She is only 17, but Miley Cyrus has already negotiated more pitfalls and experienced more personal ups and downs than many stars twice her age.
On the plus side she has been starring in her own television series since she was 13, topped the album charts with a double platinum album, notched up several top ten singles, written her autobiography and won a Golden Globe nomination for her song from the movie Bolt.
Conversely, the girl who was regarded as a wholesome teen idol has also been the target for criticism and condemnation following a series of public relations gaffes. She was blasted for what some claim were fake tears during her acceptance speech at last year’s Kids Choice Awards, and a provocative Vanity Fair photo spread in which she posed semi-topless erupted into a mainstream media debate on whether children were growing up too fast and too sexual and whether the many outraged mothers who took to blogs or television talk shows were justified in their anger.
In addition, self-portraits of a scantily-clad Miley circulated in cyberspace along with a photo that some viewed as racially insensitive because she was shown pulling her eyes into a slanted position.
Through it all Miley Cyrus, pop culture phenomenon, has emerged unscathed, mainly because her perky, bubbly personality and her sometimes startling honesty have endeared her to the public and won her millions of fans.
“Every career thing I do can’t be perfect and sometimes my decisions are wrong,” she admitted frankly. “I always say the minute I stop making mistakes is the minute I stop learning and I’ve definitely learned a lot.
“When you’re a pop star or whatever you always have ‘people.’ You always hear, ‘my people will call your people’ but you can’t let your people talk for you all the time because you’re the only person who knows yourself and what you truly want.”
An appealing mixture of savvy showbusiness professionalism and girlish enthusiasm, Miley Cyrus talks frankly about her life, both public and private, and happily reveals feelings and emotions that more seasoned actresses keep very much to themselves. She talks quickly in a deep, husky voice and opinions, thoughts and ideas tumble from her, liberally interspersed with “likes” and “you knows.” During our talk at a beachfront hotel in Santa Monica Miley was bursting to spill the beans about her newfound romance with Liam Hemsworth, the lanky Australian actor whom she met when they appeared together in her new movie The Last Song.
“He’s a 6ft 4in tall Australian surfer and I’m 5ft 4in from Tennessee and I couldn’t surf if someone gave me ten million dollars so we couldn’t be more opposite,” she laughed. “But I went to Australia to visit him and his family and I was like, ‘Omigosh, this looks like Nashville.’ There were like cows everywhere. I am like, ‘how are you from the opposite side of the planet and your world looks just like mine?’
“My dad’s just happy that I have something going on in my life with someone normal. No psychos, so that’s good.” She chuckles throatily.
Her dad is country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, who had a massive hit in 1992 with Achy Breaky Heart and when she was a toddler she frequently appeared onstage at his concerts performing songs with him. When he moved into acting she followed him, wangling a few appearances on his television series Doc and then appearing in Tim Burton’s fantasy feature Big Fish in 2003.
She caught the eye of Disney Channel producers who cast her as the star of the new television series Hannah Montana, playing a perky, charming schoolgirl who just happened to lead a double life as the pop queen Hannah Montana, disguising her true identity by means of a wig. Her dad joined her on the show as her father-manager doling out countrified advice and bringing a few moments of quiet to the manic series.
Hannah Montana became an instant hit and by playing a teen idol Miley reached teen idol status herself, her likeness decorating teen magazine covers and selling all kinds of merchandise, from accessories and clothing to video games. Her album of the show’s soundtrack sold nearly five million copies worldwide and she signed a four-album deal with Disney’s Hollywood Records. Her 69-date “Best of Both Worlds” concert tour, in which she performed as both herself and her alter ego, sold out at every venue, with mothers reportedly paying exorbitant black market prices for tickets for their daughters.
Last year she starred in Hannah Montana: The Movie, the big screen adaptation of the series, directed by Briton Peter Chelsom, and wrote her autobiography Miles to Go, which chronicles her road to Disney stardom.
But now Hannah Montana, like Miley, is growing up quickly and the series is ending at the end of the current season with Miley and her alter ego facing an unknown future. “We’re halfway into the last season and it’s kind of bittersweet for me,” said Miley. “It’s like my security blanket, my comfort zone: I know that’s where I’m going to be from 8.30am to 6pm. I’ve always had the show to lean on, and to not have it to lean on in the future will be different for me, so who knows?”
Her future looks assured, particularly with the upcoming release of The Last Song, in which she tackles her first dramatic role in a film written for her by best-selling novelist Nicholas Sparks and directed by Briton Julie Anne Robinson. In it she plays a teenage daughter who reluctantly leaves home in New York to spend the summer with her estranged father in a small Southern beach town, where she finds romance.
“It came up at a crazy time because I had a tour, I was working on the show and I thought it might be impossible to fit it in, but it all fell into place. It was perfect, because that’s what this movie’s about: things coming together so beautifully against all odds.”
Despite winning the praise of her director, actor Greg Kinnear (who plays her father), and the film’s producers, she has no illusions about her acting talents.
“I’ve not taken like acting lessons or anything but it doesn’t mean I don’t need to because I’m sure I do,” she said. “Once I watch this film in the theatre I’m probably going to go book an acting coach.”
Her doubts notwithstanding, scripts are arriving daily at the Los Angeles house where she lives with her father, mother and five siblings, and she recently filmed a cameo role playing herself in the Sex and the City sequel.
“I’m kind of bipolar in my acting choices because I just want to do a little bit of everything,” she said. “One day I’m telling my mom, you know, I want to do an action movie and then I want to be doing comedy and then all different types of things. I get a little bored so hopefully I’ll get a chance to do a little bit of everything.”