'm not Cinderella ... but I saw [more intense] things before the age of 12 than most people may see in their lives."
Mariah said she took those formative experiences and used them as inspiration for playing the role of Billie, a young woman whose feelings of abandonment and confusion about her mixed heritage drive her to make it as a singer in the early '80s. Despite apparent similarities to her own life story, she wants to make it clear that the movie is not autobiographical.
"There are certain elements that are similar," she said. "It's actually the opposite. My character's father is white; we don't really know him very well. And the mother is black, and she's a singer. It's kind of the opposite scenario of what my life is.
"Also, I'm very close with my mom," the singer added. "I basically feel like I grew up with my mom." In the movie, Billie is taken from her drug-addicted mother at an early age and spends most of the movie trying to reconnect with her.
"It's like she's motivated by feeling rejected from her mother, and that's completely the opposite of me," Mariah explained.
Another element that sets "Glitter" apart from "The Mariah Carey Story": It's much tamer than the real thing, according to screenwriter Kate Lanier ("The Mod Squad," "Set It Off"). "Her story ... you wouldn't believe it if we made it into a movie," Lanier said. "We had to come up with something that was more believable."
In order to do that, Lanier spent close to two years shadowing Mariah across the world, from the recording studio to nightclubs to record label meetings. For her screenplay, Lanier combined a story she had in mind with her observations of the singer, though as it is with everything Mariah it was a highly collaborative effort.
"Being a singer, she gets classified in a particular way, like, 'Oh, she can hit those high notes,' " Lanier said. "She knew she wanted a movie where her character was a singer, but she didn't want it to be sappy. She wanted it to have depth. She wanted a street, gritty feeling, an underdog story."
Lanier, skeptical at first about working with the singer, said she thinks Mariah's performance will surprise people. "[Offscreen] she's constantly doing these funny characters. She's sort of like Carol Burnett in how she morphs in and out of these voices and characters. A lot of her videos are very stylized, and they don't show the realness of who she is the way her role in this movie will."
Spending even a few minutes with Mariah offers proof that there are a jumble of characters constantly trying to bubble up out of her. Asked about being typecast as a singer, Mariah burst out with a streak of thick Brooklynese, explaining how she had already moved on to a new, low-budget picture that will prove she's more than a one-note diva.
"That's why I'm doing an independent movie that's completely the opposite of me," she said of her next film project, "Wisegirls." "My character, who talks like this and is like, 'You know what, I don't even wanna take your crap right now, you know what I'm saying?' We're talking about a complete character, OK?" (RealAudio excerpt of interview)
"Glitter," previously titled "All That Glitters," also co-stars rapper Da Brat as one of Billie's best friends, singer Eric Benét and British indie actor Max Beesley as love interest DJ Dice. Actor Vondie Curtis-Hall ("Turn It Up") directed the film; he also directed Tupac Shakur in "Gridlock'd."
The star-studded "Glitter" soundtrack album is scheduled for release on August 21 and is slated to feature at least a half-dozen songs produced by legendary R&B team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (see "Mariah Carey Turns Soundtrack Into Solo Album"). Mariah said she wrote the songs for the album as companion pieces to the film, with many of them helping to move along the plot and set the tone for the action.
The first single, the uptempo party number "Loverboy," alternates a bouncing funky bass with rock guitars and features cameos from rappers Da Brat, Ludacris, 22 and Shawna. Funk legends Cameo, who also appear on the track, went into the studio to re-sing the chorus of their 1986 hit "Candy," one of Mariah's all-time favorites (see "Mariah Carey Gets 'Glitter' In Her Eyes").