Beyonce Knowles for “The Pink Panther”

Beyonce Knowles is quite the luminous presence. Accompanied by the hefty bodyguard she nicknames ‘Shorty’, the alluring singer superstar is appropriately donned in a shimmering pink, Camari dress and draped in a collage of rubies, and pink diamonds. “When I found out I was doing Pink Panther a year ago, I said that I need me some pink diamonds so I wore them today, but I do have to give them all back,” she says, with a slight smile.

Knowles, who has seen her own musical career skyrocket of late, is now busily forging ahead with an acting career, first as an international singer suspected of theft and murder in the farcical new comedy The Pink Panther, and the actress will be seen later this year in the much anticipated Dreamgirls. Knowles, who arrives at interviews flanked by a large bodyguard nicknamed ‘Shorty’, is a striking presence, yet emerges as quiet and almost shy. But the singer says that she is less shy than she used to be. “I don’t say I’m shy any more, but rather kind of quiet and calm, while I observe. I guess I can come out of my shell when I’m on the stage and now I’m learning in films that I can do the same thing with different characters.” These days, the gently spoken performer faces increasing challenges of balancing her busy professional and personal life. “It’s hard but I just have to really be passionate about whatever I do and I’ve made it work by slowing down a lot. I told everybody that after the movie Dream Girls, I’m not doing anything for six months. Don’t ask me, because I’m not performing, even though there are certain things I have to do.”

Those ‘certain things’ include hitting the road promoting The Pink Panther, in which she stars opposite the legendary Steve Martin. “That’s cool, because I love the movie,” she says. Initially reluctant to play another international singer/superstar on screen, director Shawn Levy, with whom she had worked on a television show as a teenager, convinced her to take on the role in the comedy. “Then he told me both Kevin Kline and Steve Martin were gonna be part of it, and that’s it, I gotta do it. I’d told myself I would always work with the best people I can learn from and it only took me three weeks to film this movie, two weeks in New York and one in Paris. I had a great time, laughed the whole time on the set and I’m happy I’m in it.”

Asked what in fact she DID learn from this experience, Knowles admitted that watching Steve Martin work was the best learning experience she could have hoped for, “because he is so professional, so serious and he’s been doing it for a long time which you can just see in his mannerisms. In between takes, he goes from being this wacky, unbelievable character to becoming Steve Martin, working with the director, changing things, writing and scripting. I’m a songwriter and a performer, so I respect that, and hopefully one day, I’ll do that, but I’ve never worked with a person who wrote the script and is starring in the movie.”

As fond as she is of Pink Panther, her voice trembles with greater intensity when talking up the screen version of the Broadway hit musical, Dreamgirls, in which she plays Deena, in a cast that also includes Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx. “I’m so excited about it that I can’t even talk, because my voice just starts shaking because I’m so happy,” Knowles says, laughingly. “I’ve been hearing about Dreamgirls since I was 15, even though I’d never seen it because I was born the year it was on,” adding that her obsession with Deena has been a part of her since adolescence. “At first they weren’t sure if I could play the part because I haven’t done anything like it on film, but I knew I could do it.” Knowles relished the chance of playing a character “with range, who is 16 at the beginning ending up 36. I also have dramatic and emotional scenes so I’m excited because people are going to see me act for the first time.”

The film tells of a trio of black singers in the 60s, and so inevitably the question arises as to whether there is much of Deena inherent in the performer. “No, Deena is not me, but I have a lot of similarities – just in I started out in a group, I’m very ambitious, and there was something about me since a little girl that was just different.” Knowles says the time was right to prove she could take on a character with depth. “Every movie I do I learn a little bit more, from going on auditions, not getting some movies, getting some movies, and having more life experiences. Taking a couple of acting classes I realized I am an actor and I can really do this right,” Knowles insists. And like Deena, Knowles says that she remains ferociously ambitious, despite her extraordinary success. “I think it’s very ambitious even for me to start acting because I didn’t need to. I just want to challenge myself and learn. I admire people like Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross who took that risk and are really good at it.”

But music is still what exemplifies Beyonce, and her Destiny’s Child days remain part and parcel of who she is. Though the famous trio ended their final tour, Destiny’s Child will be performing at the Grammy’s for one last time. Knowles admits that the decision for her to go solo remains her hardest decision to date “because it’s easy to stay in a group and hard to leave a group when you love each other and there’s nothing going on. It’s easy when you hate each other and you can’t stand to be in the same room, but when you still share dressing rooms and a tour bus, still love each other and still take that risk even when you don’t have to because you’re still selling records. We’re still successful and I took that risk and it was very scary.”

Knowles faced those fears head on and now remains one of the music industry’s most powerful and popular forces, and it seems that there’s nothing stopping her.