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Christina Aguilera: Can't hold her down
by Chris Azzopardi
2010-12-01

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Singer makes big-screen debut in one of the gayest movies of the year: Burlesque

Christina Aguilera's career is made of bold moves—be it the "Beautiful" video, with its tight shots of men making out, or musically moving from shameless pop to futuristic mode, as she did on this year's album, Bionic.

The powerhouse vocalist, who turns 30 in December, takes the plunge again with her first film, Burlesque, playing not some rinky-dink character, but the lead—so not what was supposed to happen.

"My goal wasn't to star in a leading position but be part of a great film and have a couple of lines and get my feet wet—boy, that didn't happen!" said Aguilera, who plays Ali, a girl with dreams too big for her small town.

After shooting down many scripts, Aguilera felt a special connection to Burlesque, writer-director Steven Antin's first major movie that he describes as "a call-back to the old, fabulous MGM musicals." She already knew the art form well, too: "I have a collection of burlesque books at home that I've had for years," she said. "I've just always been intrigued and fascinated with the topic, and the beauty and heart and comedic value of it. It's a beautiful, empowering thing for women."

Promoting the film at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., with her dog, Stinky, in tow, Aguilera slurped some chicken-noodle soup—breaking at one point to scold her assistant because it wasn't up to snuff.

"Soup drama," she quipped with a delicate smile. However edgy and distracted Aguilera is, you can't blame her; she's dealing with a divorce ( she and Jordan Bratman filed in October ) and finding her place in the pop landscape again after Bionic bombed. Now there's Aguilera's first film—one that was admittedly more than she bargained for.

"I was wearing so many different hats—more than anybody else on the film," she said, about writing and recording three songs, learning a different dance form and then, of course, actually acting for the first time.

It helped that Aguilera related to Ali, who leaves behind a troubled past in Iowa and stumbles into a swanky Sunset Strip burlesque club owned by Tess ( Cher ) . "Her background story came from a place inspired by pain," Aguilera said. "Lots of people talk about their situations and complain, but they never do anything about it. The thing about Ali that I love is that she makes the decision to leave, and that's really hard. It really spoke to me."

But that's not all that lured Aguilera. Antin and Screen Gems President Clint Culpepper, partners on Burlesque and in life, eventually nabbed one of the biggest superstars ever: Cher. Aguilera wasn't about to miss out on this little-diva, big-diva moment.

"It's so weird to say this about the icon and the legend that is Cher, but she's like an old girlfriend," Aguilera said. "She's an incredible person personally and professionally, offering amazing advice, stories, 'been there done there.' She's one of a kind."

Antin thought highly of Aguilera, too, calling her "the voice of a generation" as he spoke about Burlesque in Beverly Hills. From the get-go, the Grammy-winning singer was his first choice to fill the underdog role.

Throughout the 71-day shoot, Antin and the cast worked out huge set ideas and infinitely smaller touches, like the flower Aguilera wears in her hair during the "Bound to You" number—something Antin opposed, but Aguilera and Culpepper wanted. "Little things like that, to very big things, were a constant conversation and collaboration," she said.

A wide, sneaky smile cut across Aguilera's face as she burst into a wicked snicker. "And guess who still had the flower in her hair?"

Another dialogue emerged over a Cher-Christina duet, which was discussed but never recorded. "We already had so much music involved—even Cher's ballad [ "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," written by Diane Warren ] came late in the game—and it was hard for everyone to agree on a song [ for the movie ] , I think," Aguilera said.

While shooting, Antin invited both actresses—and undoubtedly two of the world's biggest gay icons—to watch their scenes after they wrapped. Cher wouldn't because she doesn't watch herself, but Aguilera referenced them for future takes, according to the director.

"When she would really nail a take and have a wonderful moment I would want to celebrate it with her," Antin said. "Sometimes I'd want her to see it so she knew, when I was shooting other angles, what I wanted her to go for."

One scene caught many angles—not of Aguilera, but rather Twilight cutie Cam Gigandet, her crush in the film. "I hope they love this guy just as much," he said of his evil onscreen persona, James, in the vampire saga.

What's not to love? In almost every one of his Burlesque scenes, he's nearly naked.

"It's always kind of tricky," Gigandet said, demonstrating with a table cloth the sliver of fabric hiding his bits from everyone on set. "I had to take it out of my mind that it was actually Christina Aguilera, because she's ... Christina Aguilera! But after a while, she's even bored by it all."

In the scene, he strategically shields his junk with a box of Famous Amos cookies. Surely that won't bore the millions of gay men watching—not that Gigandet, who isn't one of them, cares how many guys gawk. In fact, "I hope there's more!" he said.

And there very well might be, considering how gay Burlesque actually is: diva-duo Cher and Christina Aguilera aside, there are Alan Cumming and the gay-for-pay Stanley Tucci. There's splashy fashion and fun, throwback music. And there's eyeliner, which Gigandet rocks during his lounge scenes. That, and the fact that he's not part of some emo punk-pop band, leads Aguilera's character to believe that he's, ahem, gay.

Nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution, especially if you've been duped before. And Aguilera, biting her straw and laughing, has: "I did have an ex-boyfriend that left me for a gay man at one point in my life."

Acting, Cher, gay boyfriends—there's a first time for everything.


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