Born in Atlanta, Ga. on Dec. 10, 1985, Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman got an early start in showbiz when she was signed by the Ford Modeling Agency while she was still in diapers. After appearing in TV ads for everything from Cool Whip to Jello, she was invited to join the cast of “The Cosby Show.” She’s best known for the Emmy-nominated comedy series “That’s So Raven” on the Disney Channel where she played the title character Raven Baxter, a teenager who periodically has psychic visions of the future.
On the big screen, she was last seen starring in “College Road Trip” opposite Martin Lawrence where she played an overachieving high school student who decides to travel around the country to choose the perfect university to attend. Raven’s other film credits include “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” “Dr. Dolittle” and “Dr. Dolittle 2.”
As for her musical career, she has released four solo albums so far, most recently “Raven-Symoné” on Hollywood Records. An innovative entrepreneur, she created a “how to” online destination for teens and ‘tweens, RavenSymonePresents.com. The site features an easy to use video player and playlist where users can discover new content. The video clips feature Raven-Symoné personally demonstrating an array of useful tips and project ideas for her fans and supporters.
Furthermore, Raven-Symoné devotes much of her free time to her humanitarian concerns, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which fulfills the dreams of children with life-threatening medical conditions. She’s involved with Girls Incorporated, too, a national nonprofit youth organization dedicated to inspiring young females to be strong, smart, and bold by providing vital educational programs, particularly in high-risk, under served areas. Additionally, she is involved with the Aviva Family and Children’s Services, an organization that provides life-saving and life-affirming support to thousands of children and families located in Los Angeles.
How’d you enjoy playing Iridessa again in “Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue?”
I love playing Iridessa. I’ve been playing her since I was 18 years old, and it just gets better each time.
How much of Iridessa is so Raven?
[Laughs] How much of Iridessa is so Raven? Well, Iridessa is the kind of girl who makes sure that all the t’s are crossed and all the i’s are dotted but, at the same time, she would help a friend in need. She has a couple of traits like mine, but while I’m very adventurous, I’m mostly the type of girl who doesn’t want to get into trouble. So, what normally happens is I’m the instigator. I’ll tell a friend, “Go see what’s around that corner,” while I stay behind and watch out. I’m more like that, but I think there’s a little bit of me in every character I portray. I think of myself as very nice and very loyal when it comes to my friends, so those are qualities Iridessa and I have in common.
How challenging is it doing an animated character? I assume you were all alone in a sound studio with no one to act opposite.
That’s the interesting thing about voiceovers. Usually, there’s no one in the room with you but the writer, the director and an engineer. And then, it’s up to the animators and the editors later to make it all seem very natural, as if the cast members were friends forever and had all been recorded simultaneously.
How hard is not having other actors to play against?
The director will usually read the other actors’ lines to you. But the cool thing is that you can make any kind of wild gestures and exaggerated facial expressions you want, which is good, because the more you contort your body, the more emotion you generally get out of your voice. I’m also able to repeat each line of dialogue up to a half-dozen times, trying different inflections, if necessary.
I see that the next installment of Tinker Bell is already slated to be released in September of 2011. How long do you think the franchise can continue?
For a really, really long time, I hope, because I think it’s a wonderful DVD series to collect. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the Disney vault, and the longer it’s extended, the more I may be able to be a part of that history.
What would you say is the message of this installment of Tinker Bell?
It’s loyalty, friendship, caring and understanding on both sides, the fairies and friends’ side, and the family’s side. In the story, Tinker Bell meets a human for the first time, and the little girl’s father doesn’t believe his daughter when she tells him that fairies exist. In real life, we tend to doubt a child who says something like that, and part of the message here is that imagination is something we shouldn’t kill in kids at such a young age.
Larry Greenberg says, “I’m a fan. I’m 40 and I love watching “That’s So Raven.” He wants to know whether you think fairies will invade the entertainment world the way that vampires and werewolves have?
You know what, Larry. You’re 40. I don’t need you to tell anybody that you’re watching “That’s So Raven.” [Laughs] No, I really appreciate your support, sir. The cool thing about fairies is that it’s not really a fad because Tinker Bell was one of the first characters created by Disney. The fairy and princess worlds have never gone out of style. They’ll always be there, given that there will always be kids in kindergarten, and little girls who want to be princesses. So, I don’t see fairies as a fad, but as a staple of our entertainment world.
