Pop star Rihanna is making her big screen debut in the forthcoming blockbuster Battleship. The 24-year-old plays Petty Officer Second Class Cora Raikes, a weapons specialist in the US Navy. Her character is one of a handful of people who hold the fate of the planet in their hands, after an alien invasion off the coast of Hawaii. She spoke to the BBC about the role, and her future ambitions in film.
Why choose this as your first film?
I wanted my first role to be, most importantly, one that I was capable of mastering and performing well in. It was all brand new. It was all something that was difficult. But it was exciting, it was a good experience.
You were an army cadet when you were growing up in Barbados. How did that help you prepare for this role?
It was definitely helpful. We used to shoot on a range. I did a lot of training, a lot of discipline. So I had the army etiquette from a young age.
How did you get in shape for the film?
I had to do tons of push-ups. I had to work out with sand bags that were the weight of the weapons. The trainer, he was a soldier. He yelled at me so many times, right in my face. He would never call me Rihanna, he would never respond to me. But it really put me in that place where, when I went on set, it wasn’t all surface with the character. It wasn’t me pretending. There was actually a character that was built. So it was necessary.
How did that make you feel?
I didn’t get it. I was like, ‘he’s not coming back here. There’s no way he’s in my hotel room talking to me like that’. After a while I got so freaked out. Every time he came over I would hide all my high heels, any shopping I did I would hide the bags, I moved my pink iPod off the dock. I got rid of those so fast. But it worked. It worked.
How long did it take to be Rihanna again afterwards?
I didn’t have a lot of time in between being Raikes and being Rihanna. I literally left the set at night and went straight to do a music video for Only Girl In The World. I flew to LA from Hawaii and started shooting that video.
What’s the biggest difference between singing and acting?
Singing is familiar. It’s all I’ve ever known. Acting is a whole new world – and it’s a world I respect as much, if not even more, because when you’re a singer you get to be yourself, but when you act you really have to make people believe you’re someone else. I really don’t know how actors get it done.
Who’s your role model as an actress?
Meryl Streep is my favourite. She’s just stone cold. I love her.
Raikes is quite a tomboy. She gets involved in the rough stuff. Is there a Raikes inside every woman?
Absolutely. All of us can stand up right next to the guys, eye to eye. We all can do that. We just have to believe it.
Would you like to make more films?
Absolutely, there are plans for that this year – but I can’t really talk about the other projects yet. Battleship made me want to see what else I could do. I want to try different roles. Maybe comedy next. Who knows?
There have been rumours you would play Whitney Houston.
I didn’t get that call yet! But who wouldn’t want to play her? That would be something that I would have to give my entire life to do because I would want to really pull it off. That’s a huge, huge role and whoever does it has to do a good job. I always looked up to her. One of the first songs I remember falling in love with was a Whitney Houston song – I Will Always Love You. Her music, all of her music, was played in my house. It was really inspiring and it made me develop a passion for music. So really she’s partly responsible for me being here, in this industry.
And are there plans for a new album, too?
Not yet, but I’m in the early stages of collecting [songs] and putting together a team to work with. I’m travelling all over the world to find new sounds and new producers that people don’t really know of.
You’re playing the Hackney Weekend festival this summer. What tricks have you got up your sleeve?
It’s definitely going to be different, it has to be different. I just like to party on stage. I like to laugh and feed off the energy of the crowd and that always translates.
Your mentor Jay-Z is the other headliner. Is there any competition?
No! I can’t wait to see his show. Every time we’re on the same bill, I try to stick around to see his show. I love watching Jay-Z perform.