That’s so <i>not</i> Raven
Raven-Symoné, the adorable moppet of “The Cosby Show” who years later became a squeaky-clean fixture on the Disney Channel, is so not that Raven anymore.
In one scene on her new ABC Family show, “State of Georgia,” Raven-Symoné’s character, aspiring actress Georgia Chamberlain, tries to seduce an obnoxious casting director into letting her audition for the devil/vamp role of Lola in “Damn Yankees.” At one point, she presents him with a fried chicken dinner, even making suggestive jokes about breasts. When the director resists, Raven-Symoné, dressed in a sexy red blouse, black mini and high heels, unveils more cleavage.
The moment from the show, which premiered Wednesday , is a long way from “That’s So Raven,” one of the longest-running series on the Disney Channel, which wrapped production in 2006. The new, more mature, but still comedic, role marks her most visible return to television in recent years and follows a string of stumbles, including a low-selling album, the lukewarmly received 2008 film “College Road Trip” and an aborted stadium concert tour where everyone was supposed to attend in their pajamas.
At age 25, Raven-Symoné looks strikingly different — the young adult whose weight and voluptuous body were a constant talking point recently lost 40 pounds.
“This represents a new chapter in a new life,” the actress said matter-of-factly in the booth of a downtown Los Angeles cafeteria. “Hopefully, people will see how I’ve grown over the years.”
Raven-Symoné said she feels more in control of her career and her life after an almost nonstop show business treadmill that took off when she was 5 with her featured role on “The Cosby Show.”
“Everybody takes breaks, and I decided to take mine,” she said. “I wanted a chance to wake up at two in the afternoon and not be a subject of entertainment. I wanted to be a human being. At certain times and certain years, I felt like the Energizer bunny. That gets old very quickly.”
But while she is more content and at peace, the actress remains an elusive and guarded personality whose politeness during an interview is sometimes punctuated by terse responses. The actress said she had been up since 3 a.m. doing interviews for a satellite press tour.
One obvious point of irritation was her physical transformation.
“I lost the weight by accident,” she said bluntly, declining to elaborate. “When I’m asked about it, I just say I lost weight, and then I say I want to focus on the show. I feel and look the same. I was fine with being asked about it in the beginning, but after the first month, it got old. It’s about being myself and being healthy. People are too focused on it. I gave one interview about how I lost it, and once that’s out, I won’t address it anymore.”
She also bristled when questioned about “College Road Trip.” It performed better at the box office, she said, than the 2009 concert movie starring her Disney Channel mates the Jonas Brothers. As for her pajama party concert tour, she noted that it transitioned from large venues to county fairs and that it was very successful.
“I was very satisfied with myself,” she added. “I touched the people I was supposed to touch.”
Raven-Symoné, who is virtually invisible on websites such as TMZ that follow the exploits of young Hollywood-ites, won’t reflect on her peers: “I don’t keep up with that kind of thing.” As for her life during those low-key years, Raven-Symoné said that’s her business.
“I’ll talk about it when I’m ready,” she said. “If it comes out at all, it may be in my music. Or I’ll write a book when I’m 40. I’m not someone who wants to have their personal life overwhelm their work.”
Later, she added: “I don’t think I was wired for Hollywood. I’m not a goody-two-shoes, but I’m respectful of my family name.”
But it’s her image and on-screen charisma that has ABC Family executives excited about “State of Georgia.” In the comedy, she plays an actress who leaves the South to become a big star in New York City. The show is being paired with “Melissa & Joey,” another comedy with former tween stars Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence.
“There are so few actors these days who have grown up doing comedy,” said Kate Juergens, executive vice president of original series programming and development for ABC Family. “Raven’s growing up in comedy is almost an anomaly. She is really inventive with her comedy, and we feel lucky to have someone who knows how to find the funny.”
The actress is also confronting the challenges faced by other young stars who have trouble transitioning to more mature roles, such as Hilary Duff and Amanda Bynes. But one child star expert said Raven-Symoné may be able to overcome such obstacles.
“Stars on ABC Family like Melissa Joan Hart and Molly Ringwald have had success on this network, which has a demo of young women who grew up with them,” said Joal Ryan, author of “Former Child Stars: The Story of America’s Least Wanted.” “All these actresses have a lot of good will with the audience. They want to see them do well. If the vehicle is right, it makes the challenge much easier.”
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