Raven-Symone entered the hearts of American families in the late '80s when she was introduced as wunderkind Olivia Kendall, on The Cosby Show. But she's since blossomed into an award winning actress, singer, sometimes rapper and well-rounded businesswoman. Now 24, Raven-Symone has managed to avoid the typical Hollywood vices like drugs and over partying, which have led some of her peers to DUI charges and TMZ headlines galore.
Although her latest TV franchises, The Cheetah Girls and That’s So Raven, have been off the air for a few years, Raven-Symone keeps herself busy by reading scripts, working on music and most recently, voiceover work. Her latest project is voicing Iridessa, a sweet-natured fairy in Disney’s Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue, a straight to DVD film that hits stores on Sept. 21. In addition, the feisty actress has her sites set on playing Janet Jackson in a biopic, pushing for Kill Bill 2 and bucking the Tinsel Town machine when it comes to image⎯i.e., she refuses to look a certain way just to get a movie role. VIBE caught up with the former child star to talk about how she maintains confidence, working on her own terms, advice for Willow Smith, and Raven delivers a special message to sensational blogs and the commentors who love them. ⎯Starrene Rhett
VIBE: Talk about your role in the Tinkerbell movie.
Raven-Symone: I play Iridessa in the new movie, Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue. I play an African American fairy who is one of Tinerkbell’s best friends. She’s a light fairy, which means she makes the rainbows come alive and that the fireflies have those little lights on their butts and so many other things and in this installment of Tinkerbel,l they need to rescue Tink from her first encounter with humans. Michael Sheen makes an appearance and of course, Lucy Liu is back, Mae Whitman, and so many others. I had a good time working on this dvd series because of the stories that it’s telling. This one is focusing on friendship, loyalty, understanding and it’s a family dvd. It’s Disney magic for sure. The animation is amazing. It’s something you wouldn’t expect for a dvd series because when you start getting multiple dvds with other cartoons it’s like the animation isn’t that great but this needs to be in the theater. It’s beautiful.
And you’re already working on the fourth installment of Tinkerbell, right?
I’m working on the fifth one right now. There’s a lot of installments and hopefully there will be even more to come.
Speaking of Disney, we had Princess Tiana, the first African American princess, last year. There was Jasmine, Mulan, so what ethnicity should get a princess next?
I like that question. I think you should definitely go Aborigine. I was in Australia last week [Laughs] and it’s good to see a human that is still as connected to this Earth as they should be.
What else are you working on?
I’m writing and I’m reading scripts to produce and I’m ready to get back on TV. I haven’t filmed That’s So Raven in almost 3 1/2, 4 years. I had a nice break. I got my thoughts together, I’ve been working on my fifth album for the last two year so I’ve been slacking but I’m doing it and hopefully it will be out next year.
Are we talking reality TV, like everyone else and their mother?
Here’s the situation, the other day I had a camera crew filming me and I have too many secrets [Laughs]. I have a whole ’nother⎯you know how people have alter egos? My alter ego is what you see now. With my real self, that will never happen.
Are you going to return to rapping?
I’ve been thinking about it. I’m not signed to a label as of yet so I’m enjoying making music from scratch and not being forced to be in studios with certain people. And it’s funny nowadays [because] rap is kind of not taken seriously if you don’t have a certain background, sometimes. I don’t rap about just anything. I have interesting lyrics that I want to express. I think I’m gonna find a balance between rapping and singing so that people aren’t like, "Look at this, That’s So Raven is rapping." I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, you have no idea how hip-hop I am [Laughs]. But that’s where it is right now. We’ll do it the right way and hopefully by the end of next year I’ll have a nice little sound.
Who are you working with?
I’m working with some individuals who are unknown and known like The Interns, I’m working with a producer out of Denmark⎯so many different writers and I’m writing a lot as well.
Who are some other artists in the game that you’re feeling right now?
I’m so bad when it comes to that because I just have not bought anything recently and I’m very happy with it. Verve remixes, Me’Shell Ndegeocello. Thicke, first album, Robyn⎯she’s a really cool Europeon on Interscope; Brazilian girls. I listen to a lot of world music as well. I’m always updating in that area. I think it keeps me thinking and I like music that touches my soul, not just stuff that lasts a hot minute but something that can last me for a while.
Have you heard the new Willow Smith song that everyone is buzzing about?
Please forgive me, no.
She recently signed to Roc Nation. Some people are saying she’s too young at nine but being that you entered the business young what advice do you have for her in her career?
Listen to your parents because they’re beasts in the industry. I have no advice for her—her father is Will Smith and her mother is Jada Pinket-Smith [Laughs]. Enjoy your fun time because I’m sure they’ll make sure you’re okay. Actually, my advice is for her to call me so that I can have her parents’ number so that I could be in one of their movies or like a sister to Jaden [Laughs].
So you weren’t even at the VMAs, huh?
Did you see it?
