Selena Gomez is carrying around her nude stiletto-heeled shoes, apologizing.
“I’m sorry, but I need to take these off,” she says in her Philly hotel suite. “Please excuse me.”
Gomez, dressed in a sparkly gold sweater, sits down, now unencumbered from her ache-inducing footwear. She stretches, and then says she’s sorry for being late.
But she’s actually at least ten minutes early, which unheard of in the world of publicity tours, especially one as whirlwind as this one.
Politeness isn’t always something you expect from Disney-fied triple threat stars. Especially in light of the problems faced by other celebs groomed by the Mouse House in recent years, such as Miley, Lindsay and Britney. But the soon-to-be 19-year-old Gomez appears to be cut from a different cloth.
Gomez’s mission in Philly is geared to the release of Monte Carlo, but it is really three-fold. First, she’s promoting the movie, a teen-girl riff on The Prince and the Pauper, in which she plays two roles. As Grace, she joins her small-town gal pals Meg and Emma (Gossip Girl co-stars Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy) on a trip to Paris that gets re-routed to Monaco. In the meantime, normal gal Gomez is mistaken for Cornelia, a snotty heiress. Romantic and comic complications ensue.
In addition to the film, directed by Tom Bezucha (The Family Stone), Selena and her group The Scene have a new CD, When the Sun Goes Down, that hits stores this week, as well as an upcoming concert tour that starts in the next few weeks.
So here is Gomez, being grilled by me, my two daughters and a roomful of “blogger Moms” with their kids, before she is whisked away to the not-so-nearby King of Prussia Mall, where she will do a Q&A in front of her fans, some of whom arrived the night before to catch a glimpse of their idol. A publicist says capacity is 2,500 people for the appearance—later that day, between 4,000 and 7,000 turned out, depending on which estimate you believe. All this on the day after she hosted—hosted!!– the MuchMusic Video Awards in Toronto.
The raven-haired Gomez—who is managed by her former theater actor mother, with an assist in the financial department from her stepfather—was at first a little unsure of herself about certain things involving Monte Carlo.
“It was a real learning experience for me, travelling, working with older actors and actresses,” says the Grand Prairie, Texas native named after the late Tejano singer Selena. “We shot all over Europe, in Hungary, Budapest, Paris and Monte Carlo. And I was a little nervous about the dialect. We spent six weeks in Budapest.
“Nobody knew I was there and it was nice to walk around and not be recognized. I can do that anywhere, I guess, but I didn’t have to have my mom worry about me there.
“Monte Carlo was too fancy for me, a little too extravagant. My cousin came to visit me. She was in shorts and her bikini top to go to the beach, but because of that we were frowned upon.”
“She was extremely supportive,” says Gomez of the Aussie actress-producer. “We went to dinner before the film and she couldn’t wait for me to play the role, and she sent me flowers.”
For four years, Gomez starred in the Disney Channel’s popular Wizards of Waverly Place, a tweencom in which she plays a member of a New York family with secret magical powers. So it would have made sense for the actress to segue into bigger film roles with Disney. But things didn’t happen that way.
“I owe a lot to the (Disney) Channel,” asserts Gomez. “I don’t ever want to leave them, to be honest. They’ve given me everything and I am very lucky, so I would definitely be open to working with them and look forward to doing more things with them in the future.”
Instead, Gomez made Monte Carlo with Fox. “I worked with them on Ramona and Beezus, so I guess they liked my work, and they were sweet enough to think about me when Monte Carlo came. (Director) Tom Bezucha and Fox and I had a meeting and it went perfectly, so I took the role.”
Was it calculated, then, that she not go the Disney route for a breakout role?
“This kind of happened organically,” she says. “It’s just the way it worked out. If Disney had the film I would have worked with them.”
As for saying “adios” to her TV show, Gomez says “It’s been a sad, sad month. Disney didn’t want it to be over,” she explains. “It was not my decision. It was just time. My older brother (David Henrie) in the show is 22, and he plays 19. There’s only so much we can do.”
Throughout the 40-minute interview session, Gomez, involved in a purported much-publicized relationship with pop phenom Justin Bieber, is the picture of down-to-earth sweetness, pop star/movie star/TV star variety. Her answers to the questions are punctuated with the term “fun,” and she seems genuine and grounded, despite the boatloads of attention swirling around her from her publicist, the studio’s publicists, the media (all local TV stations will be at the mall, we’re alerted) and her growing legions of fans.
So one wonders how did the seemingly sweet Selena deal with being in the spotlight for a nice part of her young life?
“I obviously thought it was all extremely glamorous at first, and I got a lot of nice things and got to be, I guess, taken care of in a way,” says Gomez, who got her acting start as “Gianna” on Barney & Friends and will next make a cameo in The Muppet Movie. “I lost a bit of privacy, a bit of independence. I was aware of the red carpet and the interviewing process, so that didn’t bother me. But I guess it isn’t as glamorous as I had thought it was going to be at first, but that is OK.”
However, there is something about being such a high-profile show biz figure that continually bothers Gomez.
“It baffles me that there are adults that say bad things about me,” she relates, her black eyes growing more intense, her perpetual smile temporarily rescinding. “Even when I was 16, they were writing stories that I didn’t understand—that I still don’t understand. This isn’t just for me, but it is a little magnified for me—but I am sure all of you guys deal with Facebook and Twitter, how mean people can be. I don’t understand that, either. I get sad and depressed—I don’t understand how people can judge me who don’t even know me. I am thankful have three wonderful friends, people I can trust.”
A “blogger Mom” asks her about faith, and what part it may play in the equation.
“Faith….” Gomez says, pondering the question. “I really, genuinely feel it’s not a religious standpoint, but how to carry yourself. And I don’t want to say or do anything I regret. There’re a lot of things I would like to say about people, but it’s going to come back to me. So I just try to kill them with kindness, vent to my friends, and then let it go as best as I can.”
With Wizards of Waverly Place winding down and Monte Carlo opening, Gomez appears to be in some of transition phase of her career. Even with the music, charitable endeavors (she’s a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF) and a clothing line, she’ll always stick to her original love.
“My heart will always be in acting because that’s where I started,” Gomez says. “Music is so much fun for me and very addictive. I love making music for my fans and touring. There is no better feeling in the world than singing for your fans.
“I started when I was seven. I was an only child and I was very dramatic—I am still dramatic to this day. I started singing and dancing and entertaining people. I asked my mom if I could be an actress and she took me to a few auditions and asked me if I wanted to do it. She asked me all along if I wanted to do it.”
“But I want to challenge myself. It’s not necessarily taking a huge leap and doing dramatic. I was on a show for four years and that’s all I did. It was my show and I loved it so much. I would like to do other things and not just stick to one genre. I would like to slowly make the transition into maybe more adult films, but something that my audience could see.”
In fact, Gomez and her mother have optioned the rights the young-adult fiction bestseller 13 Reasons Why. Plans are for Gomez to play the lead character, a California high school student who commits suicide, but not before sending a videotape to 13 people, explaining to them the parts they played in her death. Sounds like a 180-degree turn from the frothy happenings of Monte Carlo. While the story sounds like it would make a downbeat film, the challenge for Gomez and her mother is to also make it “inspirational.”
Gomez, who went to a regular public school until eighth grade, then was home-schooled, then tutored on the set of her TV show, also harbors a secret desire she lets us in on: To attend culinary school when the schedule lessens.
“I’d love to open up my own bakery,” she says. “I love to cook. I never have time, but I’d like to get better.”
Cookies and cakes and pastries will have to wait. Thousands of fervent fans are waiting.