In her big-screen debut, Music and Lyrics, Haley Bennett plays an over-the-top teen idol opposite Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. But don't expect this singer/songwriter to get too outrageous
The pop diva that Haley Bennett plays in Music and Lyrics may seem a little familiar, but Bennett isn't saying how much Britney Spears and Madonna inspired her over-the-top performance as a multiplatinum-winning singer. Haley does admit, "I definitely watched all Britney's videos and some of Madonna's, too. I would wake up every morning and turn on MTV and just watch overloads of music videos to channel that rock-star-type aura. It takes a lot of confidence to do that, and I wouldn't say that's something I'm lacking."
That chutzpah must have helped, since Bennett is making her debut in a romantic comedy co-starring with big-screen heavyweights Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. She plays Cora Corman, a teen idol whom she describes as "a girl who's a little insane and does some outrageous things, but she keeps her undies on."
The 19-year-old Bennett admits she was a little overwhelmed to be on the set with Barrymore and Grant, but they helped her get over feeling intimidated. "They were both very relaxed and natural," she remembers. "They taught me that you have to feel confident and comfortable in front of the camera."
Bennett faced one unexpected challenge. Even though she looks enviably skinny, the producers wanted her to be even thinner. "I had to take off 10 pounds," she remembers. "But Drew Barrymore told me not to take it personally. All those pop stars are so thin and they're on these strange diets or working out like fiends. I lost weight in a healthy way by working with a nutritionist. I was also at the gym probably five times a week, and I was dancing a lot, which really gets you into shape."
In fact, if she hadn't lost the weight, Bennett laughingly confesses she probably wouldn't have been able to fit into the wildly sexy and revealing costumes she wears. "I'm a pretty modest girl, so it was really a stretch," she says. "I had to put myself in another mindset, otherwise I would never have been able to pull it off. It's definitely hard to wear practically nothing and sort of shake everything you've got.
"After the fittings, we actually had to sew extra material on the backside of one of the costumes," she adds. "If we hadn't, I don't think we would have gotten a PG-13 rating."
Her talent as a singer helped Haley get the part in Music and Lyrics after competing against a slew of other actresses. "She could really belt out a song," says director Marc Lawrence, "and that's what we were looking for."
Bennett remembers the moment when she first displayed that talent in public, when she was just 10. "I was with my parents at the Snook Inn, this little, tiny bar in Marco Island, Florida, like, in the middle of nowhere. I went up to the band and I was, like, 'Do you guys know this song by Jewel?' and they were like, 'Sure, we know it.' So I just got up and started singing in front of, like, 500 people. I think I surprised my mom and dad, because they'd only heard me sing in the choir or in the shower. I sang a Jewel song when I was 10 years old. Can you imagine? I've always been ahead of myself."
Bennett, who has a couple of tunes on the soundtrack of Music and Lyrics, is hard at work on her first album. "I write all my own stuff," she says. "I'm a singer/songwriter, and I can't wait for everyone to hear my songs. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to them. I've always been inspired by Jewel and Fiona Apple, and I've always loved Avril Lavigne. So it's sort of them in a blender."
Bennett can only laugh at the memory of how a chance low-budget vacation with her parents jump-started her promising show-business career. "We were supposed to go to Europe that summer, and my dad was just being cheap, so he bought tickets to L.A. because they were, like, $300," she says. "I was excited because I'd never been there, and everyone dreams about going to Hollywood and seeing everything and maybe running into a movie star."
While she didn't run into any stars, Haley did meet a record producer in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "I was with my mom having dinner, and since I look old for my age—he was essentially probably hitting on me," she remembers with a giggle. "But he gave me an audition and told me I had a lot of talent and that I could make it. I didn't end up working with him, but the next year my mom and I moved to L.A. so I could really get a chance to make it as an actress and singer."
Now Bennett is on the brink of realizing her dreams. "I think if you have that passion and you work really hard and you keep your eye on the prize and you don't get off-track, you can achieve a lot," she says. "It's very easy to forget what you want, but I've always been very ambitious and always have known what I want."
And Haley would like to put one rumor to rest. "When they heard me sing on the set of Music and Lyrics, people started this rumor that I was Tony Bennett's daughter. I am not related to him, but I think he's a fabulous singer."