No. I’m so not pop culture and I get that from my friends. I don’t know what happened. It started going weird, people started hanging themselves on stage. I watch TV Land, Discovery Channel and I listen to soundscapes on DirecTV. I’m a 75-year-old female when it comes to down time. I’m so chill and relaxed and I guess because when I was younger I wasn’t allowed to put up posters of people that I was admiring at that time⎯I was only allowed to watch TV Land and Discovery channel and we had family night where we sat down with a bag of potato chips and pickles and watched A Few Good Men. So I didn’t really get out of that as I got older. I got deeper into it. Right before I came down for this interview I was watching Aretha Franklin talk about the 60s soul funk era. That’s what I do.
As far as your acting career, what’s your dream movie role?
To play Janet Jackson in her life story. She’s really gonna be mad at me. I say her name in every interview. I really am not stalking you. But Janet, I cut my hair too [Laughs]. I also have the dream⎯and this is from left field⎯to be in Hello Dolly! I want to wear the corset.
You’re part of young Hollywood so⎯
I try my best to stay away [Laughs].
I was going to ask you where you fit in because you’re obviously not part of the tabloid crew.
Yeah, I’m a part of young Hollywood in the sense of business. But I don’t really have a lot of friends in the industry that you would know. All of my friends are makeup artists, hair stylists, writers, and people of that nature, and some actors as well but people that I’m friends with that are actors are switching their careers over; they’re more into the writing and producing aspect. I think I do that because they can be more honest and real and I try to stay that way because you can get lost in the hype and I just enjoy them better [because] they’re realistic.
What keeps you grounded.
My friends and my family and the fact that I know that this is a job and it might not last forever. I refuse to do botox so when I get too old I’m gonna move along while a younger prettier girl can take my place as long as I sign her underneath my company and I take 10 percent.
You probably get this question all the time but it’s important, so how do you deal with the pressure to be thin and to look a certain way?
I don’t. I just sit in my house like, “God, again?” I probably have missed out on roles because I was a little thick thick. I probably got roles because I was thick thick. It’s funny because now butt and thighs are in. Thick thick’s in. That’s a shame I stopped eating grits [laughs]. Y’all need to make up your minds. But seriously, before I go into it let me say that there’s a difference between being obese, thick thick, thin and sick. And I think you should always be healthy for who you are. And being a female, I’ll be honest there’s always something that I don’t like. Right now it’s my arms. I love my waist and I love my hips but these arms are killing me. I’m sure [any] woman can tell me anything that’s wrong with her. And then here’s always someone criticizing you. And when you’re in Hollywood it’s 17 times more so that being said, I just have to deal with it and be me and be comfortable in my own skin. And whoever wants to talk about me in the blogs and whoever breaks up with me randomly because they thought I was dating someone or because they wanted to date me, over the comments⎯
The Jussie Smollett fiasco?
I am not dating Jussie Smollet! He is my best friend!
Aw, so no random love child running around either, huh?
You know what, don’t get me started on blogs because my mama reads them and she calls me, “You got a baby?” I’m like, “You are my mama and you would know if I had a baby.” And because I was thick thick, I’ve been pregnant by like three different people. I’m a good girl, so that being said it makes me angry. I don’t do anything. I sit in my house and play video games. I was going through something personally that no one will ever know and I’m not the type of person who stops eating when I’m stressed. I’m from the South, I’m made thick already and I’m happy for it. I like the way my jeans fit. I think it’s interesting when people comment on things like that or start rumors especially without asking me if it’s true or not; they just go willy nilly.
And the Internet, nowadays is like a brush fire. I don’t think people realize that in our generation and in Hollywood right now y’all are the meter of who’s hot or who’s not and you guys are sometimes commenting on things that are very hurtful or sometimes not true and even if they are true they’re sometimes hurtful things. And their mother, their children—even though I don’t have any—could be reading it, their grandparents could be reading it. And how would you feel if somebody talked about your baby like that? We’re human. It’s hurtful. And it’s sad because you can hardly get love from people like that. There’s never any love throughout. It’s always, "Well, her hair is nice but…" What happened to the love?
On a more positive note, name some directors that you want to work with.
Quentin Tarantino. I met him once at a club and he said he watched That’s So Raven. And I was like, “Really, well Quentin, let me tell you, I wrote a whole story in my head. I could be Vivica Fox’s daughter that was alive in Kill Bill.” Actually, my mama thought of that one but I’m totally stealing her idea. But him and Steven Spielberg.
What’s the importance of taking control of your career?
Only you know you. Other people can say they’ve known you forever or they know how you feel but they’re not in your skin so when you have to put your likeness out there, when you have to portray you, who best to make those decisions? But at the same time you have to be smart and know that you hired people that you can trust in to give you the best opinion to make everything work well, so from the shoes I wear to the amount I ask for in a check to my roles, I bounce it off of 10 people and at the end of the day it’s my ultimate decision but sometimes they fight me and sometimes I really want to do it but if majority of them are saying no then I don’t do it. But you always have to stay open minded but always know who you are in yourself.