Bandslam's Aly Michalka: 'Society -- If We Let It -- Can Get Ahold of Us and Make Us Become Robots'
You might know Bandslam as that Vanessa Hudgens movie that's coming out on Friday, but it's actually Aly Michalka who's first-billed. That billing suggests the interesting career crossroads Michalka now finds herself at: The 20-year-old has developed a huge following after being groomed by Disney (with starring roles on the channel's movies and series and a band -- formed with younger sister AJ -- on a Disney-owned label), and while her first theatrical role in Bandslam leverages that audience, she'll soon be moving into more grown-up fare with the thriller The Roommate and the provocative comedy Easy A.
Movieline talked to the actress about navigating that transition to adulthood, with guidance from Disney and Rivers Cuomo along the way.
Your band is put out by Hollywood Records, which is owned by Disney. Does the studio ever put pressure on you as far as what you're doing with your career?
I think in the beginning, a little bit. AJ and I are probably one of the most different acts Hollywood has, especially since I don't have a show anymore -- the Disney Channel show that I was on ended when I was sixteen and I'm twenty now, you know? I don't have any contracts or anything like that with Disney, although Hollywood Records happens to be a company that's very much connected with the Disney Channel and Walt Disney.
I think that when we were younger and I was on the channel, they definitely wanted certain things that would help the fanbase go in a certain direction, and I definitely listened to that. Now that we're older and more grown up and we don't have quite the same obligations, we're speaking for ourselves a little bit more, and I think that's a positive thing. I don't think we have that strong of a Disney image, just because I feel like I was there for such a short time! [Laughs] It's so funny, people just automatically think, "Oh, they're these pop girls that kind of play the guitar." But it's pretty much the real deal, and I think people are going to be really surprised by this next record. We're working with artists like Nancy Wilson from Heart, Rivers Cuomo from Weezer...
What's it like to work with Rivers? I've heard he has a very mathematical approach to songwriting.
Rivers is an amazing guy. Yeah, he has a very different approach to songwriting, and I've never written like that before. We talked about a certain incident that made us feel like we were being controlled and how we want to speak our minds, and how our society -- if we let it -- can get ahold of us and make us become robots. We were just talking about it and Rivers was writing down everything we were saying: "OK, so when did you say this part, and what happened when this person said this?" It was like an interview, and from that interview we pulled a bunch of lyrics. It was a trip, it was really cool.
You changed your band's name from Aly & AJ to 78violet. Was that part of trying to assert independence and a new identity?
You know, that was just kind of about a progression: We've always wanted to have a band name. We started our group together when we were twelve and ten, and I'm sure if we'd come up with a band name back then, it would have been so bad, so we just decided, "Aly & AJ," that's us, that's fine, and that's what we went with. We're still those people -- that my name and that's AJ's name -- but at the same time, we want to have an alter ego when we go on stage. There's this part of it when you want to become a different person.
We figured that now was the time; we've been making a lot of changes and our music has changed. Just listening to the record, people are like, "This does not sound like Aly & AJ." People are gonna be like, "This is not this band. This doesn't make sense." So we decided, let's take a chance. Let's see what the fans say and make it official on Twitter. It just kind of happened naturally and the response has been extremely positive. The fans understand that we're growing up and we want to take them on this journey we've started.
Tell me about your audition for Bandslam. You really had to call on your musical side, right?
It was interesting. I went in and I had two songs prepared, and I did one on the piano...and then we did the acting scenes and the audition felt really good. I actually went in right before Vanessa. I had never really done a singing and acting audition in one, so it was exciting when they wanted me to come out to New York and do the callback and sing for the producers. I ended up doing a Pretenders song on the piano and then one of my own songs -- I brought my really tiny, baby amp, so small you could fit it in your purse, and I plugged in my electric guitar and played for them.
Do you and your sister AJ ever go up for the same roles?
Oh yeah, AJ and I go up for the same stuff a lot -- but, you know, it never gets weird. AJ auditioned for Bandslam, which is funny. It just depends on the role and whether you're right for it or not. We're such different actors that I don't know how we'd be competitive.
So what made you right for this role in Bandslam?
Charlotte is a very confident, cool character. She really knows what she wants and she has a strong opinion when it comes to her friends and her family. I think it was a surprise to read a female character who's strong and not shallow. it's hard to find a role these days that isn't just shallow and typical, and Charlotte is definitely different.
Tell me about The Roommate, which is kind of like Single White Female with Leighton Meester and Minka Kelly.
I'm Tracy, I play Minka's best friend in the movie, and I'm kind of the first one that figures out that Leighton is obsessed with Minka. Leighton's character is so jealous of my character because I'm close with Minka and she thinks I'm a party girl and a negative influence, so she ends up threatening me twice.
I'm worried for you. It never goes very well for the first person in a thriller that figures out the psycho is actually a psycho.
I actually don't end up dying! But there is a really scary shower scene I filmed that's a bit like Hitchcock. A few people die in the movie, but I definitely get away.
You're also in Easy A, a Scarlet Letter update set in high school, where Emma Stone decides to make her slutty reputation work for her.
My character is Rhiannon, the best friend to Emma Stone's character, and she's absolutely insane. She cusses all the time, she's out of control, she has no filter. She really wants to be sexually provocative but can never quite pull it off because she has no experience. It's a really funny movie -- Thomas Haden Church is in it, Lisa Kudrow, Patricia Clarkson, Stanely Tucci...it's really funky. It felt like we were making a little indie film because it's so different and off the wall, so I'm really excited that Screen Gems picked it up.
Is it hard for you to convince producers that you could play a wild role like that when you and your sister still have your faces on kids' lunchboxes?
Yeah, but I feel like people are growing with me. The fans I had who were ten are now fifteen, and I feel like if they aren't [old enough for these movies], then they won't go. That's why there's ratings on films. I think that as an actor, you have to break out eventually, and if you do it properly, it can be something that's positive. [Easy A] is mature and is has a lot of strong language in it, but at the end of the day, it has an amazing message. It really teaches you that you don't need to change yourself for people to perceive you in a certain way. You have to be happy with yourself first of all -- that's the most important thing.
I'm sure that's a message that resonates for you -- as someone who grew up in the industry, you must have had lots of people trying to change you into something else. How did you preserve what makes you inherently you in the face of all that?
I think it's speaking up, it's saying what's on my mind and letting people on my team know what it is I'm interested in doing. You really have to have a voice, especially as a female. You've got to be strong-minded and really focus on what your goal is -- you can't be all over the place. It also helps that I have my sister...she always helps me through tough times. We've got each others' backs, and that's important.
I want to make good music and good films and I want to be able to have respect in this business. That's really what it is at the end of the day -- that's all I really want, you know? I want to have respect.