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Celebrity Interviews
featured interview
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We love you, Hayden Panettiere

By Fred Topel
July 2009

It’s taken Hayden Panettiere three years to graduate high school on TV’s Heroes and even longer to graduate from teenage film roles. Perhaps her latest film, I Love You, Beth Cooper marks her official graduation. She plays a high school graduate facing the shocking declaration of the film’s title.

“It’s kind of like a metaphor,” Panettiere said. “Even though specifically I haven’t gone through exactly what she’s going through, it still stems from these insecurities and not believing in yourself. I think we all have our own insecurities and I know I have plenty.”

When a high school valedictorian tells his longtime crush his true feelings, in the middle of his graduation speech, she ends up spending the night on a comic misadventure with him. Throughout the evening, she reveals her true colors, from reckless drunk driving to sensitive emotional insecurity.

Even though she is a celebrity icon, Panettiere admits she shares Beth’s insecurities. She has her own body image issues when she sees her pictures in magazines, although she had the courage to film a locker room scene in the movie. Though it was tastefully shot from behind, Panettiere went all the way on set.

“It didn’t bother me. I think when the person who is doing it gets all uncomfortable and shy then it’s the other people around who get more uncomfortable because they’re uncomfortable but I was fine, everyone was really professional. If I can’t flaunt it at 20, come on! I mean I might as well show it now! No, just on set, just on set.”

Heroes definitely shot Panettiere to the next level. When everyone was saying, “Save the cheerleader, save the world,” they were talking about her. She had been throughout childhood in films like Remember the Titans and shows like Ally McBeal and Malcolm in the Middle. It’s only the fame part that’s new.

“I don’t think you can ever prepare yourself for it. There’s no amount of preparation, no amount of anyone telling you, ‘Oh, keep your head on straight!’ I was a really really lucky because I was fortunate enough to have a great family, great upbringing, and I think I was really fortunate to have gotten to this point of ‘celebrity,’ I hate that word, but being in the public eye and the age I did. I think if I was older and if I was on my own and on my own terms and wasn’t as receptive to people telling me, ‘No, that’s not okay’ and still didn’t have parents that I had to listen to, I don’t know if it would have gone quite as smoothly.”

We’ve all seen grown up celebrities who don’t know how to behave. Imagine being a teenager and suddenly getting your every whim fulfilled by an entourage of agents, assistants and hangers on. “You get to the point where you’re on your own for a certain period of time, and no one’s told me what to do for a couple years now, but at 16 years old I still had parents who said no, still had parents that said, ‘You’re going to be home at this time’ still lived at home, still had the ability to hear, ‘No’ and knew that I needed to listen.”

Panettiere wasn’t alone in this celebrity journey either. All of the Heroes principals felt it at the same time. “I also was fortunate enough to come to this place with a group of really, really grounded strong people which were my cast, because if I had gone there by myself - whether it had been a film and I had hit that level of success by myself without these older people that I really looked up to, I got to see how they handled it, how they interacted with people and just the way they dealt with it - I’d like to think it would have gone the same, but it really was great to have people to look up to.”

Also, remember, it’s about the acting. The three years of Heroes, going on four, is the longest time Panettiere has spent with any character she’s played. Then she still gets to discover new ones in movies like I Love You, Beth Cooper.

“It’s all different. It’s movies, it’s film, television and theater. There are great aspects and bad aspects of both. Movies are great because you get to play all these different characters, you never get tired of one thing and you get travel and it’s a much bigger world. TV I’ve gotten to spend almost four years in a character and really gotten to know her and develop her myself and grew up with her in the beginning. Yeah, I’m excited to do other things, but I also do love what I do. Then theatre is great because you have the same layout every single night doing it but you get to perfect and live with it every single time and try to make it fresh and new every time.”

She still loves it all, even though the fame part gets in the way of acting sometimes. “I would not put myself in this if I didn’t. I mean, the can’t walk down the street to get a cup of coffee without 5-10 cameras in your face, it really is a very invasive industry. The line between your work and work and play is so blurred if not nonexistent that it’s tough. I’m not going to lie, it makes it hard to live, and I’m not sitting there going, ‘Oh, woe is me, my life is terrible’ but people get this idea in their head that what we do isn’t hard and it is. It’s work and do I want to get up every morning and go to set?  No, there are sometimes I’m like, ‘I don’t want to go to work today,’ but I love what I do. I just love everything. I love creating characters and I love doing it all and I’m just excited to see what my career will be.”

There are plenty of leading ladies Panettiere can look up to also, women who have weathered the fame storm to produce a respectable body of work. “I have a lot of people that I look up to as an actor, like Meryl Streep is obviously one of if not the best actor of all time.  I think she’s brilliant. I mean there’s a million, there’s a million people and I think in my position, the people I wind up looking up to now are people who have their sh*t together, people who know who they are and are confident in who they are, people who I look up to personality wise, and go, ‘Gosh I just want to be like you because you’re so likable and you’re so smart and you’re so together and so with it.’ Everyone has their flaws but it’s more of the genuinely cool people that I look up to and go, ‘Oh wow’.”

I Love You Beth Cooper starts July 10. Heroes returns in September.

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