TIME Television

Alexandra Shipp on Making Lifetime’s Aaliyah Biopic: The Backlash Is “Ridiculous”

Christos Kalohoridis

The star of Lifetime's Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B shut out the haters for her role in the controversial film

Lifetime will air their much-maligned Aaliyah biopic, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, on Nov. 15, starring Alexandra Shipp as the singer. Shipp joined the film late, taking on the role after Zendaya exited following a deluge of criticisms about her casting.

The film follows Aaliyah over the course of her three-album career, ending right before her death in a plane crash at age 22 in 2001, and chronicles her work with R. Kelly, Timbaland and Missy Elliott. Shipp, who sings all of the songs in the film herself, took on the role confidently, ignoring the pushback from fans and the singer’s family.

TIME spoke with Shipp about her portrayal, her recent work in VH1’s Drumline: A New Beat and upcoming N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, and her response to all the critics.

TIME: How did you end up in the cast after Zendaya dropped out?

Alexandra Shipp: I actually auditioned for it earlier in the year and it was between three girls, including Zendaya. When they went with Zendaya, I was cast in Drumline and started working on that. When we wrapped, I got a phone call asking if I was still interested. At first, I was like “Yes yes yes.” And then I was like, “Wait, hold on, is this kind of crazy?” I went through a range of emotions.

Did you have concerns about the pushback to the movie?

Yeah, totally. After it was released that Zendaya was cast in the role, I remember reading all the backlash. It was kind of ridiculous. I was like, “This girl is a great actress. She’s going to do a great job, and it’s a great production.” Once I got offered it, I wondered if that was going to happen to me. But then I read the script and talked with the producers and talked about how they wanted to make this movie great. I had to put all that stuff aside. I deleted Twitter off my phone. I deleted Instagram. And I just did my job.

It must be a lot of pressure to have everyone commenting on something you haven’t actually done yet.

The expectations are always so low. Everyone is always like, “It’s going to be bad.” And actually I love that because then they’re going to see it and they’re going to have to admit that they were wrong.

Once you knew you had the role, what sort of preparation did you do?

It was a crazy process. I wanted to get my mannerisms down. I wanted to get the way she held herself down. I wanted to get her singing down. I tried my hardest – no one can sound like her, honestly, but I tried really hard and I think it comes through that I was trying to showcase this woman in the greatest light. And I didn’t really have time to prepare physically because Aaliyah was all kinds of fit. She had that perfect cut petite body. We’d be in between scenes and I’d be in my trailer listening to her songs from the year we were about to film and I’d be doing a million crunches.

Your abs are noticeably good in the movie.

Thank you! I was always doing something, whether it was listening to her music or doing squats.

Were you watching a lot of old footage of her?

That’s the greatest thing about this day and age. I can go online and I find every video of this woman. I sat in my apartment and closed all the windows and turned off all the lights and watched video after video after video. What I was looking for was how much she gave the camera and how much she gave behind the scenes. Those little moments. I wanted to capture those little moments because that’s what this movie is truly about. It’s not necessarily about her biggest hits or all her music videos. It’s about how she was able to handle these moments in her life and her relationships with her core group of people. I tried to get her dance moves down too. Just get all of her stuff down – how she laughed, how she moved her shoulders, how she carried herself. How that progressed from 14 to 22.

Was there a moment of her life you were scared of portraying?

It was the R. Kelly stuff. That’s the most intense stuff. For any girl, the first guy we have a crush on is our first love. We love intensely and have all these hormones happening. It was really nerve-wracking having to portray that and have it be with an older man. Luckily Cle Bennett, who played R. Kelly, was brilliant and made me feel really comfortable and we had such fun, great chemistry. He’s very meticulous. I only had ten days to prepare for the role whereas all of the other actors had a few months. Cle was so much like Robert. You can hear it in the way he speaks. But that was definitely the scariest thing, the love they had together.

It’s obviously a known story of how Aaliyah and R. Kelly married in secret when she was 15 and he was 28, but it’s creepy to see it play out onscreen.

Yeah, it is. You look at the situation and you think when you put your child in a room with a producer everything’s going to be cool and okay. And they end up falling in love. You just don’t expect that, especially with such an age gap.

How have you dealt with playing a real person with a family who is invested in seeing her story told right?

