NEW YORK — Lee Daniels had so much faith in Mariah Carey’s acting that when the director’s first choice to play a dowdy, no-nonsense social worker — Oscar-winner Helen Mirren — backed out, he quickly asked Carey to step in.
But Daniels was well aware that in hiring Mariah Carey, the actress, he was also likely to get Mariah Carey, the diva — a high-maintenance sideshow that would include an entourage of makeup artists, assistants, publicists and other hangers-on, running counter to the energy he wanted the superstar to exude in his searing drama Precious. He had cast her as the lead in last year’s film Tennessee.
So, as he gave her the role, he also issued a warning: Leave the diva act at home.
“If you come with a strip of makeup on,” he recalls telling her, “I will have a backup (actress).”
Carey — who famously flopped in her movie debut Glitter in 2001 — may have finally proven to critics that formidable talent extends to more than just her voice. She’s garnered high praise for her turn in the film, which is being released nationwide on Nov. 6.
But more importantly for Carey, the role helped her shed some of the insecurities that not only hindered her in acting, but in her life.
“That was such a freeing experience for me,” Carey said. “By making me look so bad he brought out the ability to never be self-conscious again, and that was a gift that he gave me.”
After years of striving to reach an ideal — from her personal life to her music career — Carey, 39, is embracing life’s imperfections, an attitude summed up by the title of her latest album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel.
Producer Tricky, responsible for hits like Rihanna’s Grammy-winning Umbrella, was one of the writers and producers of Memoirs of an Imperfect. Tricky says Carey “is kind of letting people know, I’m not this perfect angel.”
But Carey herself points to a something else that shows her new outlook — the fact that she’s dropped of one of her most infamous diva demands, that she only be photographed on her right side.
Part of the change is actor and producer Nick Cannon. The pair married after dating a little over a month: It was a union few took seriously at first.
That’s in part because of the 12-year age gap between them (Cannon is 27), but also because they seemed to come from two different worlds. Cannon was seen as a teen star thanks to his Nickelodeon vehicles; Carey is a Grammy-winning superstar.