updated 2 Jan 2012, 23:18
user id password
Sat, Jan 15, 2011
The New Paper
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Sense & Sexuality
by Joanne Soh

Her ex-The Mickey Mouse Club co-stars Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling have all blazed the trail.

Now it's her turn - but after being in showbiz for more than a decade.

She faces off with none other than legendary superstar Cher in the new movie musical Burlesque.

Aguilera plays Ali, a small-town girl who leaves home for Los Angeles to fulfil her dreams of a music career.

She chances on an underground burlesque club run by Tess (Cher), and it is there that she finds her calling.

It was obvious that Aguilera was the one international journalists gathered at the resort town of Cancun, Mexico, wanted to meet.

Dressed to impress in a white Herve Leger bandage dress with a black satin belt that accentuated her hourglass figure, the pint-sized platinum blonde bombshell is a bundle of girly giggles.

She was clearly thrilled at holding court for her first film publicity tour.

The 30-year-old revelled at the opportunity to pursue burlesque, a dance form she was fascinated with and had toyed with when she recorded her 2006 album Back To Basics.

"I just dived into that world. Going back to the 20s, 30s, 40s... I love those sensual periods where they played up to female sexuality and there's a certain poise to the women. I had so much fun doing it," she told FiRST, before adding a little squeal of excitement.

Those familiar with Aguilera's music videos will know the singer has always pushed the envelope of sensuality, something she obviously embraced in Burlesque.

"Being sensual is just me," she explained. "It's part of me as a woman. And I'll never back down from that quality."

The self-professed hot-blooded and feisty sex symbol added that she would get "sort of defensive about it too" because of all the negativity that has surrounded those who are comfortable with their sexuality.

"It has definitely come up a lot throughout my career. Why must women be made to feel ashamed of their body? Throughout history, women have been objectified for men's pleasure.

"I don't know who made that rule or how it came about, but if I knew, I'd slap them!" she said with a huge laugh.

Aguilera elaborated that she's now more comfortable with her body after becoming a mother to her three-year-old son Max.

"There's a moment when your body doesn't belong to you; it's just your child's food supply, source of comfort, everything... the breasts are not yours," she said with another laugh.

But after she stopped breastfeeding, she realised that she "felt more empowered" after the experience.

She said: "It was an accomplishment. It was like wow, as a woman, we really do it all!"

Aguilera talked about how learning the tricky dance moves for Burlesque helped get her into "fantastic shape".

"I'm not a formally trained dancer. I'm a singer. The choreography was challenging but I had a really good workout.

"The dance rehearsals were long and all that dancing burnt lots of calories!"

The role of Ali was specially written for Aguilera, revealed Burlesque writer-director Steven Antin.

A long-time friend of Aguilera's, Antin - a former actor who makes his directorial feature film debut here - had "this instinct" about her.

This was after watching her comedic performance on the US sketch comedy and variety show Saturday Night Live in 2004.

He told FiRST: "I don't think people realise how tough it is to be funny in a live environment like that.

"I knew she could do this based on her instincts in those seemingly simple, but really incredibly difficult comedy skits."


On Aguilera's part, she held out from doing movies as projects offered to her in the past didn't catch her attention.

She admitted that she had particularly avoided movies that required her to play a singer, but in the end, she caved in to Burlesque.

"I thought it had a different twist to it and it was entering a different world."

The big draw was, of course, to share the screen with Cher, 64.

"This is my first film and what better people to learn from than Cher, Kristen (Bell) and Stanley (Tucci)."

Bell plays a self-destructive burlesque dancer who's jealous of Ali's talents while Tucci portrays the club's stage manager and Tess' right-hand man.

Aguilera raved: "Cher welcomed me with such open arms and gave great advice on and off camera.

"I can call Cher my friend. That's really cool!"

She remembered how intimidated she was on the set as her first scenes were with Cher and Tucci and she had to interrupt the intense conversation between their characters.

"That scene had me desperately trying to get their attention. I had to shout at them, and to go up against those two was scary," she recalled.

"We also had some pretty toe-to-toe scenes where I keep trying to get her to listen to me. It was definitely nerve-wracking to have a go at Cher."

Playing the lead in Burlesque has been a venture fruitful enough to make her want to take on more acting gigs.

Aguilera, whose hit songs carry messages of female empowerment, cites actresses Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet as her heroes.

"They are strong women with unbelievable talent and are unafraid to go give it their all," she said.

Last October, she filed for divorce from marketing executive Jordan Bratman, after five years of marriage.

She is currently dating production assistant Matthew Rutler, whom she met on the set of Burlesque.

She hopes to find future roles that are dark and opposite of her personality, something along the lines of Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.

For now though, Aguilera is fighting to hang on to the "gorgeous costumes" by costume designer Michael Kaplan.

She is eyeing a particularly flirty and sparkly number.

"I hope I get that dress. I love my sequined breasts!"

Art of the tease

As cliched as it sounds, third time was truly the charm for Burlesque director Steven Antin when it came to wooing Cher out of her semi-retirement.

The road to getting the diva's name on the movie's billboard was a long and tiresome one.

Antin, 52, told FiRST how he wanted a great actress to play the role of Tess, someone who could sing and was believable as the owner of a burlesque club.

"Cher embodied these qualities and more," said Antin, "and that's what Burlesque is about: female empowerment."

Antin sent Cher the script and was told through her manager that she loved it, though he was warned about how hard it would be to get the Oscar winner to commit.

He later met Cher at her house and "begged her to take it up".

"She seemed keen, saying that Tess is her and that she could do it with her eyes closed," said Antin.

Full of hope, he launched into pre-production mode. Then he received the bad news: Cher said no.

Antin persisted and invited her to his office where he did a show-and-tell with the storyboards he made for the movie.

"You can tell that she was definitely interested and later she said yes," Antin recalled.

But Cher changed her mind, again.

Undaunted, Antin persuaded her, and she gave her final yes. From then on, she was "fully committed".

Said Antin: "Cher was there 16 hours a day in her four-inch heels. It was a dream come true for me, saying 'Action' and giving Cher direction. A dream and a little scary."

He had been wanting to do a movie about burlesque for more than a decade since he worked with the Pussycat Dolls alongside his sister Robin Antin, the founder of the popular burlesque troupe-turned-pop act.

"It was a fantasy casting - Christina (Aguilera), Cher and Stanley (Tucci)... I got on the lucky train."


This article was first published in The New Paper.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2012 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.