Vision Of Love

Mariah Carey's determination and hard work pay off in her film debut Glitter.

HX (US) September 28, 2001. Text by Larry Flick.

For Mariah Carey, the completion of Glitter, her long-anticipated motion picture debut for 20th Century-Fox, was a dream come true. "It's a project that I've been working so hard to bring to the screen for a long time," Carey says. "It was a quite a journey for me; one filled with incredible discovery and invaluable lessons — and, ultimately, extraordinary joy. I look at the movie now that it's finished, and I feel nothing but pride. It's my baby."

The pop icon has good reason to feel such a close personal attachment to Glitter, a dramatic film with music that also features Max Beesley (The Match), Tia Texada (Nurse Betty), rap superstar Da Brat and renowned R&B/jazz artist Eric Benet. Besides starring in it, Carey serves as the movie's executive music producer, collaborating with such heavyweights as the mutli-platinum production team of Jimmy Jan and Terry Lewis. And the sterling soundtrack — which pairs the artist with hip-hop luminaries such as Busta Rhymes, DJ Clue and Mystical — christens her new, record-breaking deal at Virgin Records.

"It was so important that I have that level of involvement in the film," Carey says. "Music is one of the most special things in my life. It would've been difficult for me to not have input in the film's musical direction. I felt a special attachment to my character, and I wanted the songs to reflect that."

Carey completed Glitter several months before being hospitalized for exhaustion. At this writing, the details of her illness are not a matter for public discussion, as the artist is opting to keep the focus on this project. Speaking before taking a break to rest, she notes that Glitter is the latest milestone in a career that has kept her in perpetual motion. "I've always lived that way. It comes with being me. It's a crazy life, but it's a good one."

It's also a life rooted in the die-hard support of her fans. Although Carey has millions of admirers all over the world, few are as ardent as those in the gay community. In a sector ruled by clubs and divas, Carey has long been among its most beloved figures — largely due to the fact that she has consistently provided innovative, often re-recorded dance music versions of her singles, [Editor's note: In a 1999 issue of HX, New York's hottest DJs listed David Morales' mix of Carey's "Dreamlover" as tying with Alison Limerick's "Where Love Lives" as the top dance track of the decade.]

"I love nothing more than walking into a club and hearing one of my tracks boom from the speakers," the artist says. "It's an incredible rush. And, of course, the cutting-edge clubs — the ones so vital to breaking great new music — are the gay clubs. I'm so grateful to the support of the gay community. They keep a girl like me alive and kicking."

Although Carey's character, Billie Frank, eventually reaches the heights of music superstardom, that's where the similarities end. Set against the backdrop of the New York club world during the early '80s, Glitter is the story of a young singer who overcomes a turbulent childhood and struggles to find her true family and her true voice.

"When we first see Billie, she's singing with her mom," Carey notes. "And there's this amazing chemistry between them. It's sweet, but it's also really heartbreaking because the mother is an addict. Billie ends up being taken away by the state because of this. She's so young when this happens, and she doesn't understand why her mother doesn't come back for her. As she grows up, Billie is driven to understand her place in the world — and why she had to grow up feeling very alone."

Years later, Billie is discovered by Julian Dice (Beesley), a charismatic DJ who soon becomes her partner, producer and lover. With Dice, Billie begins an exciting but often volatile and precarious journey. "They have this beautiful love situation," Carey says. "It's a great love story in that respect. But there are some parallels between Dice and [Billie's] mother. He's slightly out of control."

From there, the audience sees Billie's hunger for stardom. "Her need for fame stems from her issue of feeling abandoned," the singer says. "It's an intense need that drives her like nothing else."

The challenge for Carey as a budding actor was to commit to a story that is far from her own life history. "That was also a large part of the pleasure of this project," she says. "My music is often a reflection of things that I've experienced. In playing Billie, my goal was to relate to her issues, but commit to the idea that she's her own entity. She's not me. In the end, I was able to find common denominators between us, but I also felt like I was successful in creating Billie's own unique persona. That was beyond exciting."

While the world will view Glitter as the latest project to propel Carey to greater career heights, she has a far different point of view. "I see the film and the role of Billie as giving me the opportunity to learn to use a different emotional instrument," she says. "It's not about being a 'movie star.' Of course, I'd like Glitter to be successful — I want it to work commercially — but for me, making the film was more about craft, about being able to express another side of my creativity, in addition to singing and writing songs."

Carey points out that she didn't approach acting lightly. "I've thought about working in films for a long time," she says. "There was a point where it looked like movie work wasn't in the cards. But after studying acting and thinking a long time about the type of film project I'd like to be involved in, Glitter seemed right."

The film, which was produced by Laurence Mark (Jerry Maguire, As Good As It Gets), also proved to be quite attractive to director Vondie Curtis Hall, whose credits include Gridlock'd. He's also a well-regarded actor who earned kudos for his work on the television series Chicago Hope as well as in the films Eve's Bayou and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.

"I thought the script had an interesting premise," he says. "Throw in some fantastic music and a big star like Mariah Carey, and the project became irresistible to me."

The first challenge Curtis Hall faced was finding an actor with an energy and charisma to match Carey's larger-than-life presence. Beesley's initial reading with Carey made it clear to all that he was Dice. "The chemistry between the two of them jumped right out at us," the director recalls. "They seemed to gel immediately. We could feel this incredible vibe from the two of them. It was wild, and it worked."

Beesley was immediately impressed with Carey. "Upon meeting and reading with Mariah, I discovered she's very generous. We bonded, and we remained close throughout production of the film. I hope our mutual respect and admiration shows in the work that we did together."

It certainly does show — as does the film's authentic recreation of the tone and energy of the '80s. "I think we're now in a 20-year cyclical thing where the zeitgeist of the '80s is back," Hall notes. "It's the retro period for the new millennium."

At the same time, however, Hall strived to give Glitter a timeless feel. "Everything in this film is meant to have texture and depth, and is richly defined, like a painting. We wanted to make a classic-looking picture that wouldn't be dated five years from now because it was too trendy and didn't track."

That's ultimately what Carey wanted, too. "Making this film was pretty scary," she says. "But I felt I had a big system there for me. Everyone encouraged me in my desire to get this movie made and to have this story told."

She concludes that "making Glitter — from making the movie to creating the music and recording the soundtrack — were some of the best professional experiences I have ever had. It will be tough to top it. But, then again, I've always thrived on a good challenge! For now, though, it's wonderful to sit back and enjoy the rush of what I believe is the best work I could have done. I'm so proud."