Newlywed Carrie Underwood takes a break from singing to begin her acting career, playing Youth Counselor to shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton in the true story of Soul Surfer. The American Idol alum sat down with Buzzine to talk about her "normal" life versus her "celebrity" life, and finding out that her husband, ice hockey player Mike Fisher, had been traded to Nashville so they could finally live together in the same house.
Izumi Hasegawa: We understand that this was something that you initiated and wanted to be involved with. When did you hear about it, how, and why did you want to do it?
Carrie Underwood: I have lots of people in my life, and they had heard they were making a movie about Bethany Hamilton. I don't know who reached out to who or who contacted whom, but one way or another, 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. When I read the script, I definitely wanted to be involved -- such an inspirational story. Just to be a part of telling that was enough for me.
IH: Did you pick out the role you wanted to play as well?
CU: No. 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. I know that music is my life and 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 was perfect. It all fit, and we made it fit with schedules and they were like, "Well, come on then." So we made it work.
IH: You studied journalism in university and you have a degree, and now you're sitting on the other side. The tabloid culture is big right now, and many people like reading gossip stories. How do you see society now on those terms?
CU: It's not the content of the story. I know the whole celebrity culture and people being really interested in everything that the celebrities are doing, even if you don't consider yourself a "celebrity," but what always would drive me crazy is: I took ethics classes in college, and it always amazes me how they would blatantly say something that I did not say in quotation marks. That's the first thing that we learned is you better have it right. If you're putting quotation marks around it, it better be exactly what that person said. Being on the other side of it, it just gets so frustrating that it seems anybody can make up whatever they want to and say you said it or did it, or whatever. There are just no ramifications; there's nothing you can do about it. If you contest it and say that didn't happen, then it's, "Oh, thou doth protest too much!" And then it causes more attention to it. So it's just a big lose-lose situation sometimes. But then you can use your celebrity power to do good in the world too, so I guess it all evens out.
IH: A big part of this film was faith. Was that part of that appealed for you? You have a song called "Jesus Take The Wheel"...
CU: Obviously. I grew up in church and I have a wonderful family that always supported that and growing up going church camping, reading my Bible, and having different faith books and movies and stuff like that in my life, so this wasn't really a big departure from anything that...hopefully it wouldn't be surprising that people would see me in this film.
IH: Have you had something that you've had to overcome like this?
CU: Not like that. Oh gosh, not like Bethany. I've been so lucky in my life; I have so many wonderful people in my life. I've never had any major physical problems or an accident or anything like that. I'm a very, very lucky person thus far. Yeah, knock on wood. But no, seeing what Bethany went through and being able to get to know her firsthand makes me realize all the dumb little things in my life that I'm like, "Why me? This is the end of the world!" Seeing her go through that makes all of my big problems seem [small]. So it's nice when you can see somebody come through that and do things you don't think you could ever do.
IH: Can you tell us about the initial meeting when you met Bethany?
CU: I met her on set – I met everybody on set. It was all so quick; one minute we're talking about the movie, and the next minute I'm flying out to Hawaii. It was so wonderful to have the whole family -- Bethany, her parents, her brothers -- everybody on set, working on the film. It was very encouraging; made you feel like you were doing things the right way and you had their blessings. She just wanted to surf; she didn't hang around the set too much. She'd come for about half an hour or so and then be like, "Yeah, I'm going to go." She is what you think she would be -- she's an athlete, and she loves to be on the water.
IH: What do you consider a celebrity?
CU: I live in Nashville and I love to sing. When I'm on stage, I feel like a performer for sure. I know people are looking at me and taking pictures and all that stuff, and singing along, and that part's wonderful, but like I said, I do live in Nashville. I live the most boring life away from what you see me on camera doing. The other 300 days out of the year, I'm just the most normal person in the universe. I'm a wife, I'm a mother to my doggies, I'm a maid -- I clean the house. I'm pretty boring; we don't ever go out to eat, we don't do anything. I think that's why I consider myself not a celebrity. I don't know. I'm a normal person that likes to sing on stage.