It’s a portrayal. I don’t think anyone will know 100 percent what was going through her mind in these situations and how she was able to handle it so beautifully. I have my interpretation of it and I have to be confident in that. That’s all you can do – give your interpretation of someone. Especially when they’ve passed on. When I was shooting [my new movie] Straight Outta Compton I was able to meet [Ice Cube’s wife] Kim and I was able to talk to her and see how she interacted with her husband and her children and get a sense for who she is. I wasn’t able to do that on Aaliyah, which is hard because you want to get it right.

Did you get to talk with anyone who knew Aaliyah?

I got to talk to people who worked with her and people who were old friends. I wasn’t going into it blind. At the end of day, I’ll take anything. And I got to learn some fun, quirky things that we were able to work into the movie.

Will the songs you sing the film be released on a soundtrack?

No, they’re not. And I’m actually really happy about that. I think it’s really great for the movie. Everyone’s going to see that. We want people to buy Aaliyah’s songs. They’re her songs.

What’s your favorite Aaliyah song?

It changes, you know? When you listen to the same albums over and over again, your favorites change. For me, One In A Million is my album so “Try Again.” When it comes to her other stuff I love “Back and Forth.” I find little moments in all of her stuff. You can hear how she’s influenced people in music nowadays. She was such an innovator before anyone was doing it. I grew up listening to her music. She’s just amazing.

You also have Drumline out on VH1. Did you learn how to drum for that?

Yeah, it was a really fun, intense process. We drummed for about two weeks. On the first movie they had three or four months to really learn how to drum. Ours was a little more fast-tracked. We learned a lot. The hardest part was the marching. The whole hand-eye coordination, especially when it comes to beating out rhythms, is nerve-wracking. You’re with everyone on the field in these cotton suits and you’ve got this 35-pound metal drum. Those instruments are not light. I was stumbling. I got so bruised up. And we filmed in Atlanta in July when it was 90 degrees with 50 percent humidity. It was so much fun though.

How did you like working with Nick Cannon?

I was a total Nick fan. I was all about that. I’ve watched all his stuff and I was a huge fan of the first Drumline. So when I got to work with him he was cool, he was personable, he was funny. But he’s also a really hard-working businessman. He’s very goal-oriented. I was able to have a chat with him and he was the coolest guy.

When will Straight Outta Compton come out?

We’re all finished shooting it. That comes out next year. I’m not sure when, but I think mid-to-late next year.

Are you purposefully focused on movies with a musical component?

Oddly enough, I never had a focus. But the movies that are being presented in my path are and I’m really lucky to be a part of them. I’ve always loved music and I think it’s really great I get to do both. But it was serendipitous, to be honest. You’re just looking for that next job and it’s really cool when they all have a similar feel.

Inevitably when Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B airs this weekend, it’s going to get some criticism. Do you have a response to the potential haters?

I don’t, really. I worked really hard on this film and I’m confident in a product that everyone worked so hard to put out. And there’s always going to be a critic. All I can say to that is, “Thank you for watching.”

TIME celebrities

Bill Cosby ‘Late Show’ Appearance Canceled Amid Rape Allegations

It's Cosby's second talk show cancellation in a month

Comedian Bill Cosby’s scheduled appearance on Wednesday’s Late Show With David Letterman has been canceled as outrage grows over resurfaced allegations of rape against the comedian and Cosby Show creator.

It’s the second time in a month that Cosby has dropped out of a talk show booking. The Associated Press reported that the 77-year-old asked to postpone a scheduled gig on Queen Latifah’s show Oct. 30. It’s currently unclear whether Cosby canceled the Letterman commitment himself or if the show pulled him.

The rape allegations are not new: Nearly a dozen women have accused Cosby of sexually harassing them, and in some cases, administering date rape drugs and sexually assaulting them.

The allegations have begun to gain more attention, however, after comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby a ‘rapist’ during a set last month. A meme generator on Cosby’s website was pulled after it became a public relations disaster for the comedian, when people used it to confront the sexual assault accusations.

One of Cosby’s accusers, Barbara Bowman, published an op-ed in Thursday’s Washington Post headlined “Bill Cosby raped me. Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?”

On Saturday, Bill Cosby was asked on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday whether he had anything to say about the sexual assault allegations. He shook his head, and refused to say a word.

