Carrie Underwood captivated audiences with her girl-next-door likeability on American Idol, and went on to win the competition and become a superstar, selling millions of CDs.
Now she’s branching out in a new direction, taking on the role of Sarah Hill in the drama Soul Surfer. The movie chronicles the true life story of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), a 13-year-old who was competing in national surfing competitions until one fateful day when a shark came out of nowhere and she lost an arm.
Sarah Hill was Bethany’s church youth-group leader who encouraged her to not lose faith. I spoke with Carrie Underwood at the press day for the movie about this new direction in her career and her opinion on this season’s American Idol.
When did you hear about this movie, and why did you want to be a part of it?
I got the book, and I got DVDs and all kinds of information about Bethany and her story, which I’d heard of when it happened, but I didn’t know the ins and outs and all that good stuff. When I read the script, I definitely wanted to be involved; it’s such an inspirational story. Just to be a part of telling that was enough for me.
Sarah Hill is a smaller role, were you hoping for a bigger part?
No. I feel like so many people – especially when they’re coming over from the music world – jump into a starring role and usually end up being made fun of, right? I know that music is my life, is my strong point, that’s my love, and this seemed perfect; this is the role they had in mind, and it’s a small role, but a very important role. The whole success of the film does not weigh on my shoulders as an actress. It was perfect.
Were you able to meet Sarah?
Yes, I feel like Sarah and I are probably a lot alike. I haven’t gotten to spend that much time with her, but she is very direct, and she’ll be honest and kind of tell people how it is. I really respect her. I learned more about her from listening to other people talking about her than I did from talking to her myself. Bethany’s parents were saying, ‘She has helped so many people. She helped her family so much.’ They love her to death.
Was it intimidating playing someone who was 5 feet away from you, especially for your first acting experience?
No because in the end, the movie, although it’s based on a true story, it’s still for entertainment value as well. So I didn’t feel that much pressure. I wasn’t worried that she was going to be like, ‘I wouldn’t say that!’ Everybody made it to where it was a very comfortable setting.
Can you tell us about the initial meeting, when you met Bethany?
I met her on set – I met everybody on set. It was all so quick; one minute we’re talking about the movie, and the next minute I’m flying out to Hawaii. It was so wonderful to have the whole family: Bethany, her parents, her brothers, everybody on set, working on the film. It was very encouraging; made you feel like you were doing things the right way and you had their blessings.
She just wanted to surf; she didn’t hang around the set too much. She’d come for about half an hour or so, and then be like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go.’ She is what you think she would be; she’s an athlete, and she loves to be on the water.
A lot of people didn’t think American Idol would be successful without Simon Cowell, how do you think it’s going?
I think the season’s going along really well with the new judges, with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. I feel like Randy [Jackson] stepped it up, and he’s a little more honest, a little more blunt. Steven is much more warm and caring than I ever expected this rocker guy to be. I like him, the person. I think he’s very charming.
J-Lo obviously looks gorgeous. It’s like week to week she’s more and more opinionated. So it’s really good. Everybody’s figuring out their roles. It’s doing well; I think other people are enjoying them as well. It’s a good crop of contestants; they’re all very different.
You seem to be one of the few American Idol winners that doesn’t mind coming back; a lot of them want to distance themselves from the show, and I’ve never got that vibe from you.
I do enjoy going back because that is the only reason I’m in the music business, period. I had no idea how to get in any other way. It was this random shot, might as well. If I get cut in the first round, nobody will know, might as well do it. So I did, and that’s why I do what I do now, is because of that show, and I love seeing other people get the same opportunities and get to go on tour.
You learn so much in such a short amount of time. I love going back because it’s nostalgic. I’m like, [she sighs], ‘That was me!’ It’s like going back to school.
Are you a surfer yourself?
I’ve been surfing once in my entire life, and I wasn’t terrible at it, but my love for music is like the Hamilton family’s love for water. So I understand it, but I’ll stick to music!
Would you ever go back into the water if something like that happened to you? I would be so terrified, and Bethany didn’t even seem bothered at all and went right back in the water!
It’s tough to actually ask yourself that question because I have no idea what I would do. But I would hope that if there were some random voice accident, that I would be able to go back to singing!
It’s a tough thing to put myself in her shoes, but maybe other people will see the movie and stuff that they thought they couldn’t do, they will be able to do again.