IH: So you don't think of yourself as a brand?
CU: Brand is a little different because...me as Carrie the person wanders around in sweatpants, and then when I have to be Carrie Underwood, I look like this, so 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. 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!"
IH: Your fashion has evolved from 2005 to now. It's been such a transformation, and you do tend to favor those halter dresses, but you like those edgy, new designers. How much of a process is it for you now? Do you still freak out when you have to do a red carpet, or is it old hat?
CU: No. The only thing is, when everything ends up taken out of context, I try to dress appropriate to the event that I'm going to. Some events are more elegant, and some events you can be a little more edgy and have fun with it. The style thing has evolved, just because I have more options now. Before, it was – I don't know, wherever I found things or it belonged to one of my friends or my sisters or something. I still have hand-me-down stuff from my sister, who's a decade older than me. That tells you something.
IH: If you're watching American Idol this year, and a lot of people didn't think it would go without Simon [Cowell], how do you think it's going? Also, you seem to be one of the American Idol winners that doesn't mind coming back; a lot of them don't want to be involved, and I never got that vibe from you at all...
CU: I think the season is going along really well with the new judges -- Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. I feel like Randy [Jackson] stepped it up, and he's a little more honest, a little more blunt. Steven is much more warm and caring than I ever expected this rocker guy to be. I like him, the person. I think he's very charming. J-Lo obviously looks gorgeous. It's like week to week, she's more and more opinionated, so it's really good. Everybody is figuring out their roles. It's doing well; I think other people are enjoying them as well. It's a good crop of contestants; they're all very different. I do enjoy going back because that is the only reason I'm in the music business, period. I had no idea how to get in any other way. It was this random shot, might as well. If I get cut in the first round, nobody will know, might as well do it. So I did, and that's why I do what I do now, because of that show, and I love seeing other people get the same opportunities and get to go on tour. You learn so much in such a short amount of time. I love going back because it's nostalgic. I'm like, [sighs] "That was me!" It's like going back to school.
IH: Speaking of American Idol, you're also a permanent part of the "American Idol Experience" at Disney World. What does that mean to you?
CU: It's such a phenomenon! American Idol is the biggest television show of my generation. To be a part of the show and to be a part of the brand and to be a part of everything that has come since then... And when you think of American Idol, there are a few people that you think of, and I'm very honored to be one of those people.
IH: You had some very dramatic scenes with AnnaSophia. What was it like working with her, in particular the scene where she has the "why me?" moment. What was that like for you, and how did you like working with her?
CU: She is amazing. I'm very excited to see what she is going to do after this. It's hard to believe she's as young as she is, because she is very mature but not like creepy mature, because sometimes you run into kids where you have to say, "Just be your age! Why are you acting like you're my age?" But she has got her head on straight. She's just very talented, and being around her, being able to feed off of her... I think I would have been very different if it had been a different actor looking at me. She helped me so much, and she knows so much, and she was very encouraging throughout the whole process.
IH: Do you feel the pressure that everyone in Hollywood seems to feel about getting pregnant?
CU: No! We just got married. We haven't even been married a year yet! I would want to be married for a little while. It definitely does make me choose my wardrobe differently, because if I wear something a little baggier, I'm like, "Nope. People are going to think I'm hiding something! So I'd better not wear that!" It does make me think a little extra. I don't want people assuming that I am until I say I am!
IH: So you don't plan on it happening any time soon?
CU: No. We just got married. He was in Canada for the first six months of our marriage, and now we are just having fun, and we should. I'm 28 and I'm not a lot older, like I need to have kids now. We have plenty of time!
IH: How excited were you that, of all the teams Mike [Fisher] could have been traded to, he was traded to Nashville?
