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Beyonce Knowles was born in 1981, the year Dreamgirls premiered on Broadway. At 15, she was encouraged to listen to the soundtrack by her choreographer, a fan of the hit musical.
She did, and it changed her life. Through that musical, a thinly veiled account of the trials and tribulations of '60s girl group The Supremes, she began to understand how three pioneering black singers blazed a trail for acts like her own Destiny's Child to follow.
When word surfaced that the long-running Broadway show was going to become a feature film, Knowles wanted in. She auditioned for the musical and even invited writer-director Bill Condon to see Destiny's Child rehearse before their "final" world tour in 2005.
A top-selling singer, both with Destiny's Child and solo, the Houston native made her acting debut in the 2001 made-for-TV musical Carmen, followed by the hit comedy Austin Powers in Goldmember. Two subsequent movie projects didn't fare as well: the gospel-fueled The Fighting Temptations and The Pink Panther remake. But Knowles gained invaluable experience and remains undaunted in her quest to conquer Hollywood.
The nine-time Grammy winner has her eyes on Hollywood's highest honor. "I'm the type of person that when I start something, I've got to finish it," she explains. "I've already done four movies so I have to win an Oscar. It's very important to me."
She may not have an Oscar statuette in hand yet, but Knowles is getting a lot of buzz for her portrayal of Deena, a shy young singer who emerges as a star in Dreamgirls.
Deena is singled out by promoter Curtis Taylor Jr. (played by Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx), causing disharmony in her group. Eddie Murphy rounds out the cast as flamboyant singer James "Thunder" Early, who gives the Dreams their first break.
While Knowles would have rather played the showier role of Effie, the big-voiced diva, she didn't mind playing second fiddle.
"I didn't care if I played a stepsister or if I was in the movie for five minutes; I had to be part of it because I knew it would be important and it would be a relevant, quality and classic movie," she says.
She put her lucrative singing career on hold, canceling a planned solo tour, to commit to Dreamgirls. "For my screen test, I found the ugliest dress and ugliest wig I could find," she says. "I put these big eyebrows on and they found their Deena."
Knowles was unconcerned that some moviegoers might draw comparisons between the fictional Dreams and Destiny's Child, which has undergone its share of reported strife and personnel changes over the years. Like her on-screen character, Knowles emerged as the lead singer of the group and has since embarked on a successful solo career. That's where the similarities end, she insists.
"Deena grew up in the projects, and she didn't have a father and she wasn't a strong singer," she says. "She's different from me. I've had both of my parents, and I'm in control of my life, and I'm singing lead because of my voice."
With her career in full swing, she feels grounded and happy. "I'm not like most of the celebrities that I meet," she insists. "I'm an exception because my family is with me and I have honesty around me. And most people don't have that."
In preparation for her role, Knowles listened only to Motown music, lost 20 pounds and worked with an acting coach every day for several months. Photos of music idols Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin covered the walls of her trailer. By the time she arrived on set, Knowles felt confident not only in her own character but in the other two female leads as well.
American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson plays the coveted role of Effie and Tony winner Anika Noni Rose plays the naive peacemaker of the group, Lorrell. "When I met them I swore I felt like I'd known them forever because I'd been rehearsing it over and over in my mind," she says. "It probably freaked them out a little bit."
It didn't take long for the actresses to bond and harmonize as singers. "We felt very comfortable and very good with each other from day one," says Rose, who earned a Tony in 2004 for her Broadway performance in the musical Caroline, or Change. Hudson, making her film debut, says everyone was kind to her. Knowles, she says, was "extremely patient."
For all its glitz and energy, Dreamgirls is a commentary on the downside of fame.
"They think that because you have a glittery dress and the eyelashes and all that, everything's happy," Knowles says. "But there's a price for fame and there's something very sad and empty about it. And this movie kind of reveals that."
For Knowles, the price of fame has been loss of privacy, which she guards ferociously. She has been dating rap impresario Jay-Z for several years but won't discuss their relationship. She does reveal that she'd like to marry and start a family someday.Sphere: Related Content