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Hilary Duff: A Teenage Sensation

originally posted March 20, 2002

These times can best be described as pre-war, post-Britney and perhaps all about 15-year-old Hilary Duff, best known for her title role on the Disney Channel's hit television show "Lizzie Maguire." The diminutive actress/dancer/singer is a force to be reckoned with in the business of profitable popularity - her named is underscored with various achievements including a starring role in the Disney Channel's highest-rated original movie, "Cadet Kelly," and a number one song that enjoys heavy rotation on Radio Disney. Yet, unlike the wave of blonde teenage pop stars preceding her, who strategically created a fusion of down-home innocence with cleavage baring raunchiness, Duff seems perfectly content with just being her age. The urgency in her song lyrics, however, conveys the hunger of a renaissance kid on the path to creating her own franchise even before she can legally get behind the wheel to drive.
This spring, Duff will become a bona fide icon as Frankie Muniz's onscreen private school sweetheart in Agent Cody Banks. For the record, she does wear a schoolgirl's uniform in the movie, but there is no hint of naughtiness behind the plaid curtains. In fact, Duff's ebullient personality and iconic star power with kids in their 'tweens' bear so much resemblance to another former Disney Channel veteran that one can't help but wonder if she is following in the footsteps of the pop princess.

"I think [Britney Spears] is really cool and I think she's been through a lot and I don't like her music too much. I used to be obsessed," Duff says. "I'm a little older now, but I love her. I think she's beautiful and really cool."
Throughout the interview, the perfectly coifed starlet pulls her knee to her chest and sinks down in her seat to hide her flushed face when embarrassed by questions of boys or her ridiculously high level of success. She invariably begins her sentences with a pensive 'umm' and speaks with such a high-pitched tone that she almost chirps. In fact, she hits every visual cue short of batting her long eyelashes to make the roomful of reporters coo with adoration over Duff's unabashed cuteness.

Girls will be Girls
It seems that every celebrity has a story about precocious talent gestating even from inside the womb. For the native Texan, it was no different. Duff was en pointe dancing in the Columbus Ballet Met touring company of "The Nutcracker" at the age of six. This segued into television commercial appearances and her small screen break in 1999 TV movie, "The Soul Collector." A performance, which peaked the interest of Disney executives who, at the time, was looking for a charismatic lead for show about a shy teenage girl and her animated alter ego. With the toss of her hair and a bubbly giggle, "Lizzie Maguire" was born onto the Disney Channel and soon became its number one hit.
"Lizzie Maguire is kinda' shy. [She is] trying to find her way through life … I would say that Lizzie Maguire is kind of really like an insecure person and she's a little younger than me," says Duff comparing the character she plays with her real self.
Truth be told, Duff, in real life, looks older than fifteen years old. Perhaps her poise and eloquence lends to the illusion, but mostly it's the expectation of actors to be much older than the characters they play (like 31-year-old Selma Blair challenging time by playing characters in their teens). Here, Duff is a kid who plays a kid - this versimilitude is actually quite refreshing especially in an industry dominated by "E! Hollywood True Stories" about childhood stars gone wrong. It's a formula of self-destruction that almost anyone is familiar with - young promising talents who experience too much too fast and get left in the ditches of fame. In adulthood, they seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Duff, on the other hand, does not seem to be encumbered with adolescent angst or cynicism. At a comparable age to Duff, Jody Foster raised eyebrows as a teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver and Kirsten Dunst shared her first onscreen kiss with much older Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire. When asked what her dream role would be, Duff does not finger a director she would like to work with or dream of an Oscar-worthy role.
"I think it would be cool to do a movie like How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days. I love that movie. That's something I would like to do when I'm older - something like that because it's so fun," says Duff with a smile.
Even Duff's charmed life, however, has a few bumps in the road. Her slew of number one hits created some negative press about her credibility and talent. When the subject of this controversy surfaced, Duff sighs heavily.
"I have a song out called, 'I Can't Wait' and it was actually on the 'Lizzie Maguire' album that went gold over Christmastime. That was cool because it was a soundtrack, so that was awesome. The song was number one on Radio Disney for like a couple weeks in a row and they kept saying that just because [I am] on the Disney Channel, [the studio] just put it in. And actually it was a really mean article that someone wrote … It's funny that you pick on a kid my age because I'm on the Disney Channel, sorry!" Duff says with a hint of bitterness bubbling to the surface.
Duff takes it all into stride as she explains that her song reached the top position on the rotation list only because fans would call into the radio station or vote online.
Still, life for the young mogul is coming up dollar signs. Duff's stint on "Lizzie Maguire" is coming to an end this season and will lead up to a feature film in May. Recently, Duff also sealed a two-million dollar deal to star and executive produce A Cinderella Story.

Agent Banks' Private School Hottie
In Agent Cody Banks, Duff plays Natalie Conners, the popular daughter of a scientist and the girl who makes Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz) babble like an idiot. Some bad guys manipulate her father's research on nanotechnology to take over the world and she faces the dilemma of falling in love with Banks, being kidnapped and the possibly greater threat of being upstaged by the voluptuous Agent Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon). Don't let all the sugar and spice fool you - Duff's character is the only one to actually kill someone in the movie.
"Isn't that weird? Hello!" she exclaims. "And I didn't even think about it when we were filming. I was just like, `Here' this scene. We're doing this.' And then I saw the movie and I was like, `Dude, I killed someone!' It was really weird, but it was cool! And it was done really tastefully."
Duff learned of the part from Muniz, who was making a guest appearance on "Lizzie Maguire." Despite both their demanding time schedules on their respective TV shows, they were able to find enough time to make Agent Cody Banks happen. There are even whispers of sequel circulating around MGM if the film pulls in the numbers that they are expecting. Will Duff be reprising her role?
"No. I don't think so. I don't know. They never bring the girl back, right?"
For the time being, Duff is basking in the light of all her achievements and upcoming projects with or without a reprisal role on the next installment of Agent Cody Banks.
"I have an album coming out in August or September. It doesn't have a name yet, but I'm trying to figure it our because it's kind of a change - something no one's really ever seen me … like it's kind of different from anything I've ever done before."
Is the theme of the album about alienation and angst? Don't count on it. With a movie and an album coming out at relatively the same time later this year, Duff has nothing but sunshine and smooth sailing to look forward to and remember - this young lady can't wait.

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