Amanda Bynes remains one of Hollywood’s most successful young actresses. A beautiful, confident 21-year old, Bynes’ portrayal of the initially quiet Penny Pingleton whose relationship with asn African American teenager raises eyebrows in the musical film Hairspray is getting raves. Though first introduced to audiences as a teen, funny, fresh-faced Amanda Bynes has displayed a veteran’s knack for comedy.
Likened to a young Lucille Ball or Gilda Radner, Bynes was born and raised in Thousand Oaks, California, and spent her summers at comedy camp, which led to her discovery at age ten by teen-actors-turned-Hollywood producers Brian Robbins and Dan Schneider at a showcase performance at Los Angeles’ Laugh Factory. The producers immediately tapped her as a regular performer on their Nickelodeon youth-skewed sketch comedy series “All That” (1995- ) in 1996.
After her first season on the show, Bynes was nominated for a 1997 Cable Ace Award and subsequently graduated to become the star of her own self-titled Nickelodeon series “The Amanda Show” (1999-2002), a hybrid of sketch comedy and animation in which she played such characters as Judge Trudy, a kid judge who always rules in favor of kids; Miss Elegance, a woman who at first glance appears to be refined and classy until you spend a few minutes with her; and Penelope Taynt, an obsessed admirer of Amanda Bynes.
Bynes’ first feature film role came in 2002 opposite Frankie Muniz in the comedy “Big Fat Liar,” playing the wholesome girl who accompanies Muniz on his quest for revenge against the sleazy Hollywood producer who stole his student paper for a blockbuster movie. Later that year Bynes was tapped to star in her own primetime network series opposite Jennie Garth on the WB sitcom “What I Like About You” (2002- ), playing young Holly Tyler, who’s sent to live with her uptight career woman sister in New York when her father takes a job in Japan. The series focused on Bynes’ flair for broad physical comedy and her more subtle slapstick style and proved to be a reliable ratings grabber.
Her network’s parent company Warner Bros. borrowed her and cast her in “What a Girl Wants” (2003), in which she plays an spirited American teen who travels to London to meet the aristocratic father she’s never known and is plunged into stuffy British high society. Then in the animated feature “Robots” (2005), Bynes was the voice of Piper, a robot who befriends an idealist inventor (voiced by Ewan McGregor) after he arrives to the bustling metropolis, Robot City. Now she sings and dances in Hairspray, and the actress talked 1:1 with Paul Fischer.
Question: One of the things I really liked about you in Hairspray is your metamorphosis and there seemed to be an incredible sexiness about you towards the end of this. Was that something you brought to it yourself
Bynes: Yeah I did think about it because my character, I think out of every character in the film, has the most controversial relationship which is, the jungle fever aspect that at that time was taboo and to this day – I don’t find a taboo, but I know people still sort of thing it’s not natural. I mean I’ve heard from a lot of people but for me I grew up on a Nickelodeon show where it was a mixture of black and white kids and I don’t think anybody thought of it like that. But yeah, I think with my role I started as this innocent girl and then I end up falling in love with ‘the boy of a different race’. I think it’s good for young girls to see me in that relationship so maybe that’ll kind of open their eyes and if anyone ever had an issue it will remind them that it was.
Question: That line that you do, that wonderful line that you sing about ‘I’m now …’
Bynes: ‘Now I’ve tasted chocolate I’m not going back’. That’s a great line. That’s not me, that’s all the writing. I mean it’s like it doesn’t matter who plays it, it’s a great role. It’s such a funny, tongue in cheek kind of great role.
Question: I mean you did start out, in your career of course, as a very young, innocent child when you began in this business and you’ve evolved into a much more confident young, beautiful woman. How has that translated for you in getting different kinds of roles and challenges at this point?
