Interview: Mandy Moore from "A Walk to Remember"

"There was no way that I couldn't be involved with it. I had to work on it"

Mandy Moore
Warner Bros.

2002's A Walk to Remember might be over a decade old, but the film is considered a teen romantic drama classic even by young people who were too little to actually see it in theaters. Based on the 1999 novel by The Notebook author Nicolas Sparks, the movie stars singer Mandy Moore as Jamie Sullivan, a naive and plain-dressing teenager who becomes the target of the affections of aimless Landon Carter (Shane West), a teenager who once thought very little of throughout their years growing up together as Landon learns that there is more to Jamie than he ever thought or expected. interviewed Moore, who at the time of the release of A Walk to Remember was also working on her 2003 album, Coverage.

Was acting in films a natural transition for you to make?

To me—it wasn't something that I was looking for. I wasn't looking for a lead role. I had a supporting role in The Princess Diaries and I was figuring that I would continue that run for a little bit and build my confidence. But I was so in love with the book, that when I read the script, there was no way that I couldn't be involved with it. I had to work on it.

Do you have an affinity for this character?

There are similarities between us, but there are a lot of differences. There's a lot that I needed to learn from Jamie—and by playing Jamie—and I think that was my biggest motivation for wanting to do the movie.

What are the differences?

The confidence that she has and the fact that she doesn't let anything get to her. The fact that she's so stereotyped at school and doesn't let people's comments and their impressions of her get to her and make her change herself. That's a kind of confidence that I haven't find yet in my life at 17. I think that a lot of 17-year-olds haven't and that's something that I wanted to learn by playing Jamie.

When you first came out you were stereotyped…

Absolutely. The "blonde pop tart" thing.

Is that what you are trying to learn from this movie? Not to be so upset about that type of thing?

It wasn't about that; it's basically a confidence thing. I'm not comfortable in my own skin yet at 17, and I don't think a lot of teenagers out there are either. That's just something that you learn as you mature and you get older. I was hoping I could learn even a little bit more from Jamie, the fact that she has faith—not necessarily "faith" because I'm secure in what I believe in—but just faith in humanity, relationships, each other and in love.

Do you feel yourself making a conscious effort to separate yourself from Britney and Jessica?

I don't think it's a conscious effort. It's just an ongoing effort to remain yourself. With all the pressures of the industry, and so many people trying to tell you how to dress and wear your hair and this and that—people are constantly throwing their opinions at you—sometimes you can have a weak moment and listen and end up doing the wrong thing, doing something that's completely not yourself.

What do you think separates you from them? What can you offer that they don't?

I don't know if it's something that I can do that they can't. Maybe just the fact that I'm 17 is a difference because it makes a difference in what we are singing about, who we are as people, where we are in our lives, how we dress, and what we look like. We are all different people, bottom line no one in this world is the same just because we all happen to sing pop music.

Is there a degree of healthy competition among you?

I think in the music industry you are in competition with everyone. The main goal is to have as many people around the world hear your music as possible. So, therefore, you are in competition with every single artist that releases material.

Do you write your own music?

Yes, I've been writing my own music.

Do you think that's one of the main differences between you and the others?

I think everyone is starting to get into writing their own music and stuff. But on the past record, I just wrote a couple songs and there will be more in the future, too.

How do people approach you as a blonde and is it different than how they approach you as a brunette?

Yes. Honestly -- and I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing -- but I feel a lot of people skipping over me a little bit more now that I'm a brunette. For some reason, I feel a lot more confident; I feel like I myself stick out a little bit more as a brunette. I feel more like myself; I feel a lot more comfortable. As a blonde, I don't know, it wasn't like a conscious thing like, "Oh, this is how I'm known, this is such the image for the typical girl in the pop genre of music to have this blonde hair." I loved being a blonde but on a whim, I decided to color my hair.

Does being a singer lend itself to acting?

Yes and no. I think that if you are lucky enough to have any bit of success in this industry, windows are going to open. If you are lucky enough to have that success. Some people take advantage of it. It's something that I've had in my heart. Who wouldn't want to do a movie? The acting thing is something that I've had in my heart since I started doing musical theater when I was 10. So to have the opportunity now at 17 to read scripts, and have meetings with directors, and producers, and possible co-stars, is amazing to me. It is something beyond my wildest dreams.

What do you think makes some singers unsuccessful at the transition?