TIME celebrities

MTV Reality Star Diem Brown Dies at 32

Us Weekly's 2014 Most Stylish New Yorkers Celebration
TV Personality Diem Brown attends Us Weekly's 2014 Most Stylish New Yorkers Celebration at Diamond Horseshoe at the Paramount Hotel on Sept. 10, 2014 in New York City. Mychal Watts—WireImage/Getty Images

First diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 23

Diem Brown, known for her time on MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge, has died of cancer at age 32, according to a report Friday.

The reality star was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 23. She recovered, but was diagnosed again in 2012, People reports. The disease later spread to her colon and stomach and, more recently, to her liver and lymph nodes.

Despite an emergency hysterectomy, she had frozen her eggs and very much hoped to have a family some day. “I’m going to have a family and get married and the whole American, 2½ kids, white-picket fence dream,” she said in October.

Read more at People

TIME movies

Channing Tatum on Magic Mike XXL: ‘We Got Joe Manganiello Naked as Much as Possible”

Tatum, photographed in Los Angeles
Tatum, photographed in Los Angeles. Carlos Serrao for TIME

The Foxcatcher star is aiming to please

The dark drama Foxcatcher (out Nov. 14) features Channing Tatum showing his acting chops with a muted performance as the wrestler Mark Schultz. In this week’s issue of TIME, Tatum sat down to discuss the making of the film and the shape of his increasingly ambitious career.

Next up? Magic Mike XXL — the sequel to the 2012 male stripper pic Magic Mike — which just wrapped production in Georgia. While Matthew McConaughey won’t be returning for the second installment, stars Joe Manganiello, Alex Pettyfer and Matt Bomer are all reprising their roles. And with Tatum co-writing and producing XXL in addition to starring in the film, he’s giving viewers more of exactly what they want, as he explained:

Channing Tatum: It sucks that we do these movies for such efficient means and time. The first movie took 22 or 23 days, and this movie took 29 days. Those guys are so much fun — they’re the whole reason why I wanted to make a second one. They were a discovery for me. They just filled this world out — that I think you feel in [Magic Mike], but you don’t get to be with them and hang out in the movie like you want to. I was like, ‘If we get to make a second one, that’s what it will be. It will just be a guy’s story, but made for women.’

TIME: And gay men, surely.

Tatum: True. It’s for all! You’ll see — we serviced that as well, in a way. [pauses] I’m choosing my words very stupidly. [laughs] One of our first stops is at a drag club on our odyssey. We call it a stripper odyssey because it’s a traveling band of strippers. This movie is a lot more fun. In the first movie, we were obligated to show the underbelly — the pitfalls and dangers of being in that world. In this one, we kicked off a lot of the darkness. We’re going to have a lot of fun on the road together. Hopefully you’re going to care about these guys, and then get to see a lot of ridiculous nakedness and stupidity.

TIME: That’s what America wants.

Tatum: We got Joe Manganiello naked as much as possible. Everyone in the world: you’re welcome.

Read the full interview this week in TIME.

TIME celebrities

Jennifer Lawrence to Colbert: ‘I’ve Eaten Squirrel Chili’

The Hunger Games actress has even skinned a squirrel before

America’s sweetheart is even more down-home than we all thought: Jennifer Lawrence revealed on The Colbert Report that she hasn’t only eaten squirrel chili, but even skinned a squirrel herself.

The Hunger Games actress says her humble beginnings and rapid rise to fame do not make her similar to her character, Katniss Everdeen — despite Colbert’s comparison — since unlike the bow-and-arrow-slinging heroine, all she’s really worried about is fluffing her hair and reapplying lipstick.

“I’m constantly waiting for things to fall apart,” she joked about her success. “Every time the phone rings, I’m like, ‘it’s over!’”

Colbert’s solution to this impending failure? Drop out of showbiz together and go fight crime. We’d watch that show.

[The Colbert Report]

TIME celebrities

Zooey Deschanel Would Totally Play a Superhero — As Long As It’s Funny

Zooey Deschanel
Zooey Deschanel Paul A. Hebert—Invision/AP

The New Girl star talks with TIME about her upcoming covers album and more

TIME spoke to New Girl star Zooey Deschanel for this week’s installment of 10 Questions. In the issue, which features Taylor Swift on the cover, Deschanel talks about why Loretta Lynn is a role model, how New Girl rebounded from the Nick-Jess relationship and how she learned to write songs. Here are three things we learned during our interview:

She thought she had to “earn” the right to record a covers album
On Dec. 2, Deschanel’s band with M. Ward, She & Him, will release Classics, an album of standards covers. The project is something Deschanel always wanted to do, but she waited until the time was right. “Before I ever made a record with She & Him, I had a lot of people interested in making standards records with me,” she says. “But I just didn’t want to start that way. I felt like you earn your place to sing those songs. At this point, we had made four records, three records of originals, so I felt like we had properly earned the ability to make a standards record.”

