CULVER CITY, California — Eighteen-year-old Rihanna is still new to the bright lights, aggressive paparazzi and rapid-fire interviewers of red carpets, let alone the frenzied planning that goes into making one happen.
Regardless, the Barbados-born beauty was up for the challenge when MTV News invited her to guest-report at Saturday’s Movie Awards, following in the footsteps of respected celebrities-turned-journalists, like, er, Paris Hilton?
Still, holding down the red carpet is no walk in the park. At the start, Rihanna was, in her own words, “very nervous” and in need of a little coaching herself. By the end though, she was “like a pro,” even doing a victory dance to celebrate her big get.
Here’s how the transformation from shaky starlet to star reporter went down:
- 11:00 a.m. Rihanna arrives at Sony Pictures Studios directly from Los Angeles International Airport, where she’d flown in from Australia.
- 11:30 a.m. In a red-and-white polka-dot dress, with her hair halfway ready for primetime, Rihanna makes it to the table-read right on time (in fact, earlier than her co-guest reporter, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz). When Wentz arrives a few minutes later, she tells him, “I love your new video. It’s dope. How long did it take to make?” “Three days — well, nights,” he replies.
- 11:35 a.m. Rehearsing the opening of the pre-show, Sway asks Rihanna about her recent movie project, “Bring It On: All or Nothing.” She tells him she always forgot her lines. Producers chuckle nervously.
- 11:37 a.m. Reading over the script, Rihanna makes a splendid discovery: She’s penciled in to interview Justin Timberlake.
- 11:40 a.m. Reading over the script, Rihanna makes a not-so-splendid discovery. She’s penciled in to interview Zach Braff. “Who’s that?” she whispers to a producer.
- 11:57 a.m. Rihanna sees Owen Wilson’s name and asks who he is, only to answer her own question seconds later, realizing, “Oh, ’Wedding Crashers.’ ” A producer suggests asking about sequel rumors.
- 12:10 p.m. In a rehearsal interview, Rihanna and Pete tag-team a producer pretending to be Borat. Rihanna cracks up at the impersonation, revealing, “I love him.”
- 12:30 p.m. The read-through wraps and Rihanna asks the driver of her golf-cart (the choice mode of transport on the Sony lot) if she can take the wheel. “What if I take off my shoes?” she offers. He obliges after she loses her high heels — and Rihanna nearly runs over MTV News’ Sway. A few minutes later, a security guard scolds her for driving in the wrong lane.
- 1:27 p.m. Rihanna, her manager and hair and make-up artists engage in a giggly conversation about an episode of “My Super Sweet 16” in which the pop star appeared. “We weren’t late, they just did that to add to the drama,” she insists.
- 3:00 p.m. Rihanna hits the red carpet (which is actually blue) for a run-through right on time, with her hair now three-fourths finished. She asks the technician if he has a pink earpiece.
- 3:22 p.m. Rihanna conducts her first practice interview with a Will Ferrell stand-in. She asks about a “Wedding Crashers” sequel. Producers are either worried or impressed that she remembered his uncredited part in the comedy.
- 3:40 p.m. Rihanna does a mock interview with one of her managers standing in as Justin Timberlake. It makes her nervous.
- 3:46 p.m. Sway tries to calm her nerves by joking around. “I’m not nervous she’s gonna steal my job,” he says. “I’m sure I’m as pretty as she is in some people’s eyes.”
- 3:55 p.m. Pete Wentz kills time by giving Rihanna a guided tour of his tattoos. “You’re evil,” she replies.
- 4:00 p.m. Rihanna returns to finish her make-up and wardrobe. “This is one of my favorite parts because I just get to sit and get dolled up,” she says as she flips through photos on her digital camera.
- 5:20 p.m. Rihanna’s name is announced as she hits the carpet and the paparazzi go crazy.
- 5:40 p.m. After stopping to give a few interviews and signing some autographs, Rihanna finally arrives at her station and awaits her first interview. Her publicist grabs her to take some photos with host Jessica Alba, who is not paying much attention. Midway through the photo session, Alba realizes who she’s with. “Oh my God, you’re so pretty,” Alba says. “I love to watch your videos.”
- 5:52 p.m. The first interview: LL Cool J. He’s talkative. She’s at ease.
- 6:15 p.m. Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo arrives, sweating buckets in his suit. Rihanna starts the interview but forgets her second question and stops. She starts back at the beginning.
- 6:20 p.m. After Amanda Bynes helps Rihanna settle down by gushing over her music, former pre-show guest host Ludacris approaches with some advice: “Just be yourself,” he says. “And make sure MTV pays you. MTV got a lot of money.” She laughs.
- 6:40 p.m. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock approach for what is supposed to be a tag-team interview by Rihanna and Sway, but Sway is pulled away at the last minute. Rihanna rehearses her questions with the producer until the second cameras roll, then nails the interview, even ad-libbing a question about romantic movies. Bullock notices a producer smiling and nodding and thinks he’s reacting to her answer. “This is two big movie stars!” Rihanna says later. “So when they took Sway away, I was like, ’What?!’ But I took care of it.”
- 6:55 p.m. As the carpet segment is about to conclude, Rihanna receives word that Justin Timberlake is coming down. She insists on doing another mock interview on the spot to prepare, and goes over her questions a few times until he suddenly appears in front of her. “I’m here with the handsome Justin Timberlake,” she begins. “Aw, you’re gonna make me blush,” he replies. With fantastic chemistry from the start, the interview goes off without a hitch.
- 6:58 p.m. As Timberlake walks away, Rihanna turns to her manager with a huge smile and does a little dance. “I’m a huge fan of Justin Timberlake, so for me to meet and interview him at the same time, my knees were shaking a little bit,” she says.
- 7:20 p.m. While walking back to her trailer, Rihanna tells a producer she’s ready to do it again. “It was exciting,” she says. “But now I see it’s not easy. When you’re walking the red carpet and you’re answering questions, you don’t know they have to find out stuff about you first, then think about the best questions to ask and find out how long to take. It was fun, though.”
- 7:30 p.m. Think Rihanna’s now headed to a plum seat for the awards and an evening on the town? Wrong: She heads straight back the airport to catch a flight to New York. She has to work tomorrow — and not behind the scenes.