For all her undoubted singing talent, pop princess Rihanna isn’t always that well prepared. When the 24-year-old singer was invited to make her movie debut onboard Battleship, she went into the meeting “and really didn’t know what film it was”.
She smiles. “I just knew that I had a meeting, and this guy just started talking and showing me lots of pictures of aliens. It was not until the end that I realised he was the actual director of the film!”
That director was Peter Berg (Hancock) and the fact that he chose Rihanna to play “a real bad-ass” in his $100 million-plus sci-fi action film is no great surprise when you ask what she brings to the movie.
“What do I bring to the movie? My bad ass-ness, and my buns. That’s what I bring.” And that is probably enough, considering she has Liam Neeson appearing alongside her.
She also brought her own knowledge of weapons. “I was in the cadets when I was about 11,” she says. “I really didn’t know what it was, but the minute they said we got to shoot, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m in!’ The weapons were nothing like on Battleship, though,” she adds. “There’s a gun I fire in the movie that was so powerful, I would come back with gunpowder everywhere.”
As well as requiring the firing of large guns, Battleship – inspired by the board game and in cinemas from Wednesday 11 April – also taught the outwardly tough young woman to look at herself more closely.
“I always act so tough,” she says, “and I never want to show people my vulnerable side. But as tough as this chick looks,” she points to a poster with a picture of her character carrying an enormous assault rifle, “I had to let my guard down.
“My acting coach would say ‘I can tell that your dad was an alcoholic and I feel like you are so used to hiding yourself, now you have to let it out,’ and that taught me a lot. Every woman is vulnerable and I’m no different.”
With her sexy stage antics and the questionable image she portrays to her young fans, Rihanna may be a mum’s worst nightmare, yet she says her own mother’s guidance was vital.
“My mum’s really good at giving me my wings and letting me fly,” she says. “She can only warn me about certain things, but a kid will never know their heart until they touch it. I learned the hard way that my mum knows best.”
She was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in the parish of St Michael, Barbados, though as in many fairy stories Rihanna’s childhood unfolded against an unhappy backdrop, her early years marred by her father’s addiction to crack cocaine. Her parents’ turbulent marriage came to an end when she was 14 years old.
Path to stardom
While her childhood memories “are not great”, she says that she found a release through singing. “It was extreme how vast my taste was – reggae, grimy dub, and then I would listen to Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. When I developed a passion for music, I knew that that was what I really wanted to do.”
After forming a girl group with two classmates, she auditioned at 15 for producer Evan Rogers, who invited her to Connecticut to live with him and his wife while cutting a four-song demo. Rogers’s eye for talent was well rewarded; Rihanna has won six Grammys and has sold over 15 million albums in the UK alone, shifting five million copies of Loud and Talk That Talk in the last 12 months.
It’s been a busy and sometimes controversial year for the young star. Among other things, she’s been criticised for including ex-boyfriend Chris Brown on a remix of her track Birthday Cake. Brown is on probation after pleading guilty to assaulting Rihanna in 2009.
And those headlines keep on coming. When the farmer who owned the field in Northern Ireland in which she was shooting a music video objected to her “inappropriate state of undress” (she was wearing a red bikini), he called a halt to proceedings.
On 2010’s X-Factor, her raunchy moves drew thousands of complaints, leading to a toned-down performance on the pre-watershed show in 2011. But on closer inspection, viewers realised she was singing We Found Love in shoes with the f-word emblazoned along the side.
Her explicit We Found Love video, meanwhile, sparked controversy all over the world, with the French authorities banning it from being aired before 10pm. Does this or the farmer’s reaction make her angry?
“No, I respect it, because everybody has their own standards,” she says, “but when I make a music video, it’s a piece of art. It’s four minutes to make a visual, for people to understand the message in the song. I never do anything to get banned, never do it for controversy. It’s always just honest and at times I just go a little too far for some.”
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 3 April 2012.