She would totally play a superhero, as long as the role is funny
Despite her success with New Girl and other projects, Deschanel says she still feels like an outsider in Hollywood. “Feeling like an outsider is part of my nature, and it’s what makes me who I am, so I think I’ll find a way to make myself feel like an outsider no matter what situation I’m in,” she explains. But that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t play a superhero in a summer blockbuster, either. “I’m not against it at all,” Deschanel says. “I like those movies. I think it has to be the right type—it has to have a sense of humor.”

She and Billy Eichner were once classmates.
Deschanel dropped out of Northwestern her freshman year to be in Almost Famous, but she does have some fond memories of her time as a college student — including one about then-classmate Billy Eichner. “I remember he was so talented,” says Deschanel, who was in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Eichner, then an upperclassman. “I had a little part in the play because I was a freshman, and every time his song came, I would run to see it because he was so incredibly talented and funny. I’m happy he has a lot of success.” The two will reunite on the small screen next month when Eichner guest-stars on a New Girl holiday episode.

TIME celebrities

One Direction Met Kate Middleton and Harry Styles Congratulated Her on Her Bump

The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Attend The Royal Variety Performance
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge meets boy band One Direction at The Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium on November 13, 2014 in London, England. Yui Mok—WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Duchess of Cambridge was attending the Royal Variety Show with Prince William

Harry Styles said Kate Middleton “didn’t look bumpy,” when he met her and congratulated her on her pregnancy on Thursday.

The Duchess of Cambridge and her husband Prince William met the One Direction singer and his fellow band members at the Palladium in London, where the royal couple had come to attend the Royal Variety Show.

“I said ‘Congratulations on the bump’,” Styles told The Mirror.

Middleton, who is expecting her second child, was greeted at the entrance by the boy band, which also comprises Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan.

“It’s the most nervous I think I’ve ever been in my life,” Payne said about meeting the royal couple.


TIME celebrities

Watch Benedict Cumberbatch Nail 11 Celebrity Impersonations in a Minute

The British star more than does justice to the title of his new film The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch’s impersonation skills are right on point. And we’re not just talking about his next movie, The Imitation Game, in which he plays famous mathematician Alan Turing.

The Sherlock star was put on the spot during an MTV interview and had names of fellow celebrities thrown at him to do impersonations of, including Sean Connery, Alan Rickman, Matthew McConaughey and Taylor Swift.

And like everything else he does, he nailed pretty much every one. (Well, his Christopher Walken impression could use some work, but maybe Kevin Spacey can help.)

Read next: Exclusive: Watch Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game


TIME movies

Bradley Cooper Ate Every 55 Minutes to Bulk Up for American Sniper

Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood on the set of 'American Sniper' in Malibu, California on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood on the set of 'American Sniper' in Malibu, California on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles. TSM/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

He plays the most lethal sniper in American military history

Anyone who has seen the Hangover movies knows Bradley Cooper was already in great shape. But in order to play the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history in American Sniper, he needed to add 40 pounds of muscle.

“He was eating about every 55 minutes or something like that, and I want to say it was about 8,000 calories a day,” the film’s writer-producer Jason Hall recently told People. The actor also worked out four hours a day for several months and trained with a Navy SEAL sniper to learn to shoot.

American Sniper follows the real-life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who completed four tours in Iraq and earned the nickname “Legend” before being killed by a fellow vet in 2013. It’s directed by Clint Eastwood and hits theaters on Christmas Day.


TIME Culture

How the Cult of Early Success Is Bad for Young People

Photograph by Martin Schoeller for TIME

Taylor Swift and Malala Yousafzai are great role models. They've also set an impossible standard for success

Taylor Swift is on the cover of TIME magazine this week as the new queen of the music industry. She’s been in the business for more than 11 years, but at 24, she’d still have trouble renting a car.

It should be inspiring for young people to see someone so young achieve such phenomenal success. “Other women who are killing it should motivate you, thrill you, challenge you and inspire you rather than threaten you and make you feel like you’re immediately being compared to them,” she told my colleague Jack Dickey. “The only thing I compare myself to is me, two years ago, or me one year ago.”

