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Cher a natural diva in 'Burlesque'

Pop diva Cher has returned to the big screen after a seven-year gap, showing her talents in the musical "Burlesque," - and helping Christina Aguilera make her feature film debut.

And the well-preserved singer-actress makes no bones about why she did the movie.

"I accepted this role because I was begged to do it," the 64-year-old said on the eve of the film's opening for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the US.

"Most of the girls were half my age, beautiful, talented, and a blast to work with," she told reporters gathered with some of the film's actors in Beverly Hills.

Dressed in black and sipping soda, a relaxed Cher cracked jokes alongside actor Stanley Tucci, while 29-year-old Aguilera appeared more cautious, wearing heavy make-up and with pet dog "Stinky" in her arms.

Cher's talents were praised by her co-stars including Aguilera, who has separated from her husband of five years Jordan Bratman and said Cher has counseled her.

"She gave me so much advice, both personally and professionally. She didn't even have to open her mouth. She is just such an incredible presence and person," said the four-time Grammy winner.

Aguilera plays a small-town girl who wants to make it big in Hollywood where she falls under the guidance of Cher, a burlesque club owner. Aguilera also wrote and recorded four new songs for the musical's soundtrack.

Describing Cher as her movie mentor, Aguilera said she has "been there and done everything before any of us came along. I admire and respect that truly."

Cher and Tucci - who plays Cher's stage manager and gay boyfriend - acknowledged their huge popularity among the gay community. But mockingly defending her diva status, Cher asked Tucci: "You have a gay fan base too?"

"Since 'The Devil Wears Prada,'" (2006) answered the 50-year-old Tucci, who is also a film director. "Yeah, so now they're wondering..." he added in jest. "I don't know, we'll see what they say."

"Yeah!" quipped Cher. "Someone told me after they saw the film that it was (Tucci and Cher join in) a 'Gay-Fantasia.'"

Writer-director Steve Antin said "Burlesque" tries to be "risque, always sexy but never sexual.

"Everything we do in this movie, like with original burlesque, is intended to be something enjoyable... and funny and appealing to the mass culture, because burlesque was entertainment for the masses in its original form."

A lifelong fan of musicals and child actor in "The Goonies" (1985), Antin, 52, said Cher and Aguilera were his first choices for the film's roles of burlesque owner Tess and aspiring film star Ali Rose.

"Cher... she's the embodiment of female empowerment, you know. And that's what Burlesque is about: female empowerment."

Cher, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1983 for "Silkwood" and won one for "Moonstruck" in 1987, downplayed the significance of the long gap in silver screen roles in recent years.

"Nothing came to me that I liked except a part in (2008 Abba film hit) 'Mamma Mia', (when) I was on the road and couldn't do, and other than that... I've been busy," she said.

"It's not like I've been shut in."