With her lustrous honey blonde mane and flawless peaches and cream complexion, singing legend Mariah Carey is the Âepitome of glamour. Her soaring alto, ranging effortlessly across five octaves, has made her the most successful female recording artist in the history of pop, with a string of No 1 hits and five Grammy awards behind her.
Yet in Mariah Carey's acclaimed new movie, Precious, the polished nightingale dares to be plain. She strips away all artifice, glitz and glamour to give an unÂadorned performance that is winning her rave reviews and Âmounting Oscar buzz.
Her locks dyed a mousy brown, she appears in the movie with dark circles under her eyes, dry blemished skin and the hint of a dark moustache. Gone are the figure-hugging gowns with plunging necklines and slashed to the thigh; instead she sports rayon sweater-coats as she submerges herself in the role of New York social worker Mrs Weiss and wins audiencesâ€™ hearts - without ever singing a note.
As Mariah enjoys the success of her latest album Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel- and with the second anniversary of her marriage to millionaire TV host, actor and entrepreneur Nick Cannon approaching- the 39-year-old beauty is being courted by Hollywood after her career-making role.
It was a humbling experience. â€œI had to lose all my vanity. I had to change my demeanour, my inside, layers of who I am, to become that woman,â€ she says.
Director Lee Daniels made Mariah add bags under her eyes, a fake moustache, prosthetic nose, pimples on her chin and grey make-up to drain colour from her face. Her breasts were taped flat to eliminate any hint of glamour and she was lit by unforgiving overhead fluorescent lights.
As the â€œmake-underâ€ progressed, Daniels says: â€œI could see her hands shaking.â€
Mariah hardly recognised herself. â€œThey totally changed me,â€ she says. â€œI didnâ€™t want to look in the mirror. It was beyond dressing down because Lee Daniels loved to torture me. He really wanted me to not just look plain, he wanted me to look homely. That was his goal. He wanted a moustache and an under-the-eye thing and the bad hair.
â€œSomebody who does make-up for me said, â€˜This is a Mariah Carey nightmare. You have everything that you hate going on right now.â€™â€
Yet her new persona was strangely liberating. â€œI didnâ€™t have to feel Âcompelled to be always glamorous. With the music Âindustry, itâ€™s very like, â€˜Oh, sheâ€™s got a hair out of place! Go fix it!â€™ And so this was such a liberating experience and yet humiliated me. But I needed that. We all need that. We all need to understand how to be humble and itâ€™s a Âdifficult Âbusiness to do that in.â€
During a recent visit to Britain Mariah had to contend with Âvarious untrue reports that she had made demands including white doves and kittens to Âaccompany her while she switched on a London shopping Âcentreâ€™s Christmas lights.
â€œAside from the fact that Mariah is an animal lover with pets of her own, she would never ask for such things,â€ said a spokeswoman.
GMTV presenter Kate Garraway also had to apologise to the singer after wrongly claiming that Mariah was Âlowered on to the sofa by two helpers. It turned out that Garraway was not in the studio at the time Mariah was interviewed by Lorraine Kelly.
Mariahâ€™s courageous transformation in her new film is not what makes her performance so Âmemorable: it merely allows the audience to forget the polished diva and appreciate her nuanced performance that brings tears to the eyes.
Praising her director, Mariah says: â€œNow I see why he wanted it because people didnâ€™t recognise me and he didnâ€™t want me to take people out of the movie because they were seeing Mariah Carey.â€
Her gamble paid off. Hollywood bible Daily Variety called her Âperformance â€œpitch-perfectâ€ and the New Yorker praised her â€œstern, song-free, compassionate piece of actingâ€.
The movie won the Grand Jury Prize and the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival and she won the Breakthrough ÂPerformance award at the Palm Springs Film Festival, California. Yet Mariah was not the directorâ€™s first choice. Daniels initially wanted Jane Fonda and later cast The Queen star Helen Mirren, who dropped out days before filming was to begin.
