Beyoncé Knowles: Her quest for an Oscar

Beyoncé Knowles is breaking into the movies, and she isn't about to settle for bit parts like her role in 'The Pink Panther'. The singer intends to win an Oscar to go with her Grammys, she tells Gill Pringle

As a music star, she ranks among an elite group who are known by a single name; as an actor, Beyoncé Knowles is still in the fledgling stages of her career. Today, she is discussing the difficulties of an international singing superstar portraying an international singing superstar, Xania, her character in Steve Martin's revival of The Pink Panther some 43 years after Peter Sellers introduced Inspector Clouseau on the big screen.

"Initially I thought: 'Well, maybe it isn't such a good idea to play an international superstar'," admits Beyoncé, 24, whose previous film outings include playing a "sexy nightclub singer" in The Fighting Temptations and "sexy detective" Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers: Goldmember. "But when they told me Kevin Kline and Steve Martin were in the movie, I said: 'That sounds like its going to be good.' And then I read the Panther script and I thought, 'This is hilarious and I'll be with funny people again and it will only take me three weeks, which sounds like a winner.'

"As an actor I obviously have my limits, but, to be honest, the most difficult thing was not laughing. Everything else was easy, breezy, fun, great clothes, great environment," she says, smiling and sporting an enormous Lorraine Schwartz pink diamond ring, similar to the Pink Panther ring she wears in the film, while her mountain of a bodyguard hovers menacingly beside her.

In common with Pink Panther's previous female leads like Capucine, Elke Sommer, Lesley-Anne Down and Catherine Schell, Beyoncé has few lines of dialogue, serving mainly as set-dressing. But she brings to the role a Shirley Bassey-style panache, and has taken the film's signature song, "A Woman Like Me", to the top of the US Billboard charts before the movie was released. "I know when I've got it," she says. "It's a gut thing - I can't tell you how I know, I just do. 'A Woman Like Me' has the strength of a Tina Turner song but the drama of a Bond tune.

"The Pink Panther was before my time, so when the director [Shawn Levy] told me about it I immediately went and got all the originals. But he told me, 'Don't worry about watching them because this is so contemporary and Steve Martin has made that character his own. He's completely a whole new Inspector Clouseau.' So I didn't watch it, but I will after because I'm very interested and so happy to be representing those beautiful women."

Over the past decade, Destiny's Child have became the biggest girl group in the world - thanks in part to the uncompromising management of Beyoncé's father Mathew Knowles. Beyoncé survived a deluge of hate-mail resulting from her father's ruthless sacking of her former band-mates, original Destiny's Child members LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson, while multimillion dollar deals have been negotiated for Beyoncé with Pepsi, L'Oreal cosmetics and True Star perfume. But if she has any complaints today with her father's managerial style, she's not voicing them.

"I grew up with a strong family. Both my parents sacrificed a lot," she says. "My father's my manager, my mother's my designer and partner in my clothes line. My whole family is involved. My assistant is my cousin. My brother - he's not a brother but he's like a brother in my family - he's my other stylist. Kelly [Rowland], she grew up with me, she's my sister and in Destiny's Child. My choreographer's been with me since I was 15. Everybody around me is like family and that's the reason I'm still a human being and still the same person.

"The beautiful thing about Destiny's Child is that it was never a concept from some guy who put some random people together and started a group. That was not the case. We grew up together and we loved to sing and we got a record deal and, thank God, we had success. So the foundation of the group is friendship and family, therefore Destiny's Child can never be broken up.We'll always be together.

"I think you have to be passionate about what you do and if its something that you don't feel 100 per cent good about, usually it's because its not going to work out - there's something in your heart that's telling you that it's not right. I always try to listen to that - even with endorsements and the clothing line and everything else that I do. If I don't love it, I don't do it."

Later in the day, Beyoncé is in a banquet hall at the Four Seasons hotel, Beverly Hills, hostinga press conference of US reporters, politely fencing such questions as, "Do you ever wish you were ugly?". She replies gracefully: "Do you know what? To be honest with you, I feel - as a songwriter and a singer - people would have acknowledged my talent a lot more [if I hadn't been beautiful]."

Gorgeous or not, the five Grammys Beyoncé received for her R&B album Dangerously In Love two years ago acknowledged her talent, and she breathlessly tells her rapt audience: "I want to be the first black woman to win an Oscar, a Tony and a Grammy. I already have the Grammys, so I just have two more awards to go."

If The Pink Panther isn't exactly Oscar material, she hopes her next film, Dreamgirls, is. Beyoncé stars as a Diana Ross-style diva, Deena Jones, alongside Academy Award-winning Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and the R&B star Usher. "I still haven't proven myself as an actress because I haven't had the roles to show what I can really do," she says. "But I have it right now with Dreamgirls and even though I'm playing a singer, the role allows me to show what I can do.

"The great thing is that Deena is 16 in the beginning - no make-up, bad hair, bad eyebrows, very not cute - and she grows up and butterflies into this diva. I should point out that Deena is not Diana Ross although they have a lot of similarities. I definitely admire Diana and now that I've done this movie - I kinda studied her footage and her music and her mannerisms - I respect her way more than when I didn't know so much about her and didn't know how talented she was.

"I have very emotional scenes, very dramatic scenes, funny scenes, charming scenes, vulnerable scenes. I think people will be shocked by Dreamgirls because finally I have a part I can really act in. I do feel after Dreamgirls I'll be prepared to do something a lot more serious because this has some serious themes. I have no problem with getting to an emotional level. It's easy for me because when I'm on the stage, I'm 100 per cent vulnerable, and whatever I feel at that moment you can absolutely see on my face.

"When I went solo, it forced me to depend on myself and my inner voice and my instincts. Suddenly I didn't have the other ladies to kind of hide behind, so I came out of myself and became who I am. Since then, I've decided what I like and what I didn't like and I've grown up."

'The Pink Panther' opens on 17 March

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