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Selena Gomez on Acting: ‘I Haven’t Touched the Surface of What I’m Able to Do’

After “Spring Breakers” and a cameo in “The Big Short,” former Disney star Selena Gomez continues to expand her movie career with the Sundance indie “The Fundamentals of Caring,” in which she plays a hitchhiker. Netflix has landed the worldwide streaming rights to the road trip comedy starring Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts (as a teenager with muscular dystrophy) for $7 million. Gomez will head to Park City later this week for the film’s premiere, but first she spoke to Variety about the role, the pressures young women face in Hollywood and wanting to direct.

How did you land this part?
My manager sent me the script and I completely fell in love with the script and said I want to audition. She said, “I mentioned your name and I’m trying to do this surprise situation, so you can go in and nobody knows that it’s you.” So Rob [Burnett, the director] didn’t know who he was going to meet. I knew it would be difficult for him to see me in that role. He had a lot of hesitation. I auditioned two more times after that. I was one of the parts that I fought for. I knew other people were reading for it. So it feels good to feel like I earned it.

You went undercover to audition?
No, no. He didn’t know who he was meeting with. When I walked in the room, he said, “Oh my goodness.” He knew who I was. That was the problem. I think that’s probably my biggest issue when it comes to doing movies.

What’s the issue?
Being known in a different way. I grew up in it. My intention was always to be an actress and a singer. Unfortunately, it just kind of got clouded. I never really wanted to be on tabloids or anything like that. I think it’s wonderful now. I’ve been able to build my platform up because of who I am on the inside and just doing what I love, which is film, which is music. I’m not oblivious to that being the road bump. But I’m also prepared to keep fighting through it.

And there’s a double standard because young women in Hollywood have a much harder spotlight on them than men.
Yeah, I agree completely.

The movie was recently purchased by Netflix. How do you feel about consuming movies on a small screen versus a big screen?
I don’t know if I have a preference. I love Netflix. I just sold a show to Netflix. I think it’s incredible, the traffic they get. It’s all that I watch when I’m at home. Even if it’s on my laptop, if I’m traveling, it’s a different way for people to see movies, and I enjoy that.

What can you tell me about your Netflix show?
It’s called “13 Reasons Why.” It deals with bullying and there’s a thriller aspect, a young girl in school that leaves these 13 tapes behind.

Are you starring in it too?
I’m not going to star in it. I’m not quite sure if I’ll do anything onscreen with it. I’m producing it with my mom. My mom is the reason I did “Spring Breakers.” She’s got incredible taste in a weird, cool way. Four or five years ago, she found this book and fell in love with it. I think I was still in high school. Now we’re here. We took our time with it.

I can’t believe your mom liked the idea of you being in “Spring Breakers.”
There’s plenty of interviews where she’s mortified—“Why do you tell people that?” When people ask how I came about that project, I always say it was my mom.

Would you ever do a sequel to “Spring Breakers.”
Oh no. I wouldn’t do anything that Harmony [Korine] wasn’t a part of.

Who do you play in “Neighbors 2?”
I’m just in the beginning. I’m kind of the opposite of what Chloe Moretz would be. I’m the pompous, over-the-top obnoxious sorority president. We’re doing obnoxious things like studying in our bikinis. That’s as risqué as we get.

Do you want to continue doing films?
Yeah. I think there’s a lot for me to explore. I’m in a place with my music where I’ve gone through this transition and I feel with this album I’ve been able to grow as an artist. But I feel like in acting, I haven’t touched the surface of what I’m able to do. I hope I can continue to grow and get better. I know that’s going to take a lot of time, especially if music continues to do what it does.

Do you gravitate toward independent movies?
I guess I’ve always been attracted to indies, but I’m open.

How many scripts do you read?
If I’m recording or doing stuff for the album, I don’t read as much. But if I’m on tour, that’s all I do, which is hard, because all I want to do is film a movie when I’m on tour. It’s a love/hate relationship.

Would you ever want to do anything behind the camera?
I’ve always loved the idea of directing. I’m not sure about writing — I don’t know if that would be my forte. But I love filming things. I love capturing things. I love figuring out how the camera works. Maybe one day.

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