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Burlesque – Cher on being more surprised than anybody

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Burlesque - Cher
Tess (Cher) © 2010 Screen Gems

It’s been 11 years since Academy Award winning actress Cher has graced the big screen – her last movie, Tea with Mussolini. opened in 1999.

In her new musical, Burlesque, she portrays Tess, the owner and performer at the Burlesque Lounge in Los Angeles. But times are hard and Tess is struggling to keep the ailing theatre open. When a young beginner named Ali (Christina Aguilera) joins the revue, her spectacular voice gives hope that the Burlesque Lounge might return to its former glory.

Why wait so long to make another movie?

Burlesque - Stanley Tucci and Cher
Sean (Stanley Tucci) and Tess (Cher) © 2010 Screen Gems

You get lots of scripts but you don’t get things you want to do and the only thing that I’ve missed that I wanted to do was Mamma Mia. I wanted to have the chance to work with Meryl (Streep) again but I was on the road so I couldn’t do it.

Did you walk away from films in a way?

No. It doesn’t work like that. Whatever is in front of you is the thing you do. If there had been great movies, I would have done those. But, the only movie I didn’t get to do was Mamma Mia and that was a pain in the ass.

How hard was it for you to decide to do this?

Once we started, I was totally there but it was [hard getting there]. There was a lot of transitional time to have Tess get to the place where you see her on screen. But once I was there, I was always fabulous [she laughs].

Your song You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me must have come from deep in your soul. It was an amazing performance. Can you talk about that number? Did it mean something special to you?

Burlesque - Stanley Tucci and Cher
Sean (Stanley Tucci) and Tess (Cher) © 2010 Screen Gems

First of all Diane Warren wrote it. She’s been my friend for a long time. She wrote If I Could Turn Back Time. There were two songs in my life that I didn’t think I was going to be able to sing and that was one of them. The other one was Song for the Lonely. It was so high for me that I truly didn’t have those notes. There were three notes and I didn’t have them in my range and I really don’t know where they came from. I was more surprised than anybody. This song was so good, and doing it, I thought, was so perfect for the character and she wrote it for that moment in time.

Was there something about the words on a personal level?

Yes.  When I started this character, I thought, ‘This is hard to play supporting to this girl and know that this is what’s happening in my life, or potentially happening in my life. I have to kind of move over’. Not that I’m doing it gracefully, because you’d have to pull me over [she laughts] but yeah that song, for me, had a lot of meaning.

When Stanley Tucci and I have one of my first scenes, he goes down to do something to my shoe and I go ‘Ow!’ and he goes ‘What, your shoe or your foot?’ I say, ‘Yeah, my foot, my back and my shoulder.’ I’m old and from throwing myself around and from dancing and falling and being dropped by dancers and things like that, there was too much truth in this film for me a couple of times. So that song was really meaningful because it was, not exactly my life, but it was my life in that movie.

What was your relationship with Christina like?

Burlesque - Cher and Christina Aguilera
Tess (Cher) and Ali Rose (Christina Aguilera),© 2010 Screen Gems

She reminded me of the relationship that I had with Meryl [on Silkwood] when Meryl took me under her wing because the truth was, I didn’t have any idea where to stand. Not that I know where to stand now. But Christina worked so hard. She overcame [a lot]. She came on the set with us and that’s a little bit nerve-wracking when you’ve done nothing in film. I think I tried to put her at ease and she had a blast with Stanley. So, I think that quickly, as time went by, she felt a lot more comfortable.

Can you tell us some of the relationship advice you gave Christina?

Yeah and look how well I did.

She said you said, ‘Marriages come and go but you’re Cher forever’.

[she laughs] I think I have a big mouth. No advice.

How do you put everybody at ease when they are star struck when they first meet you?

Burlesque - Cher and Cam Gigandet
Tess (Cher) and Jack (Cam Gigandet),© 2010 Screen Gems

I was doing an interview with someone who has interviewed everyone and I was nervous about him, because of who he writes for, but he was nervous and I said ‘This is silliness. Don’t be ridiculous. Let’s get this thing together.’ But I think because I’ve been doing this for forty-five years, that my personality is my personality and once someone spends time with me, you feel fine. I’m not doing anything. I can’t even imagine what it would be that someone would expect me to do that would be frightening or menacing.

What is the secret to your longevity in this business?

I haven’t got a clue. I really do think it’s luck.

How do you look so beautiful at every age?

There’s a team, five dozen people up in my room, and it takes two hours [she laughs]. That’s the truth!