While it sometimes feels like Alicia Keys has been around forever (in a good way), it’s actually been a mere five years since Songs in A Minor announced to the world the arrival of a monumental talent. Platinum albums and multiple Grammys later, she now has her sights set on Hollywood. MTV News’ SuChin Pak spoke with Ms. Keys about her upcoming film with Scarlett Johansson, “The Nanny Diaries,” her strengths and insecurities and how Barbra Streisand is something of a role model.
SuChin Pak: Give us an idea of what “The Nanny Diaries” is all about.
Alicia Keys: Basically it’s about this girl, played by Scarlett Johansson, who’s graduating from college and her mother has been pushing her to pursue a career in finance. But she really loves anthropology, and during an interview for a high-finance job she kind of freaks out and runs out of the place. She ends up as a nanny for a very wealthy family in Manhattan.
The whole movie is based on all of these stereotypes and the way you can get caught up in trying to find out who you are and what’s good for you, and fighting the chains that kind of get wrapped around you. But it’s told with so much wit. It’s so funny, and a great film. And my role in it all is that I support Scarlett’s character through the whole film and try to talk sense to the woman, because she’s lost her mind. I’m like, “What’s wrong with you?”
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Watch Alicia Keys talk about how the paparazzi helped her bond with Scarlett Johansson, on Overdrive.
Pak: So you are the voice of reason.
Keys: Technically, I am the voice of reason.
Pak: This theme of graduating and leaving the nest, leaving safety and going into the world and being really lost — this is what it’s about, right? A girl trying to find her way.
Pak: Is that something you can relate to on any level?
Keys: Absolutely. I mean, who doesn’t feel like that, you know?
Pak: But I feel like with you, you started so young and had success at such a young age, and it was apparent that you were going to do wonderful things. Is that something you always had — that security that it’s going to happen for you?
|Check out photos from the set of “The Nanny Diaries”|
Keys: Well, I think I’ve always been very driven and I’ve always been focused and I don’t really take no for an answer — which can be a good or a bad thing! But yes, naturally, I’ve felt insecure. I’ve felt I wasn’t sure of my place. I still feel like that. At each point in your life you come to a place where you say, “Well, where am I? Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want?” And the answers change. So finding our place in the world is kind of a constant theme of life.
Pak: You know, I talk to lots of musical artists who have transitioned or are transitioning into film and acting, and it’s interesting because, as I think you once said, there’s a certain liberation about being an actress. As a singer/songwriter, there is no hiding behind anything, there is no costume. Is it kind of nice to know that you can go crazy and know that it’s not you being judged, or that people aren’t taking it literally, as if this character is who you are?
Keys: That’s part of the appeal of acting, being able to just totally dive into another portion of your personality — because we’re all made up of so many different personalities. That is an incredible feeling. But on top of that, I have to say, music is my life. It’s my passion, and I do every side of it. I produce the music, I write the music, I arrange the music and when it’s time to go out, I promote the music. If it’s not right, it’s my fault, you know what I mean? But with movies it’s interesting because you come in, you’re handed the words, you interpret it and make it your own — but you do your part and you leave. And it’s on everyone else, too, to make it come together.
Pak: You and Scarlett — I know you didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time together. It was pretty much like: Action! Best friends forever! Let’s talk about the first day on the set and the chemistry between the two of you.
Keys: It was immediate; it was very natural, very easygoing. We had met one time prior, at kind of a group meeting. And that was the first time I said, “Hey, great to be working with you, good to meet you.” And then when we got on set, we set up the shot, we did a rehearsal for the scene, we started speaking and we just kind of got into it. During the breaks we would talk more, about whatever. And it really flowed, you know, so it wasn’t a big thing. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, it didn’t feel unnatural. It totally fell into place.
Pak: It’s a huge movie set, and Scarlett is quite an accomplished actress, even though she is so young. The night before were you like, “Um, what if we hate each other?”
Keys: I wasn’t. I wasn’t worried about it. I had a feeling, I just knew it. You can kind of tell from when you first meet a person — or I can, at least. You know, I enjoy people and I’m pretty good at making people feel comfortable. And so I didn’t feel worried about it at all.
Pak: Well, Ms. Alicia Keys. Singer, songwriter, Grammy Award winner. You know, you got this, you won that, you’re so young and here you are going into your first big movie. Is there an Oscar in the future? Are you hoping for a little gold statue to complete that set?
Keys: It would be crazy — to be able and make that transition like that and really be able to balance the two, kind of like a Barbra Streisand. Or a mix of a Barbra Streisand and a Quincy Jones, which is one of the things I’ve always said I’ve wanted to be. That mixture of musicality and the way that Barbra just transitioned into acting, and you know that it’s quality. You know that it’s good.
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