Maybe the fact that the love of acting isn't there. I mean -- it's just like singing. If you really don't have a passion for the music, you are going to crumble. There's too much other stuff that's involved, there's too much hard work, there are things that you really don't take into consideration just thinking, "Oh, I want to be a musician. I want to be an actress." There are so many other elements that go into it and people really don't realize it sometimes and that's how they fall.

In this movie you sing and act. Did you play any particular role in selecting the music for this film?

No, not really. I thought it was appropriate because Jamie is in the church choir. The school play was something that was already written in the script, something that she sang, and that's the moment that Landon really seals the deal that he's starting to fall in love with her. I think I sort of kind of helped with the song a little bit. I'm a huge fan of a Christian rock band called Switchfoot and a girl in my manager's office happened to be friends with them, and went to high school with them, and brought us this particular song, "Only Hope," and we fell in love with it. We used it for the play, and then used their version for the film as well, and on the soundtrack. We used a whole bunch of their other music, as well.

You are playing someone who is more confident and has a more intense love than most people do at your age. Is that a strange place to go for you?

It was a strange place to go. I'm 17 and I'm in my first real relationship and it was weird to compare because I think they are at different levels. I felt so far removed from Jamie's situation and what she was going through -- kind of what was going on in her head. I don't think I could be that strong. I don't think I could be as brave as Jamie was. So there are a lot of elements that go into falling in love and what her whole particular situation was all about. It was hard to get there sometimes, in some of the more difficult things.

Is it hard to balance that first real relationship with the busy career you obviously have?

Yes and no. I think any girl is going to make time for a relationship if they really want it to happen. You know what I mean? It's just all part of being a teenager. If you want it to happen, you're going to make it happen.

Does it help that he is in the business? If he wasn't, he might not be able to understand your schedule.

I don't know if it's that he wouldn't understand my schedule. I'm sure that having a boyfriend who is in the industry, he's obviously more understanding and supportive -- that's a fact. I don't really think that you meet too many people who aren't in the industry. I always told myself I wasn't going to date someone in the industry, the boys are so jaded, and they are this and they are that, and they're womanizers. I guess I found one of the only ones here that's the complete opposite. I don't know if it makes any difference to me. It's not really important what he does with his life, it's more important who he is and how he treats me.

What is it about Orlando, Florida?

People always said there's something in the orange juice (laughing). I'm just this random girl who happened to live in Orlando. I think everyone else was there for the Mickey Mouse Club thing, or the Transcom thing, they are literally right in the same area, the same vicinity. I just lived in Orlando. I grew up there, did all my training there -- like going to musical theater camps and doing community theater around town and stuff like that. I have no idea.

We see a lot of images of you where you are all "glammed up." In this role, you are "cute" but you're not "glammed up." Is that strange?

I loved it. It's so weird, too. I've been reading so many responses on the Internet and people are like, "God, Mandy looks so ugly in this movie." And I'm like, "Cool, I love it!" You know why? I got to come to set every morning and for 2 ½ months I could have the biggest bags under my eyes and they'd still accentuate the under-eye circles. They painted my face pale. They cut my hair and cut bangs and just did all this stuff to me, and I loved it. I got to wear baggy clothes and Keds and mismatched socks. You usually think of doing a movie and the glamour of Hollywood, of walking out of the trailer and feeling beautiful. I just felt okay. I didn't feel ugly; I don't think Jamie was supposed to be ugly. She's just not concerned with everything that most teenagers are.

Why were you enjoying it?

Because I got to relax. I wasn't supposed to be the "Goddess," the star of the movie, the starlet. It was just kind of fun playing the "Plain Jane."

What are you looking for at the moment? Are you developing your music or looking for more film work?

I'm looking at scripts. I want to start recording because music is my life. I've been writing a lot. I want to start recording and doing some demos, maybe next month. I'd love to do an independent film. Honestly, just anything as long as it's a good script and something that I felt as passionately about as I did about A Walk to Remember.

How does the music on your recent album reflect who you were at the time that you recorded that?

I still feel like that album is very much me. I really do, I had such a great time making it. But I'm ready to work on some other stuff too. I'm ready to show people what I'm all about. It may have not been the most commercially successful thing out there, and that only provokes me more to want to go in and work even harder and make music that I'm even more passionate about. I'm really so proud of this movie, and I'm so proud of that album. I just finished the album right before I started filming the movie, and it came out right after I was done filming the movie, so it's still very much in my heart.