Bynes: Oh, I’m twenty-one? Well I guess I would say it has, and it’s kind of like Penny in a way, where she grows and for Penny it’s in a movie but for me it’s like over my life I have been kind of growing up and it’s fun for me to play different roles and it’s much more fun to do that than play the same character but it’s hard to kind of convince people that ‘Oh I’m twenty-one now’ because I was known for being a young girl for so long. But I’m not going to find it. I’m growing up and people will see.
Question: What kind of things are you trying to get? What are the challenges you face at this time?
Bynes: Well, I don’t really know but I think I just want to see what options I have. Movies are different now than they’ve ever been – the movie world is different. I feel like studios like to make movies ike Borat more because there’s no ego, it’s like just wow. It’s cheap to make and then they do really well. So I feel like the whole movie star aspect is kind of getting blurrier. You know what I mean? Because I feel like sometimes big movie stars don’t necessarily bring good box office anymore. So I think for me, I want to do roles that are different and hopefully challenging.
Question: Do you remember why you wanted to become an actor in the first place?
Bynes: Yeah I think it’s because I loved to perform and I get pure joy out of performing. I just love singing and dancing and I did musicals growing up so being able to come back to it was really satisfying.
Question: How did you have to retrain your voice again? I mean what did you do to maybe accentuate the musical side of you that you haven’t explored in a while?
Bynes: Well, I worked with a couple of music coaches: one in Los Angeles, Eric Vetro, who’s worked with tons of singers who are also actors. And then during the filming we all trained with Elaine Overholt who is a very talented singing coach who worked with all the actors in Chicago and did a bunch of other things. But just like anything else you just have to train and keep going back and practising and practising.
Question: Michelle Pfeiffer was saying that good roles for women are becoming increasingly difficult to find. What do you face as a twenty-one year old woman now in terms of finding characters that are interesting?
Bynes: For me it’s not so much that I’m trying to avoid playing a sexed up role, it’s more about trying to find roles that are different and interesting. So if it’s like a sexed up role, that doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting. So for me I just want to play something that is interesting to watch and interesting to play.
Question: How have your perceptions of acting changed since you started as a kid?
Bynes: I guess I realise more and more that it becomes your life. You have to be willing to change your hair, you have to be willing to fly away and do all that and it’s something that I don’t mind doing because it’s something I love.
Question: Does it affect your personal life?
Bynes: Definitely. If I make a bad decision, it could be potentially in a paper and so you have to all of a sudden become much more careful about the people you trust or the people you bring into your life and the things you do for fun. All that.
Question: There is a generation of actors today who get a hard time because they’re labelled as party girls. We won’t mention who they are …
Bynes: I don’t know who you’re talking about.
Question: How do you avoid making those kinds of mistakes?
Bynes: I think that is a case of a very talented person who is kind of throwing the talent away by not – I don’t know if it’s people around them or what, feeding their ego or what but I feel like for me, you can’t really judge them because you have no idea what’s going on in their life. I guess I watch and learn and think ‘Well I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to do that’, , like make a little checklist of things that I’m going to steer away from.
Question: You had success fairly early on. You could have ventured into that same world of partying and drugs and all that sort of stuff. Do you think it’s a family thing?
Bynes: I think you become your parents in a way That’s not stuff that you’re born with. So I feel like it definitely all boils down to your parents and if you’re not lucky to have solid parents or parents that do bad things then that’s probably why you’ll end up having the same issues as.
Question: Do you know what you’re doing next?
Bynes: Yes, I did a movie called Sydney White which is based on Snow White and the Seven Dorks in college. Sort of all these like dorky guys and I just kind of go in there and ‘Snow White’ them which is kind of like clean them up and give them tips and stuff like that. It’s in college so that one was a lot of fun to make. And then other than that I have options – I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do next.
Question: Well it’s nice to have those options.
Bynes: Yes it is. And you get options from your initial choices that you make and from the life you lead, . I think if you end up doing the things that you were talking about before, it kind of lessens your options which is why I try not to do them.
Question: Is it easy for you to make choices? I mean are you really careful about the choices you make?
Bynes: I am very careful with the choices I make because I see how it can make or break your career.