But despite her best efforts to set a positive example, Swift also represents a generation of super-youth to which normal young people are inevitably compared. “You see someone so young, your age or even younger, being so wildly successful, and you can think ‘they just have it, they have something I don’t have,’” says Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. “You think, ‘I’m so young and already I’m doomed.’”

Forget Forbes’s 30-under-30 list: when it comes to “freshness,” 30 is the new 40. At her age, Taylor Swift isn’t even considered precociously successful– she’s just regular successful. In fact, it’s been a banner year for wunderkind, and not just in entertainment (which has always been fixated on the young and beautiful.) 18-year old Saira Blair just became the youngest American lawmaker when she was elected to the West Virginia Legislature. 18-year old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson took up a second career—as a Broadway star—as her magazine Rookie rakes in 3.5 million hits a month. 17-year old Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Prize.

As most millennials are moving sluggishly through their twenties, the hyper-visible hotshots are getting younger and younger, whittling away at the maximum age limit at which someone can get their “big break.”

For every young cultural force like Lena Dunham or genius app-creator like Evan Spiegel, there are thousands of other twenty-somethings sitting in their parents’ basements wondering why they haven’t invented an app or started a fashion line. According to a Pew survey, young people today have more debt and less income than their parents and grandparents did at their age, which means we’re the least financially stable generation in recent memory. We’re are making life decisions later than ever, delaying marriage and babies longer than previous generations did (partly because of the cash flow problems), and taking much longer to settle into a career. Yet, thanks to platforms like Youtube and Kickstarter that remove the traditional gatekeepers, there’s a pervasive expectation that young people should be achieving more, faster, younger.

“There’s a lot of attention paid to people who have success very young, like Taylor Swift and Mark Zuckerberg, but the average young person is not coming into their career until later these days,” says Dr. Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me. “Across the board, what you can see is much higher expectations among millennials compared to Boomers and Gen Xers, but a reality which is if anything more difficult than it was for those previous generations when they were young.”

Middle-aged sourpusses have long complained about America’s cultural fixation on youth and to be fair, the Beatles weren’t much older than Taylor Swift. Bill Maher even devoted a whole segment of last Friday’s “Real Time” to ageism, calling it “the last acceptable prejudice in America.” But today, the world is dominated by tech, and tech is dominated by young people. “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a speech to a Y Combinator startup at Stanford in 2007. “Younger people are just smarter.”

But even for those of us who happen to be young, a youth-obsessed culture is a pretty raw deal. Because the perception that young people are “smarter” implies they should be getting successful more quickly, and often, they’re not. “In the internet age, the idea that fame is just out of reach has become more common,” says Dr. Twenge, noting that technological advances like YouTube helped launch careers of stars like Justin Bieber. “I think there’s an impression that it’s easier to become famous now, or easier to be discovered… There’s a perception that it’s easier, but that may not be entirely true.”

That expectation that it’s easy to get rich and famous may also contribute to some of the negative stereotypes about millennials, especially the reputation for laziness or entitlement. In other words, next to Lorde, the rest of us look like schlubs.

“I don’t think they’re comparing themselves to those wunderkind necessarily, but maybe their elders are, who are so critical of them,” says Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, who coined the phrase “emerging adult” and says he’s found little evidence to support the claim that millennials are lazy. “I wonder if that’s partly related to the fact that you have these amazingly successful young people, and people are saying ‘well, if Mark Zuckerberg can do this, why can’t you?’”

Of course, none of these comparisons are Taylor Swift’s fault, and she does everything in her power to nix that competitive instinct, especially among other women. But the fact that young superstars seem to have been born fully formed implies that growth and learning aren’t part of the recipe for success. “It not only tells them they don’t have time to grow, it saps them of the motivation to grow,” Dr. Dweck says.

Even Taylor recognizes that her darling days are numbered. “I just struggle to find a woman in music who hasn’t been completely picked apart by the media, or scrutinized and criticized for aging, or criticized for fighting aging,” she said. “It just seems to be much more difficult to be a woman in music and to grow older.”

When politicians proclaim that “young people are the future,” they mean we’ll inherit mountains of debt and a destroyed environment. But when young people think about our own futures, we should look at the way middle-aged and older people are treated—because like it or not, that’s going to be us one day. If young people were really so smart, we wouldn’t forget that.

Read next: The Secret Language of Girls on Instagram

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