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With 'Ramona and Beezus,' can Selena Gomez branch out from her Disney Channel roots?

July 22, 2010 |  4:37 pm

Selena Although having your own hit Disney Channel show might get you a record deal, clothing line, or lunchbox with your face on it, it doesn't always help you land A-list film roles.

Selena Gomez, who plays a girl with magical powers on the hit Disney Channel show "Wizards of Waverly Place," is the latest Disney teen star to try to make a go of it on the big screen. In Friday's "Ramona and Beezus," based on Beverly Cleary's beloved children's book series, Gomez will have her big-screen starring debut. In a print interview with the actress, she said she was nervous about making the jump.

The anxiety was ratcheted up when Cleary herself sent Gomez a DVD of herself explaining how she envisioned the part of Beezus, the studious teen who is continually embarrassed by her pest of a younger sister, Ramona.

“She’s like, ‘Hi, Selena, I’m very excited you’re playing the role. I wanted to give you some of the views of how I created Beezus,’ ” Gomez recalled last week, sitting in a trailer on the CBS lot, where she had just filmed a singing appearance on “America’s Got Talent.”

After watching the author’s video, she began to, as she says, “freak out.”

“I was like, ‘Oh, great. What am I getting myself into? This is my first thing.’ I was nervous. It was definitely a big responsibility.”

Even director Elizabeth Allen acknowledged that she'd had some concerns about Gomez and her wholesome television background but was reassured once the young actress got on set.

"I was personally concerned that she would turn in TV beats and moments," said Allen, "and was really delighted to see that she has an ability to match the actors around her, as far as tone."

Gomez, who is very clearly a product of the well-oiled Disney machine, said she chose "Ramona" because of its family-friendly qualities. Allen, for her part, sees this as evidence that she is making smart choices about her career. By the time the movie got a green light, Gomez -- who had auditioned earlier in the development process -- had her pick of feature film roles.

"She chose this, which was not a big payday, and she's a supporting role," the director said. "I think many other kids in her position would have taken the money and the leading role, but she felt there was a pedigree to the property... She wanted to work with a high-caliber cast [including John Corbett, Josh Duhamel and Sandra Oh] and soak up all their abilities."

But being aware about the challenges involved in transitioning from Disney to the multiplex doesn't make navigating them any easier. As my colleague Steve Zeitchik noted back in April when Miley Cyrus starred in the Nicholas Sparks tearjerker "The Last Song": "There’s an issue for Disney Channel stars trying to make the jump to movies, even frilly ones. The network's shows give their actors plenty of exposure, but they don’t exactly showcase their best acting. Even good acting gets lost there."

Indeed, many former Disney stars have struggled to be taken seriously on the big screen, including Ashley Tisdale, Hilary Duff and Vanessa Hudgens, whose new film "Beastly" recently had its release date pushed to early next year. Still, "The Last Song," the Cyrus film, fared moderately well at the box office, bringing in over $60 million stateside. And Zac Efron's face is currently plastered all over town for the campaign of "Charlie St. Cloud."

Gomez, who next stars in "Monte Carlo" opposite Leighton Meester, says that while she's certainly part of a certain Disney generation, she's looking to some established film actresses as templates. “I love Rachel McAdams. She is incredible,” she said. “I think that her career and project choices are really appropriate and perfect for her, and she kind of stays out of the spotlight; you never really see anything about her. Yeah, that’s how I would like to be.”

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Selena Gomez. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times.


The Performance: Selena Gomez

Preview Review: The Quimbys are back in 'Ramona and Beezus'

Original 'Ramona' Sarah Polley hopes revamped character isn't 'too cute'

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