Is country queen Carrie Underwood letting Hollywood take the wheel? Not exactly.
Underwood – who broke out as an “American Idol” champion in 2005 and went on to become one of the most popular artists in country music – makes her big-screen acting debut in “Soul Surfer,” playing a church-based counselor to real-life teen Bethany Hamilton (played by AnnaSophia Robb), who continued her rise to surfing stardom even after her left arm was snatched away by a shark.
“I got a script and I got the book and I got DVDs and all kinds of information about Bethany and her story, which I’d heard of when it happened, but I didn’t know the ins and outs and all that good stuff,” says Underwood, who was struck by Hamilton’s inspiring comeback and her family’s unshakeable faith after the shark attack. “When I read the script, I definitely wanted to be involved. It’s such an inspirational story. Just to be a part of telling that was enough for me.”
Unlike many pop stars who’ve stepped in front of film cameras, Underwood chose her low-profile supporting role wisefully: it’s neither a too-early, diva-ish star turn (think Mariah Carey in “Glitter”) or a radically de-glammed serious spin (think Mariah Carey in “Precious”).
“I feel like so many people – especially when they’re coming over from the music world – jump into a starring role and usually end up being made fun of, right?” she says. “I know that music is my life, my strong point – that’s my love, and this seemed perfect: this is the role they had in mind, and it’s a small role, but a very important role. The whole success of the film does not weigh on my shoulders as an actress. It all fit. So we made it work.”
Underwood admits she was thrown at first by the environment on the “Soul Surfer” set in Hawaii. “You're trying to be in the moment, but there are 50 people watching you at any given time,” she says. “I've always done video shoots and stuff like that, but that's a smaller scale and there's not really lines you have to memorize. But everyone was super-nice and made me feel very comfortable and they were understanding that it was my first movie role. Everybody helped me along and realized I'd never been on a movie set before. It was very comforting.”
Adroitly fielding the expected personal-life questions (no, the newlywed’s not pregnant and isn’t planning on it soon; yes, she was thrilled when her hockey-player husband Mike Fisher was transferred to her hometown Nashville Predators), Underwood explains that in some ways her glamorous on-stage persona is an acting performance as well.
“Me as Carrie the Person wanders around in sweatpants, and then when I have to be ‘Carrie Underwood’ I look like this,” she says. “Definitely there is a departure from your human side and then your work side, which is for everybody. When you’re at home, you’re not wearing heels and your work attire – or maybe you are, I don’t know you! But it’s good to make that separation from person to brand. I think if I were Carrie Underwood the Brand everywhere, my friends wouldn’t like me very much. It’s like a big personality – if I look like this and always wear makeup, all my friends would be like ‘What are you doing? We’re going to TGI Fridays!’”
Underwood says she’s also not in a hurry to get her “Soul Surfer” acting reel in front of every casting director in Hollywood to land her next role. “I'm kind of a go-with-the-flow kind of girl. I take my opportunities as they come, so I'm not looking [to say] ‘I want to do another movie this year. What's it going to be?’ Opportunities present themselves, just like this one did, and I took that. It's how I roll!”