Africa now, stardom next for Bella Thorne

Matt Pais interviews 'Blended' star Bella Thorne

Bella Thorne at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

Bella Thorne at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (Hilary Higgins/RedEye / May 15, 2014)

Much must be said about the new Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy “Blended,” but we’ll save that for the review.

For now, it’s worth noting that the movie (opening Friday) is the first major big-screen role for 16-year-old Bella Thorne, who later this year also will release her debut album (“Call it Whatever,” due June 24) and debut novel (“Autumn Falls,” the first of a trilogy, out Nov. 11). That’s in addition to appearing alongside Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner (“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”) and starring in at least four other movies on the way.

If that’s not the sign of a soon-to-be big star, I don’t know what is.

Thorne’s not coming out of nowhere: She starred in Disney’s Chicago-set musical sitcom “Shake It Up” and has been featured in a Neutrogena campaign with big names like Garner, Kerry Washington and Hayden Panettiere. Thorne has more than 5 million Twitter followers and is already appearing in Us Weekly fashion spreads between Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o.

Basically, this girl’s already bigger than an Adam Sandler movie, yet you can’t begrudge her for taking the role of Hilary. Sandler, the movie’s star and uncredited co-writer whose daughters are big Thorne fans (Bellarinas, officially), always had the part in mind for her. In the film, widower Jim (Sandler) and divorced Lauren (Barrymore) can’t stand each other but—for reasons not worth getting into—take their kids to the same South African resort. Jim treats his three daughters like boys, giving them tomboy haircuts, all-tracksuit wardrobes and encouraging Hilary, whom he calls “Larry,” to bulk up and focus on basketball.

In reality, of course, Thorne looks the opposite of a tomboy, and you could argue a questionable message to a character arc about a girl being constantly judged for her appearance until she can get a makeover, attract a guy and shed her hobby. Lying under a blanket and Leaning against a member of her team on a couch at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Thorne recalled working in Africa and defended Hilary’s story.

When you found out that you would be going to Africa for “Blended,” what went through your mind?
“Oh my God. I’m going to Africa. For two months. How’s that going to be?” Literally. Those exact sentences went through my mind.

Was that excitement, nerves or fear?
I think it was a lot of almost confusion. Like, “Wow, I’m going to Africa. For two months. I don’t know any of these cast members. I’m [going] with Adam and Drew, who are hilarious comedians. What if they don’t like me?!”

Why would you think that?
I don’t know. You don’t know what kind of set you’re walking onto. There’s a lot of sets where the vibe and the energy just isn’t what you expected, but luckily on this set I got pretty lucky.

Did you have to learn anything about Africa before you went? Or get vaccinations?
No, because where we went there was no malaria or anything like that. So we were in a safe part.

I read there was a strict protocol on set as far as keeping windows closed and other things you could and couldn’t do.
In the hotel, the baboons and the monkeys, they come in your room and they knock over all the sugar and they eat it, and they drank all the Red Bull and they rip your pillow cases and they throw it everywhere, and you have to pay for all of it.

The baboons don’t open their wallets and say, “Sorry”?
[Laughs.] You have to pay for it, which is really just sucky. A lot of people accidentally get locked out. They were always getting locked out with the baboons.

You tell that story so matter-of-factly. Most people would be freaking out.
No. Pretty [much] sucks, but it’s OK. Just gotta lock your door.

And you were told monkeys would eat your dog if you brought it?
Yeah, there’s been a lot of times where monkeys will see people with dogs, and they rip them apart limb by limb.

And you were actually bitten on set.
Yes, I was bitten by one of the cub lions. I didn’t get a disease. Maybe I should get checked out, though.

This was what, a year ago?
Yeah.

Hopefully you’re fine.
I mean, sometimes a lot of things travel through the spine and take four years to come, so you never know.

Well, I hope you’re OK.
[Laughs] I also had a tick in a very awkward place in my inner, upper thigh. It was awful. I had a TICK burrowed under my skin! And I had no idea what it was.

That doesn’t sound fun.
That wasn’t fun because then my mom started crying. She thought I was going to get tick-bite fever. You can go into a coma.

Which was scarier, the incident with the tick or being bitten by a lion?
The tick. Because you don’t know if the tick had any kind of disease. They have tick-bite fever there. It’s very common, and you go into a coma from it. So that’s really scary.

Whereas a cub lion sounds kind of cute.
The cub lion was adorable. It bit me, but it was a nice bite. Broke a little bit of skin, but it was OK because they are so cute. You have no idea how cute they are until you see them in person. You’re just like, “Oh my God.” And they just want to play with you, even though they don’t know how hard and how rough they’re playing. They say when they see animals and when they see people they want to play with you. They don’t want to eat you, but they do use their teeth to play with each other. So they just don’t realize that they’re crushing your bones. They’re just like, “Yeah, let’s play! Let’s play!” Until you’re dead.

