Brandy's Magic Hour
By: Heather S. Keets
You'd think that after recording quadruple-platinum album and starring in Moesha, UPN's highest-rated sitcom, Brandy would be used to fame. You'd think that after filming the title role in the latest version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella--with a cast that includes Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Jason Alexander--the last thing the 18-year-old celebrity would be is starstruck. Well, she is.
It's the final scene on the last day of shooting Cinderella at the Sony Studios lot in Los Angeles. Brandy is perched atop a tremendous marble
staircase in a dreamy off-white wedding gown with a delicate train that cascades down the steps, Her shiny braids are woven around a brilliant tiara, and she's locking arms with the most adorable Prince ever, Paolo Montalban. There are trumpets, flowers and sunshine--it's Hollywood. It's perfect.
In between takes, someone whispers that Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett (What's Love Got to Do With It) has walked onto the set to visit Whoopi Goldberg.
"Whut! Where?" Brandy screams. She whips her head around, flinging her train to one side. She hikes her dress up and bolts down the stairs in a manner most unbefitting a princess.
"Oh, my God! Angela!" she squeals. By the time Brandy reaches the bottom, she's built up so much speed that she zooms right past her target.
"Where did she go?" Brandy asks, and then spins around and gives Angela a giant hug. "What are you doing here? When can we be in a movie together? I'11 do anything. I can cry. I'll do whatever...."
In spite of stardom, Brandy's still a regular girl. And that's why Whitney Houston, executive producer and Cinderella's fairy godmother, handpicked the R&B singer to star in one of the most expensive two-hour TV movies ever made. In an industry full of brats, Brandy has never been prone to scandal, tantrums or drama.
Airing November 2 on ABC, the film is the crown jewel of the new Wonderful World of Disney series, which includes original movies like Tower of Terror with Kirsten Dunst.
Sitting in her trailer and munching on a McDonald's Happy Meal (though we suspect she supersized the fries), Brandy talks about how she landed this plum role. It started with a phone call from Whitney. This was not unusual: Brandy considers Whitney her mentor, and they talk from time to time, "She was telling me about Bobbi Kris [her four-year-old daughter], and then all of a sudden she says, 'I'm doing Cinderella,'" Brandy recalls. "I asked, 'Can I play one of your evil stepsisters, please, please' She said, 'No, I want you to play Cinderella.' And I just went crazy. I said, 'Oh, thank you, Nippy [her nickname for Whitney], thank you.'"
Even after she officially had the part, it took her a while to get used to the all-star cast, taken from Hollywood and Broadway rosters: Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg plays the Prince's mother; Victor Garber, the Prince's father; Seinfeld's Jason Alexander, the Prince's valet; and Bernadette Peters, the wicked stepmother.
"When I first met Bernadette, I didn't say much, because I didn't want
to say anything wrong," Brandy recalls. "When I met Whoopi, I fell on the ground and rolled around. I was so excited. With Jason-I knew he was on Broadway and I knew he was on Seinfeld. But when I found out how much money he's making this year [$600,000 per episode], I was like, 'So, Jason, can we be friends?"'
The shoe was on the other foot when Paolo, 24, was introduced to Brandy. "The first thing she said was, 'I'm Brandy and I'm 18. What's your name and how old are you!'" he says. "I knew she was this multiplatinum recording artist. I just didn't know which songs went platinum," he admits.
Was he starstruck? "It was like a first date--with 12 chaperones scrutinizing your every move ... and a camera," he recalls.
Once shooting began, it didn't take long for Brandy to realize that filming Cinderella would be more work than her TV show. It takes only one week to tape each episode of Moesha, while it sometimes took an entire day to shoot five minutes of the movie. "It was difficult to adjust to all the rehearsing," she admits. "Just when you thought you had it, you didn't."
In addition, Brandy's singing had to be, well, de-Brandified. There are no funky backbeats or thumping baselines in Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. Forget "I Wanna Be Down." Think Oklahoma! Brandy admits that she had to be taught how to sing this kind of music. "When you're singing R&B, you can just do a little riff and people will be like, 'Oh, I'm feeling that.' But in the world of Disney," she explains in a mock music-teacher voice, "we have to act out what we sing. I
was taught how to sing my words, like, perfectly." It was her singing coach, and not Whitney, who helped Brandy train her voice. "Whitney's a pro," she says, "but I don't think she knows how to teach anybody what she does naturally."
Brandy may consider Whitney her mentor, but that didn't prevent rumors from circulating that they didn't get along on the set and that Whoopi often had to play referee. "That's ridiculous," Brandy says. "When I was working with Whoopi, Whitney was not here." She says that she and Whitney spent their time in between scenes chasing each other around the studio lot on electric golf carts.
Back at the wedding scene, the director has yelled cut, and everyone crowds around Brandy to congratulate her on completing her first TV movie. In the frenzy she loses sight of Bassett-she's now too busy enjoying her moment.