If you don't know Selena Gomez, the former star of Disney's Wizards of Waverly Place and ex-flame of Justin Bieber, you know her type: the child star who makes a deliberate attempt to shed her good-girl image to signal some sort of actor-ly maturation. And so we arrive at Spring Breakers, the Harmony Korine–directed, sexually provocative party flick out this week in which Gomez plays Faith, a quiet, religious girl who goes buck-wild at the beach along with her fellow wide-eyed costars, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine.
Details caught up with Gomez, 20 (pictured above, second from left), as she explained what it's like to act alongside drunks, how she learned to hold a cigarette, and why James Franco can be quite frightening.
DETAILS: So we hear your mom is a diehard Harmony Korine fan? Were you allowed to watch Kids as a child?
SELENA GOMEZ: I definitely wasn't allowed. My mom is into a lot of indie movies, and she knows a lot about underground filmmaking. I just watched it for the first time last year, right before I auditioned [for Spring Breakers].
DETAILS: But you were aware of his sometimes-controversial style of filmmaking?
SELENA GOMEZ: I was very aware. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do the project. Harmony is an interesting director. I read the script, and my mom and I watched all of his movies, and then I watched a couple of his interviews, and then I flew to Nashville and auditioned for him at his house. I think his way of filmmaking is unbelievable. It's weird. It's cool. It's more of a pop-music video.
DETAILS: Had you ever been on a spring-break trip?
SELENA GOMEZ: It's such a part of American culture. There's a spring break where you can go and take a road trip with your friends, and then there's actual spring break, where you can go to Cabo or Florida and just live. Just have fun and let loose. I'd never been on a spring break before we went to Florida [to shoot the film], but when we were there, [people] were actually on real spring break. So we got to experience it for the first time.
DETAILS: Your role as Faith appeared to take you outside your comfort zone as an actress.
SELENA GOMEZ: I think I was more intrigued by that. I auditioned for [Harmony] for about an hour and a half. He said, "Okay, are you prepared to leave your lifestyle a little bit and come on this ride with me?" That was kind of frightening.
DETAILS: Did you worry that people who know you from your Disney past might view this role in a negative light?
SELENA GOMEZ: I totally get it. It's an obvious thing. It's a little shocking. Maybe people aren't really understanding why I did make this decision. But at the end of the day, to be honest, I love what I do. I'm an entertainer. I love acting. I love filmmaking. I'm glad I can get to a place where I can say, "Look, I did the best that I can with this movie." And people may be a little shocked, people may laugh, people may think it's a little weird or whatever, but we made them feel something.
DETAILS: There's an excessive level of partying in the film.
SELENA GOMEZ: That's the point of the story. These girls, they're bad. They have this urge to experience something else, and they take it to the extreme, where there's a fine line between having fun and being in a dangerous situation. Like, have these girls been doing this for a while, or are they doing it just to be rebels?
DETAILS: Some have said the film is voyeuristic and fetishizes the female body.
SELENA GOMEZ: When you're there and you're filming it, this is spring break and there are real people on this set that are hammered and these girls are going for it and having the best time. These situations that were happening with girls taking their tops off or weird settings, it was shocking, but in a way it was controlled. And it applies to the movie, too. These girls start using their sexuality in a way for their infatuation with James' character.
DETAILS: There's a super intense scene where James Franco's character Alien caresses your lips and rubs your face. But you never broke character.
SELENA GOMEZ: I didn't know I was doing that scene until two minutes before we were shooting it. So I didn't know what to expect. He's absolutely terrifying and so good that in a way I wanted to make sure I kept my ground too. I wanted to step up my game for that. And I was terrified. And you could obviously see it on screen. But after we were done, James gave me the biggest hug and I felt so relieved.
DETAILS: The four girls in the film have this twisted, yet emotionally vulnerable connection to one another.
SELENA GOMEZ: The first four weeks was us getting to know each other and having fun and riding scooters. And then James came in and added this frighteningly creepy, charming, weird vibe and it all shifted.
DETAILS: The audience is not exactly sure how to feel when the film ends.
SELENA GOMEZ: That's what I love. I think everything that I've been a part of [in the past] has been a little more geared towards a specific thing. 'Okay, our show's funny.' Or 'This is a romantic comedy.' You're kind of told what to feel. And in this movie you're not. You go in, you watch it, and you have to figure out what the hell's going on. You're going on this journey with everybody.
DETAILS: Do you see this role opening doors for you in Hollywood?
SELENA GOMEZ: That's why I wanted to do it. I've never done anything like this before. I wanted to see how far I could take it and really be thrown into these situations where I could just react. I'm still really new at all of it.
DETAILS: What were your thoughts the first time you watched the film?
SELENA GOMEZ: The first couple times I watched it, it was like "Whoa!" But now it's a little easier.
—Dan Hyman is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him @dshyman.
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