CU: We ran through such a gamut of emotions, especially on that day. He played for Ottawa for 11 years. That's a long time to just be in one place. He was lucky. He was so close to his family. He actually sent a text. He was calling me and I was trying to get out of the shower to figure out why my husband was calling me, and he eventually sent me a text and said, "Traded to Nashville, babe." I called him and I was like, "Are you kidding me?" So it was disappointment first because he only ever played for Ottawa, and then it was excitement after that. After the first few hours, it's like, "He's coming to live with me! This is amazing! We're going to be in the same house. I can go to work, he can go to work, and we can both come home and we'll be together. This is crazy!" But then I know there were some people who thought I had something to do with it. My friends were like, "How did you pull it off?" I was like, "I swear! I'm flattered you think I have that much power." But yeah, out of the 29 teams he could've come to, he came to Nashville.
IH: What do you guys like to do together in Nashville?
CU: To be honest, on our collective days off, we just hang out. We are just your typical domestic couple. We hang out with friends, go to church and stuff like that together...it's just nice to share the same space.
IH: What was your biggest surprise, being on your first movie set?
CU: It's just so funny how sterile things can be. You're trying to be in the moment, but there are 50 people watching you at any given time. I've always done video shoots and stuff like that, but that's a smaller scale and there are 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.
IH: What kind of movie would you like to do next?
CU: 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: "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. I don't know. It's how I roll!
IH: How was filming in Hawaii?
CU: It was great! I was only there for about a week, so I didn't actually get to see Hawaii. I saw Thailand in Hawaii. All the wonderful things about it I didn't really get to participate in. So I would like to go back and see what I missed.
IH: Was there a special youth counselor in your life?
CU: I had various ones throughout my church, but I would say my role model -- as far as just somebody leading by example, which, to me, is what a great youth counselor does: they are there to talk to, and they lead by example -- would be my mom. And she wasn't a youth counselor. She was a teacher and she is a good person, and definitely one of the biggest influences in my life.
IH: You're relatively a newlywed. What advice would you give to Kate Middleton who is getting married in 29 days?
CU: Our wedding is apples to oranges with a royal wedding! We managed to generally keep things under wraps, and that is not possible, I would imagine, in their life. I would say just have fun. Your wedding day goes by so fast, and to any bride out there, you've spent all this time planning, and then just like that, it's over. Then it's like, "Now what?" I remember sitting in the hotel room the next day, thinking "Did that just happen?" It was crazy. So just enjoy it and take it all in, and have somebody there to take a lot of pictures!
IH: Were you able to meet the actual youth counselor who you were playing?
CU: Yes, I met Sarah [Hill].
IH: How often did you interact with her?
CU: Sarah was there every day. Bethany was there every day. Her parents were there every day. Everybody that had anything to do with Bethany and her life were there, which was awesome. Sarah is very... I feel like we are probably a lot alike. I haven't gotten to spend that much time with her, but she is very direct, and she'll be honest and kind of tell people how it is. I really respect her. And I learned more about her from listening to other people talking about her than I did from talking to her myself. Bethany's parents were saying she has helped so many people. She helped her family so much, and they love her to death!
IH: Was it intimidating playing someone who was five feet away from you, especially for your first acting experience?
CU: No because, in the end, the movie, although it's based on a true story, is still for entertainment value as well. So I didn't feel that much pressure. I wasn't worried that she was going to be like, "I wouldn't say that!" Everybody made it to where it was a very comfortable setting.
IH: Are you a surfer yourself?
CU: I've been surfing once in my entire life, and I wasn't terrible at it, but my love for music is like the Hamilton family's love for water. So I understand it, but I'll stick to music!
IH: Would you ever go back into the water if something like that happened to you?
CU: It's tough to actually ask yourself that question because I have no idea what I would do. But I would hope that, if there was some random voice accident, that I would be able to go back to singing! [Laughs] It's a tough thing to put myself in her shoes, but maybe other people will see the movie, and stuff that they thought they couldn't do, they will be able to do again.
TriStar Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment's 'Soul Surfer' is released on April 8, 2011.