With so many career options — singing, acting, producing — which part of the business do you enjoy most?
I enjoy the outcome of each project. After each one is done, I love learning from kids, teenagers and adults, how it might have connected with their lives. Whether it’s helping them deal with a relationship with their father — “College Road Trip,” getting through those difficult years in high school — “That’s So Raven,” or overcoming weight or beauty issues, I love when my work resonates with someone in a meaningful way, because that’s what I do it for.
Author Irene Smalls says she’s observed that you have never been typecast as the “black girl” in any of the roles you’ve played. She wants to know how you avoided being narrowly typecast?
Well, I try not to pick roles that separate my color from the story itself. Does that make sense?
So, when I do pick a role, I’m just a human being. I don’t think it’s necessary to over-exaggerate the fact that I’m an African American. I’m a human first. Just thank God that in the roles for which I’ve been picked, it’s not about the color. It’s about the story. And hopefully, that story is so universal that it will connect with everyone, including an alien. I don’t really want it to be that serious of a situation. Underlining it, I know I’m African American, and I’m proud of that. And I think it’s very important that more of us be cast to tell normal stories. But I try to not stress over it.
Attorney Bernadette Beekman says that she loves you and loves watching Raven re-runs. She goes on to say, “I love that she shows good home training.”
[Giggles] Bernadette must be from the South.
No, she’s from New York. Her question is, “How many times a week do people still recognize you as the little kid from The Cosby Show?”
Every day. And if it ever stopped, I’d be really scared.
Bernadette also wants to know, if you were to mentor a 13-year-old girl trying to follow in your footsteps, what would be your most important piece of advice for her?
To understand that this is the entertainment business. It’s a business, not real life. Performers are trying to make money. When they go home, they probably behave totally differently from how they do on TV and from what you read about them in magazines. I would mentor her to be smart and business-minded, if she wanted to be in the industry. But I probably would be happier if she didn’t want to enter show business at all, because there are so many other fields where smart females are urgently needed where they can make a critical, socially-significant impact than by doing anything entertainment has to offer.
You played a clairvoyant in your Raven role. Have you ever sensed that ability in yourself in real life?”
Yes, I have. I don’t really like to talk about it too much because it’s a little personal for me. But I’m a very spiritual person, and I believe that there are amazing special gifts that people are blessed with. It just depends on whether you want to listen or not.
What is your advice for aspiring actresses who want to enjoy longevity?
Make it about the business, and not about your personal life. Understand that it can end at any moment, take it one day at a time, and have fun.
A lot of child stars find it difficult to live and grow up in a fish bowl. How did you avoid all the craziness and stay so grounded?
I grew up in Atlanta, Ga. I went to public school. I failed algebra and had to go to summer school. My parents, for a reason I won’t divulge, put me on punishment for a year. So, I had a normal life my entire childhood. I only moved to Los Angeles at 15. My mom evaluated me psychologically at 21, declared me semi-sane, and let me start handling my own business.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
I see a female that’s in a dream world.
If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
That people would tell the truth, and stop lying to ourselves.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Last week. [Laughs] I have a horrible memory. Actually, my earliest childhood memory would have to be my first day of kindergarten. I remember what my hair looked like, and I think that’s why I was so happy. We didn’t have that much money, so my mother braided it with newspapers and curled it up the night before. I wore this black outfit, and both my parents and my tutor from The Cosby Show came with me to school that morning.
Have you ever wished you could have your anonymity back?
I have my anonymity. That’s the cool thing. There’s a part of me that people will never know. And I love that. I even named that person. Raven-Symoné is pretty much my alter ego. It feels good to have the real me that’s not scrutinized and questioned.
Why do you love doing what you do?
Because I can make people smile, and I get to act crazy on TV. That’s fun!
First, what do you want your legacy to be, and where are you in relation to that at this point in your career?
That she always told the truth, that she did a wonderful catalogue of family entertainment — and that she tried her best to be respectful. As far as my progress toward this legacy, well, I’ve spent 23 years of my life in this industry, and I’ve tried to do things that way only about 20 percent of the time.
How introspective are you?
I’m introspective every day, every moment of the day. I’m a very spiritual person. Every day I look within myself, because that’s where I get my strength from. If you don’t look within, I don’t see how you can survive in this world, because it wasn’t made for the weak-minded.
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