Hit- maker Rihanna has an acting career in her sights, writes Vicky Vicky Roach Roach
FORGET whips and chains, it’s guns that really excite Rihanna.
The Barbadian pop sensation has had a fascination for firearms ever since high school, when she impulsively signed up as an army cadet.
‘‘ Why? Because it was the toughest thing to do in school. They came around one day asking who wanted to be a recruit. I really didn’t know what it was. But the minute they said we got to shoot weapons, I said, ’ I’m in’.’’
The 24- year- old singer drew on that adolescent experience for her feature- film debut in Battleship, a sci- fi action fantasy based on the classic Hasbro board game.
Her character, female weapons expert Raikes, is in charge of an explosive arsenal that includes machine guns, air- to- surface missiles and torpedoes.
‘‘ Cadets is nothing compared to the real navy, but it was a good way for me to get used to that discipline and the way they work – the training and the shooting,’’ Rihanna says during a break from filming on the Louisiana set of the $ 200 million blockbuster.
According to director Peter Berg, the role of Raikes is not just window dressing.
‘‘ There are a lot of women in the navy, some of whom are in this film as extras – strong, competent women who are able to exist in a very masculine world without giving up their femininity,’’ he says.
‘‘ So I wanted to put a female sailor in the movie. These women are more than capable of getting their hands dirty.’’
Berg says The Fast And The Furious star Michelle Rodriguez has pretty much cornered the market for tough, visceral, physical female roles in Hollywood.
It was that kind of energy that he wanted, but in a fresh face.
‘‘ Rihanna always struck me as being kind of urban and scrappy, and tough, frankly, yet obviously very beautiful, so I set up a meeting,’’ Berg says.
Having already had a good experience with country singer Tim Mcgraw, with whom Berg has collaborated twice, the director was open to taking a risk.
‘‘ Hopefully I am going to look like a genius for doing it,’’ he says.
Berg notes that Rihanna’s transition from singing sensation to acting is hardly without precedent.
‘‘ I was always a big fan of Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and David
I am a perfectionist, so there are butterflies in my stomach every time they say action
Bowie, too, when he acted. Even Mick Jagger did this crazy film, Performance, which I liked.’’
Will Smith, of course, had proved his acting chops long before Berg worked with him on superhero action fantasy Hancock.
An informal audition with Rihanna confirmed the director’s instincts.
On meeting her, it became clear the pop star’s raunchy, bad- girl video persona was actually an accomplished performance in its own right.
‘‘ She is just this sweet, fun, 24- year- old girl who knows how to turn it on and be super sexy [ in her videos],’’ Berg says.
The perception of Rihanna as hardcore might dovetail nicely with her Battleship character, a sassy sailor who can mix it with the best of them, but producer Scott Stuber says that in reality she’s a disciplined and focused professional.
According to Stuber, Rihanna’s casting was something of a calculated gamble.
‘‘ It’s a character she understood and related to, so it’s not outside her range,’’ he says.
Even more telling, from Stuber’s point- of- view, is the lack of any diva- like behaviour on set.
‘‘ It’s been a real pleasure to work with her – she’s an international superstar but she just wants to be part of a team,’’ Stuber says.
‘‘ Sometimes people come in from different businesses with an attitude but, with Rihanna, there’s been none of that.’’
Stuber knew the singer had what it took when he set up a meeting for her with a real female weapons expert.
‘‘ A lot of time you do that for actors and they blow you off. But Rihanna wanted to learn,’’ he says. ‘‘ Once she did that, I thought: ‘ OK, she’s a pro. This girl’s going to be great’.’’
Berg has also been impressed by Rihanna’s work ethic on the shoot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, stressing that her role in the film is relatively small.
Rihanna, however, isn’t complaining. Her focus is on making the transition from singer to actor as seamlessly as possible.
‘‘ I didn’t know whether I would love it or hate it, but acting was always something I wanted to try,’’ she says. ‘‘ I didn’t expect it to be this big for getting my feet wet, but I am really enjoying the experience.
‘‘ Every day is a new learning experience. Being on a movie set, the whole process of it, the green screen, working with other actors, it’s all very new to me.
‘‘ With everything I do, I am such a perfectionist, so there are butterflies in my stomach every time they say action.’’
And while life in Baton Rouge might be a far cry from the glamorous jet- setting with which she is associated, Rihanna says she is enjoying the change of pace.
‘‘ I am used to getting on a plane every day, if not twice a day,’’ she says. ‘‘ So I am really enjoying being in one place for one project. It’s a little more focused . . . I could definitely get used to this.’’
ACTING UP: ‘‘ Sweet, fun’’ Rihanna ( right) is making the transition into feature films, playing sassy sailor Raikes ( above left and above, alongside Taylor Kitsch) in Battleship. POP SUPERSTAR: Rihanna the singer ( inset opposite page and left) turns on her ‘‘ super sexy’’ raunchy persona.