'People Think I Was Born In A Bubble'

At home in her Manhattan apartment, Mariah Carey talks about her troubled background, why she had to 'de-Mariah' herself, and how 'Precious' changed her life.

OK! (UK) March 2, 2010. Text by Dawn Sutton.

Mariah Carey has made our jaw drop. No, she's not on time, but she's starring in a film that's actually really good (who remember her previous foray into film, the so-bad-it's-bad Glitter!). Her role in Precious — which is nominated for six Oscars — sees her sporting visible facial hair and is a huge change from Mariah's usual glamorous image — perhaps her marriage to Nick Cannon is making her mellow. The pair are even rumored to be looking to adopt a baby soon, and Mariah has taken an uncharacteristic back seat to write some songs with her hubby to be sung by a new girl band.

Here, Mariah talks all about Precious, why she's dreading turning 40, and what it was like to get frumpy.

You're turning 40 later this year...
Don't say the F word around me! (Laughs)

You got married two years ago, your life has changed a lot. How are you feeling?
I would definitely say these are some of the happiest days in my life. I've been working on my album, which I am so excited about. I couldn't think of something, another project, that I would rather be in more than this.

When you started out did people try to change you?
I remember starting out and being at a record company at 19 and having someone tell me: 'This is your good side and this is your bad side. Don't ever let anyone take any pictures of you from that side. You look terrible from that side,' and so on. It created this whole complex — like I didn't already have enough of a complex! I felt very different as a bi-racial person. Growing up where I did being half-black and half-white was a very weird and difficult thing because I didn't quite fit in either place and I moved around a lot. So when I went from that to this world, it was like, let's create an inferiority complex before we make this person go on TV and try to have self-confidence. That's what I love about Precious. I think that it's going to help a lot of people.

There's major Oscar buzz around Precious. How did you get the part?
I was a huge fan of the novel and I am not really an avid reader. A friend of mine passed me this book and said, 'You have to read this book.' Actually, what she said was, 'All women of colour must read this book.' But mainly we all need to read the book because there is an intensity that just leaves you stunned. It changed my life when I read it. Then, years later, I became close with Lee Daniels and found out that he was doing the project. I was so excited. Then it came together and he asked me to be a part of the movie.

Did you meet people from troubled backgrounds to prepare for the film?
I come from a unique background — in my father's family there were a lot of troubled uncles and aunts and people that we weren't allowed to know who were in very intense situations that I couldn't even go into now. That's a whole other interview! But yeah, I've met people who have gone through similar things. Most people think that I was born in this magical bubble and here I am singing high notes — it wasn't like that. So yeah, I do know people who have been through some deep s**t.

Did you find it hard to 'de-Mariah' yourself for the role?
It was definitely a down-there moment. Lee even said, 'Look, you have to change your walk. You have to walk differently.' Obviously I walk around on my tiptoes even when I've got on my four-inch heels. Even if I took them off, I'd still be walking on my tip-toes. (Laughs) He was like, 'You're up — can we bring it down here?' So all of the little mannerisms that people might know me for, they had to be thrown out the window. The preparation was quick, quick, quick. Stripping away the layers is easy — it's just taking on another persona, another perspective and another point-of-view of another human being. It was stripping away and adding.

In the film you look so different from the diva we know and love. How did it feel to be frumpy?
It was crucial. If I'd have stood out as, here I am, a well-known person even looking remotely glamorous, it would have taken away from the essence of what the whole film is. It was tough, honestly, because I am so used to the music world which is so different with the cameras, the lighting, the angles and this and that. We were in fluorescent dentist office lighting — it was the worst lit scene of the movie on purpose. We did it specifically for a reason. But it's the overhead lighting, it's the dark stuff on her eyes. Lee caught me trying to put blush on and he said, 'What are you doing? What are you doing?' And I was like, 'Precious has blush on.' He was not going for it. So it was just one of those things that I had to do. I guess I'll feel better about myself when I am just normal at my house walking past the mirror without make-up on. I'll be like, well I've looked worse! (Laughs)'