â€œIt was daunting to try and fill the shoes of this great Academy Award-winning actress,â€ admits Mariah. â€œBut then I decided to snap myself out of that mindset and figure out what I could bring to the role.â€
Daniels had cast Mariah in his low-budget project Tennessee and had faith in her dramatic skills. â€œShe steps into that Mariah world of make-up and pumps, she becomes something,â€ he says.
â€œItâ€™s a machine that has made her an enormous amount of money. But I wanted to show the person I know she is when weâ€™re alone. One of the smartest, most intuitive women Iâ€™ve ever met.â€
After her physical transforÂmation Daniels admits: â€œI was nervous for her but I felt it was good for her to be out of her Âbubble.â€
Filling the shoes of such iÂllustrious Oscar winners was daunting enough but Mariah also found herself in a film that was the antithesis of Hollywood Âglamour. It centres on the Âexcoriating tale of an obese, Âilliterate urban New York black 16-year-old girl, known as ÂPrecious, abused by her mother and raped by her father, battling to escape the ghetto.
Mariahâ€™s social worker plays a pivotal role in turning her life around. She is at the centre of one of the filmâ€™s most intense scenes, forcing the truth out of the teenâ€™s hateful mother, and says: â€œWe were crying between scenes. It was Âemotional for us.â€
She plunged into the spirit of the film, forsaking her limousine and entourage to travel alone by taxi each day to the Âlocation in Harlem and helping to put on her co-starsâ€™ make-up.
The movie has been a critical and box office hit in America. Accolades for Mariah are flooding in, including talk of a possible Oscar nomination, and her Âcolleagues are full of praise.
â€œI was beyond impressed,â€ says co-star Paula ÂPatton. â€œShe just becomes invisible. The Mariah as an icon, it just fades away as you watch the film. She did an Âincredible job.â€
Author Sapphire, who penned the novel Push that inspired the movie, says: â€œI went to the first screening. The film ended and I remember thinking, â€˜Oh, sheâ€™s not in it. She didnâ€™t make it.â€™ I didnâ€™t recognise her! My agent was Âsitting there with me, and he said, â€˜That was Mariah?â€™â€
The New York chanteuse of Afro-Venezuelan/Irish-American descent, raised by her opera singer mother after her parents split when she was three, confesses that the hellish life endured by Precious hit close to home.
â€œPeople assume they know what my life is but people have no idea. I have known people who have had very similar lives to PreciousSLps deep stuff that I donâ€™t talk about because itâ€™s private. My personal choice is to be as positive as I can. I think thatâ€™s what helps people.
â€œI dreamed huge dreams Âgrowing up,â€ recalls the superstar who was as a beautician and waitress before signing a recording contract.
â€œMy mother used to say, â€˜Donâ€™t say if I make it, say when I make it.â€™ She knew I wanted to do this for a living. A lot of my teachers were like, â€˜Youâ€™ll never make it. Itâ€™s one in a million.â€™ My mother was just always telling everyone, â€˜Mariah is going to be a star.â€™â€
Mariah filmed the movie before marrying Nick Cannon, the host of hit television variety show ÂAmericaâ€™s Got Talent. They have been Âmarried 20 months. â€œHe didnâ€™t know exactly what to expect,â€ she says. â€œBut when he saw me on screen he actually loved it. He was totally into the movie.â€
Despite already winning awards for her role in the film - she will receive the best supporting actress award at the Capri Film Festival next month- Mariah finds it hard to watch herself on screen, Âconfessing: â€œWhen it comes to my scenes, I get like, â€˜Oh, I donâ€™t know if I can look.â€™â€
Suddenly pursued by Hollywood film-makers, Mariah now plans to make further movies, yet has hardly turned her back on music. She recently enjoyed a concert tour of Korea, Japan and Brazil and her latest album has hit Top 10 charts worldwide.
â€œI used to study acting as a little girl,â€ she explains. â€œI was in a lot of different Âtheatre workshops. Now Iâ€™m trying to do my best to be the best actress and the best artist I can be.â€
By Peter Sheridan, Daily Express, UK
Precious will be released in UK cinemas next month. Mariahâ€™s new album, Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel, is out now.