Is there anyone who expressed reservations to you when you said how you would be changing your appearance for the movie, or made you feel unsure or self-conscious about that?
When I put on the wig and the tracksuit, I thought what every teenage girl would think looking like that: “You look ugly.” And everybody was genuinely mistaking me for a boy. Which is awful. It’s so awful! Because a lot of people on set were like, “No, no, you still can tell you’re a girl for sure!” And other people who didn’t know me were actually mistaking me for a boy. That was a little hard, but I’m so happy I did it because I would’ve never known that I only want to play characters. I don’t like playing the pretty girl. That character really has no depth.

Isn’t that kind of what Hilary turns into, though?
I would say it’s an attractive look. I think I look prettier sometimes in the wig than in all that makeup. Because we didn’t do a makeup test for the pretty look, and usually you do a makeup test to show what the camera’s going to look like, how much makeup. I think it ended up looking like a lot of makeup. But it wasn’t that much makeup; it just depends on the lighting. Like I said, we didn’t get to test it beforehand. You always do a hair and makeup test. We only were able to test the wig before we went to Africa. And they just cut my hair. They thinned it out, and they cut it to here. I’ve never had short hair before. And they tightly curled it with straight bangs. It’s bad.

With that path of Hilary’s character, what message will young women take away from this movie?
I think a lot of girls will relate to this character because pretty or not, or whatever you look like, every teenage girl is dying to get out of their own skin. It’s true. Every girl wants to be noticed and to be talked to by their favorite crush in school, and I think they’re really going to feel for this character. Some girls actually accidentally get that haircut, and they’re like, “Oh my God, no! How did I get this haircut?” They just accidentally got it. A lot of girls have told me that, and they were like, “It looks so awful!”

Do you think anyone gets it on purpose?
I think a lot of people get it on purpose, but those people look beautiful with that haircut. Look at Miley Cyrus’ hair. It’s all chopped off. She looks beautiful. I, on the other hand, just don’t look beautiful with that haircut. It just doesn’t work for my face.

“The D.U.F.F.” was just announced. Are you playing—
The Designated Ugly Fat Friend? No. I badly wanted that role so, so, so much. I was like, “Please, please!” I auditioned for it. And the director was like, “You’re hilarious, but you’re beautiful.”

So they said, “You have to play the pretty girl in this one”?
Yeah. And I was like, “OK, of course.” Because I really wanted to work with the director [Ari Sandel] ‘cause he won an Oscar [for Best Live Action Short Film]. He has a really interesting way of looking at things. Plus, he’s hilarious. He’s so funny. Just on his own, he’s always making jokes. So I had to play the pretty girl in that one.

Plus:
If she had to know anything about Chicago for the Chicago-set “Shake It Up”: “No. We don’t really discuss Chicago that much. Just the fact that we had to wear a lot of layers because it’s usually cold in Chicago.”

If she wants to star in “Autumn Falls” if it becomes a movie: “No, I would probably direct it or something. Or produce it. Because I would love another actress to play that role. Plus, I would be much older, and the character is younger. The character is my age, a little bit younger than me. I would already be much older by that point. When the third book comes out, I’ll be 20, 21. So I’m not playing a 14-year-old. [Laughs.] I want a girl that is 14 playing 14. Not older to play younger. I don’t like that.”

Tips for families to get along: “You have to look over each other’s differences and learn to laugh.”

Movies she likes about families: “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “The Parent Trap”

What she learned from doing the movie “Big Sky,” which touches on agoraphobia: “There’s not a lot of research about it, and doctors really don’t know how to handle it and they don’t know how to diagnose it correctly. There’s really just no research about it whatsoever. I looked at this role and said, ‘I don’t know how to do a panic attack every scene. This character’s the completely opposite of me; I don’t have anything to draw from. I love the sun! I love being outside! This is completely opposite from me.’ I really was like, ‘I’m not going to be able to do this. I’m not going to be able to pull it off.’ And I did. Every time I always say, ‘I don’t want to do this. I’m not going to do it right; somebody will do it better than me, and I know it, and I’d rather them do it.’ Every time I do it, I do it great, and that I think is really cool.”

Her defense of the word “whatever,” repeatedly voted the world’s most annoying word: “Whatever means I really don’t care, or it could mean do whatever you want. As in, again, I really don’t care. In my song [‘Call It Whatever’] I say, ‘I really don’t care’ a lot. And in my song it means we’re going to call it whatever. We don’t care what people think about it. We don’t care what others have to say, so if they don’t like the song ‘Call It Whatever,’ whatever!”

The last show she binge-watched: “I watch ‘Bones’ all the time. All day long I watch me some ‘Bones.’ I love when she says phalanges. It makes me so excited.”

If she prefers “The Notebook” or “Forrest Gump” (since she recently re-tweeted quotes from both movies’ Twitter accounts): “’The Notebook.’ Because I love ‘The Notebook.’ Ryan Gosling. Rachel McAdams. Duh. How can you not love them?”

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.

 

CHICAGO

More