The Wizard of Oz couldn’t deliver the amount of courage needed to be Alexandra Shipp at this very moment.
Aboard the highly anticipated Lifetime biopic ‘Aaliyah: Princess of R&B,’ the Phoenix-bred beauty takes on the role of one of the genre’s most beloved entities while combatting an army of naysayers – including the ‘One In a Million’ singer’s own family. Chronicling her rise to fame and the controversies that clouded some of it, the movie, helmed by ‘Queen of All Media’ Wendy Williams, is set to explore (like never before) the life of R&B’s fallen angel.
As the film is being greeted with mix reviews from fans and critics alike before its official arrival tonight at 8/7c, Shipp tells That Grape Juice how she’s handling the skeptics, the challenges that came with singing Aaliyah’s music, and so much more.
Sail on down below the jump to see more from our exclusive chat with Miss Shipp. As ever, it’s a must read:
TGJ: Thanks for joining us today, we really appreciate it!
Alexandra: Not a problem!
TGJ: We are so close to the premiere of Lifetime’s ‘Aaliyah: Princess of R&B.’ Tell us how excited you are about that?
Alexandra: I’m so excited! When you work so hard on something and it finally comes out, you are just overwhelmed with excitement because people finally get to see what you’ve worked so hard on.
TGJ: That’s amazing. I know you’ve been asked a million times, but I’m curious to know: how did you prepare for this role given the absence of people so close to her?
For me, I’m pretty technical. I watched interviews, music videos, behind the scenes stuff, etc. I just wanted to get a feel for her mannerisms. I listened to all of her songs over and over. During the recording process, we went over some lines over and over again until I had the right inflection and mannerisms.
I wanted it perfect. She had such an impact on people and they’re going to be going through this with a fine tooth comb so I wanted it to be right for them.
TGJ: Do you feel prepared for those who will be analyzing the film with the “fine tooth comb,” so to speak? Be it negative or positive, because her fans are so devoted to her legacy, have you braced yourself for what people will say about the movie?
Alexandra: Yes, totally. I know I worked really hard at this and put my blood, sweat, and tears into it. I didn’t sleep for a month! I love this movie! So, I’m proud of the work that I’ve put out there and am ready for what people have to say.
TGJ: That’s so awesome. The movie has been shrouded in controversy since its conception. So, without having that support from the people who were immediately in her life, did that controversy ever come as a concern?
Alexandra: Of course. But, at the same time, that’s out of my control. I’m just an actress who was hired to do the job. I understand when families don’t want to be involved and I understand when things fall through in movies. But, I think the final product we got is amazing.
I hope when her family sees it, they’ll be able to smile because we’re celebrating her life. We’re not unearthing demons or sharing things people didn’t know about her.
TGJ: We’ve heard about your bravery when it came to having to record the songs. Share with us where your mind was when you were re-recording some of Aaliyah’s biggest hits.
Alexandra: My mind was in tunnel vision. I’m going in there, warming up, listen to the song a million times, and then sometimes I would even put shades on to get into that vibe.
TGJ: When you think about your progression as an actress as you look at this film, what do you think it tells about you about you?
It’s so fun to see. It’s completely different from when I was on ‘House of Anubis.’ The actings different, the content is different, the storyline is different. So, being able to see my episodes from that and then see these scenes in the Aaliyah movie is eerie and exciting.
TGJ: We know that when people watch this film they will see Aaliyah. But, what are you hoping people learn about you after seeing this film?
Alexandra: I hope people see my level of hard work and professionalism. Because I got to portray one of my idols, but also because I got to star in something really big. People have waited for a long time to finally have an Aaliyah biopic.
Also, it’s rare that there’s a lead black female in a film.
TGJ: Now, as with many interviews, we have a segment called “Five From Fans” where we received five questions from our readers for you.
1) TGJ: What is your favorite biopic to date?
Alexandra: ‘Selena.’ My best friend and I from middle school would lie in bed and watch that movie over and over. I loved her music. But, recently, I’ve fallen in love with ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It.’
That was a whole other level of awesome.
2) TGJ: Were you ever intimidated by working with Wendy Williams?
Alexandra: Yes, definitely! She has such a big personality, but she’s such a nice woman. I have so much respect for her.
3) TGJ: Given that you’ve studied her life, if you ever had the opportunity to meet Aaliyah, what would you two talk about?
Alexandra: I’d ask her how she handled it. I have my assumptions, but I want to know how did she handle the intensity of her life. I wanted to know how she kept succeeding in such a big career.
4) TGJ: What would you say was the most challenging scene in the movie to shoot?
The most challenging was ironically the most emotionally easy scene. That was when Aaliyah and R. Kelly tell her parents they got married. We were able to really “get there” pretty quickly because there was such chemistry between all of us.
We only rehearsed it once or twice, but it worked! Everyone just started clapping. There was such electricity!
5) TGJ: What’s your favorite Aaliyah song?
Alexandra: It varies. My initial overall favorite is ‘Try Again.’ After that, it’s ‘At Your Best’ and ‘Back and Forth.’
TGJ: Thanks for answering those questions. So, we’ve asked you all about Aaliyah, but what’s next for you? What should we look forward to in 2015?
Alexandra: I’ll be releasing some of my own music. I have ‘Straight Outta Compton’ coming with Ice Cube. After that, the sky’s the limit!
Interview by: Quinno Rashad (That Grape Juice US)
Catch ‘Aaliyah: Princess of R&B’ tonight at 8/7c only on Lifetime!