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Africa now, stardom next for Bella Thorne

Matt Pais interviews 'Blended' star Bella Thorne

(Hilary Higgins/RedEye )
May 21, 2014|Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye movie critic

Much must be said about the new Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy “Blended,” but we’ll save that for the review.

For now, it’s worth noting that the movie (opening Friday) is the first major big-screen role for 16-year-old Bella Thorne, who later this year also will release her debut album (“Call it Whatever,” due June 24) and debut novel (“Autumn Falls,” the first of a trilogy, out Nov. 11). That’s in addition to appearing alongside Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner (“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”) and starring in at least four other movies on the way.

If that’s not the sign of a soon-to-be big star, I don’t know what is.

Thorne’s not coming out of nowhere: She starred in Disney’s Chicago-set musical sitcom “Shake It Up” and has been featured in a Neutrogena campaign with big names like Garner, Kerry Washington and Hayden Panettiere. Thorne has more than 5 million Twitter followers and is already appearing in Us Weekly fashion spreads between Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o.

Basically, this girl’s already bigger than an Adam Sandler movie, yet you can’t begrudge her for taking the role of Hilary. Sandler, the movie’s star and uncredited co-writer whose daughters are big Thorne fans (Bellarinas, officially), always had the part in mind for her. In the film, widower Jim (Sandler) and divorced Lauren (Barrymore) can’t stand each other but—for reasons not worth getting into—take their kids to the same South African resort. Jim treats his three daughters like boys, giving them tomboy haircuts, all-tracksuit wardrobes and encouraging Hilary, whom he calls “Larry,” to bulk up and focus on basketball.

In reality, of course, Thorne looks the opposite of a tomboy, and you could argue a questionable message to a character arc about a girl being constantly judged for her appearance until she can get a makeover, attract a guy and shed her hobby. Lying under a blanket and Leaning against a member of her team on a couch at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Thorne recalled working in Africa and defended Hilary’s story.

When you found out that you would be going to Africa for “Blended,” what went through your mind?
“Oh my God. I’m going to Africa. For two months. How’s that going to be?” Literally. Those exact sentences went through my mind.

Was that excitement, nerves or fear?
I think it was a lot of almost confusion. Like, “Wow, I’m going to Africa. For two months. I don’t know any of these cast members. I’m [going] with Adam and Drew, who are hilarious comedians. What if they don’t like me?!”

Why would you think that?
I don’t know. You don’t know what kind of set you’re walking onto. There’s a lot of sets where the vibe and the energy just isn’t what you expected, but luckily on this set I got pretty lucky.

Did you have to learn anything about Africa before you went? Or get vaccinations?
No, because where we went there was no malaria or anything like that. So we were in a safe part.

I read there was a strict protocol on set as far as keeping windows closed and other things you could and couldn’t do.
In the hotel, the baboons and the monkeys, they come in your room and they knock over all the sugar and they eat it, and they drank all the Red Bull and they rip your pillow cases and they throw it everywhere, and you have to pay for all of it.

The baboons don’t open their wallets and say, “Sorry”?
[Laughs.] You have to pay for it, which is really just sucky. A lot of people accidentally get locked out. They were always getting locked out with the baboons.

You tell that story so matter-of-factly. Most people would be freaking out.
No. Pretty [much] sucks, but it’s OK. Just gotta lock your door.

And you were told monkeys would eat your dog if you brought it?
Yeah, there’s been a lot of times where monkeys will see people with dogs, and they rip them apart limb by limb.

And you were actually bitten on set.
Yes, I was bitten by one of the cub lions. I didn’t get a disease. Maybe I should get checked out, though.

This was what, a year ago?

Hopefully you’re fine.
I mean, sometimes a lot of things travel through the spine and take four years to come, so you never know.

Well, I hope you’re OK.
[Laughs] I also had a tick in a very awkward place in my inner, upper thigh. It was awful. I had a TICK burrowed under my skin! And I had no idea what it was.

That doesn’t sound fun.
That wasn’t fun because then my mom started crying. She thought I was going to get tick-bite fever. You can go into a coma.

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