Do you want to continue to do wholesome films like this or are you ready to go a totally different direction and just be a wild woman?

(Laughing) I'm not much of a wild woman. I guess the fun of acting is playing someone different from yourself but I like this movie because I think this is a movie that's very needed right now. It's the antithesis to every other teen film—in my opinion—that's out there because it offers a positive story, a positive reflection of what high school is like although you still see the realistic aspects of peer pressure and love. Like I said, I want to do something whether it's a comedy, or an action picture, or an epic, something that I feel really strongly about - the people that I'm going to work with, the script, everything.

Today's teenagers can be very cynical. It can be hard to make them feel sentimental and there's a lot of sentiment in this movie. Is it hard to persuade teenagers to let loose, and to cry?

That's a very good question. I don't know. I don't know if it's going to be hard to get people in there. I hope not. I hope that people are really interested in the movie and are looking for something different. I think that sometimes a lot of movies out there cater to us and consider us to be kind of stupid, like they spell everything out for us. I don't know if it's exactly different in this film but it just offers them—offers me, too—something different. There hasn't really been a movie out in theaters like this in a really long time.

You got to meet Nicholas Sparks and I know you are a big fan. How was that meeting?

I was extremely nervous because the character of Jamie is based loosely on his sister, and the type of person that she would have been at 17, and the kind of person she was at 17. I think she recently passed away, a year or so ago, so it made it even tougher. I was even more intimated. I'm a huge fan of his but at the same time, how weird must have be for an author, a writer, whose book has been so successful—all of his books—to see his words come to life with two people he doesn't know very much? The script has been changed from the book, and I felt, "God, I hope he's happy with everything. I hope I'm doing an okay job." I was very nervous at first but he came by the second day on set and he kind of reassured me. He pulled me aside and said, "I'm really happy. I think you're doing a great job." I could breathe easy for a little bit.

Fans can be a little shaky and nervous when they come up to you. What do you do to calm their nerves?

It's awkward. It's very awkward. If someone cries when they see me it's like, "Why are you crying when you see me?" Obviously if you get to know me for ten minutes, you'd realize I'm the dorkiest person out there. It's very awkward because you don't know what to say to someone. At the same time all you can be is happy and grateful and flattered and honored that they even take the time to come up and say hello to you.

How should they approach you?

Just like anybody else. I love it because you can see the difference between guys and girls. Girls, for the most part, will come up, "Hey, nice to meet you," and give you a hug. Guys will like stand in the background with their boys like, "Yeah, I see you. Yeah, you know." They are just floating around. You see them circle you for about 10 minutes in the mall. Boys are so shy and intimidated to come up and it's like, "Why?"

What about this movie's treatment of death? Did it make you think about it?

It didn't really make me feel about death. I think everybody that worked on this film -- and Shane and Adam Shankman will tell you—it kind of made us reevaluate like, "Wow, I want to be a better person. I want to be like Jamie." I think that was the thing that it kind of helped us feel. It's not a movie about, "And then she dies," which was the greatest part about it. Otherwise I don't think I would have wanted to be involved. I still think that, through the tears, if you happen to get emotional at points in the movie, you still walk out of the theater with a smile on your face because it ends on a positive note.

Do you make lists like Jamie does?

I started making a list. Not writing it down actually, but in my mind. I want to go to college to study journalism, I want to speak French fluently, to travel. My mom was a journalist and it's in my blood. I think it made me think about wanting to do that in general, like speeding it up. Like, "Alright Mandy, I know you're 17 and you have your whole life but maybe you can start planning now about what you want to do."

How many of those have you checked off?

I'm still working on it. I mean we just wrapped the movie a couple of months ago. I'm a senior in high school so as soon as I get out of high school, I'm going to start college through correspondence the way that I'm doing high school right now. I'll work on the French. I'm going to work on it; it's such a beautiful language. And the traveling around thing, my goodness, it still depends on how people receive the music. Being able to travel around and perform in different countries and stuff.

What message would you most like teenage girls to get from this movie?

I think, and guys too, a lot of my friends who have read the book and are excited—guy friends—about the movie are like, "Mandy, I want to find my Jamie. You have to help me find my Jamie. You have to tell me that she's out there." So I want guys to walk out maybe thinking that, too. Faith, in general—it doesn't have to be faith in God, or faith in any organized religion. Just like I said, in mankind, in each other, in relationships, just everything that's really special to you. I want people to walk out believing that there's hope.