What's it really like working with Miley Cyrus? Just ask Julie Anne Robinson
Many tweens across the nation eagerly await Miley Cyrus' every move, twittering about the starlet's latest song or boyfriend. But Julie Anne Robinson, who directed Cyrus' first dramatic role in "The Last Song," barely knew who the young actress was before the two met on set.
"I was sort of dimly aware of her," admitted Robinson, who used to live in England, where Cyrus is not as popular as she is stateside.
These days, however, Robinson is acutely aware of Cyrus' star power: The director's feature debut, which was written specifically for Cyrus by modern romance master Nicholas Sparks, is likely to make $10 million at the box office on its opening day alone.
"The Last Song," which hits theaters Wednesday, stars Cyrus as a rebellious teenage girl who falls in love with a hunky local (Liam Hemsworth) while spending the summer at the beach house of her father (Greg Kinnear).
The story is a far cry from some of the projects on Robinson's resume, which include work on productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Court and the Royal National Theatre in London. She later went on to work alongside directors Stephen Daldry and Sam Mendes before landing a spot in the BBC director's training course. But it was her work on the BBC miniseries "Coming Down the Mountain" -- a 90-minute film about two teenage boys, one of whom has Down syndrome -- that got her noticed by Disney.
Before the film's release, Robinson took a few minutes to chat about how to avoid making a Nicholas Sparks story trite and what it's really like to work with Miley Cyrus.
24 Frames: How'd you land this gig with Disney?
Robinson: "Coming Down the Mountain," which was kind of edgy and low-budget, was the movie that got me this job. It was nominated for a lot of awards, and Disney loved it. It was funny, because that film is full of sex and teenagers. It wasn't typical Disney fare.
Were you nervous about working with Miley Cyrus, one of the most commercial young teen stars, and Nicholas Sparks, a big, bestselling author?
I wasn't, because I didn't really know who they were. I knew he had written "The Notebook," and had watched it and really enjoyed it. But he's not a big name name in the UK particularly. And Miley, I didn't know at all. I was sort of dimly aware of her. I should have been hugely intimidated, but I just knew there was something to pull together here and I needed to take control.
With a classic romantic drama like this, how do you steer away from cliché?
I knew that the reason I was asked to do this movie was because of that grungy indie movie I had done. They wanted me to bring that sensibility to this movie, so I tried to keep it very real and grounded by keeping true to the emotions. I had a tremendous opportunity in this movie, because it's a contemporary movie about young people. I tried to bring indie bands in as much as possible. On Miley's first day of shooting, I gave her all of these cool indie bands I was thinking of using and said, "OK, this is Ronnie's play list," which I think helped her.
She's very committed and very open. My job as a director was to kind of help, and just be aware of where the character was emotionally at any given point and where to place the actress within that. The thing that's so great about Miley is that she's willing to go where you ask her to go. That's fantastic for a director. She'd done a lot of thinking about the character before she came to set, and also, this part was obviously written for her.
How does doing a film like this change the course of your directing career? Are you getting different types of calls now?
It's making the process much simpler. I'm getting a lot of scripts sent to me. I would love to do something that's a complete change of direction next. I think it'll be an action film, but I can't announce it yet.
-- Amy Kaufman
Photos: (From top) Julie Anne Robinson is the director of "The Last Song." Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth star in the film. Credit: Andrew Southam, Walt Disney Pictures.