On the latest season of NBC’s “The Voice,” Miley Cyrus has reinvented herself from a twerking pop star to a mama-hen mentor. “I cry all the time,” Cyrus says about having to axe members of her team during the show’s elimination rounds. Behind the scenes, she dispenses copies of the self-help book “The Untethered Soul” to her contestants, trying to calm them down before live performances. On camera, she showcases an eclectic style — like an outfit covered in paper flowers — meant to counteract any last-minute jitters.
“I think it makes the contestants feel safer,” says Cyrus of her colorful wardrobe. “When I turn around, people laugh and feel lighthearted. I think they get to see that side of me.”
For many years, Cyrus had a different public persona. “People saw me as being wild, and literally all I do is I’m obsessed with yoga, I love hiking, and I’m reading constantly. My life is so positive. From the outside, people think I’m partying with rappers. That was back in my prime.”
It’s hard to keep a straight face when Cyrus uses that line — she’s only 23. Then again, she’s been on television since grade school. At 11, Cyrus was cast as the squeaky-clean face of Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana,” which made her the Hayley Mills of her generation. The role brought intense tabloid scrutiny, particularly as she tried to grow up. “I had a clothing line at Walmart and got kicked out, because they said you had to choose weed or Walmart,” Cyrus says. “And you see what I did — I chose weed.”
In 2013, the Miley media circus reached a tipping point at the VMAs, where she gyrated alongside a row of teddy bears. She insists that the moment was misunderstood. “That was a joke,” she says. Cyrus has taken a U-turn since then. Her new career path revolves around her foundation: Happy Hippie, dedicated to supporting at-risk LGBTQ and homeless youth. “I am only doing ‘The Voice’ because that helps Happy Hippie,” Cyrus says about engaging the show’s audience to promote her cause.
Cyrus has headlined such films as “The Last Song” and “Bolt,” but she’s ambivalent about making movies now. “I know that acting is boring,” she says. “People get paid way too much for what they are doing.” She almost turned down the Woody Allen TV series “Crisis in Six Scenes” but was eventually won over by the role — playing a 1960s activist.
Over a vegan lunch in Los Angeles, Cyrus talked about what drives her, recalled how she struggled with her pansexual identity as a teenager (she’s currently dating Liam Hemsworth), and shared her thoughts on the election.
You just filled in as host of Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show.
I had to introduce Sarah Jessica Parker, and she asked me if I had any friends that are voting for Donald Trump. I was like, “Do you think I have friends that would vote for Donald Trump. Come on! Who do you think I’m hanging out with?”
The country is very polarized.
This is not a dig. But I do think there’s something that goes with the Kardashians and Trump. The Kardashians are better than Trump, because they are not trying to run the country. They are just trying to be famous, and that’s fine. We are obsessed with celebrity. When Trump started this, I was laughing. I thought it’s not going to go anywhere; there’s no way he’ll be the candidate.
Were you always a Hillary Clinton supporter?
I was a really big Bernie supporter.
What do you say to Bernie supporters who still won’t vote for Hillary?
That’s fucking crazy and you’re out of your mind. It’s literally pissing me off more than anything. If you could ever consider Donald Trump, you never understood Bernie in the first place.
Where did your sense of activism come from?
I think I just felt so stupid. I felt like what I was doing didn’t have value, because being a pop star was really silly when people are homeless and hungry. In 2013, when I did the VMAs, it became the biggest story in the world. I never expected that to happen. I just did my own thing. I went out there dressed as a teddy bear, danced with teddy bears, never thought about the world thinking that was going to be a bad thing.
Did the experience make you feel bad about yourself?
It was making me feel like I was living a dumb life — like I should just pick another job. I didn’t understand my power at that point. People listen because of who I am, so instead of being embarrassed, I should say: “Fuck yeah, I got the microphone.”
How did you become involved with the LGBTQ community?
My whole life, I didn’t understand my own gender and my own sexuality. I always hated the word “bisexual,” because that’s even putting me in a box. I don’t ever think about someone being a boy or someone being a girl. Also, my nipple pasties and shit never felt sexualized to me. My eyes started opening in the fifth or sixth grade. My first relationship in my life was with a chick. I grew up in a very religious Southern family. The universe has always given me the power to know I’ll be OK. Even at that time, when my parents didn’t understand, I just felt that one day they are going to understand.
Did you talk to them about how you felt?
Yeah. My mom is like an ’80s rock chick — big blonde hair, big boobs. She loves being a girl. I never felt that way. I know some girls that love getting their nails done. I fucking hated it. My nails look like shit. I don’t wax my eyebrows. I never related to loving being a girl. And then, being a boy didn’t sound fun to me. I think the LGBTQ alphabet could continue forever. But there’s a “P” that should happen, for “pansexual.”
When did you first identity as pansexual?
I think when I figured out what it was. I went to the LGBTQ center here in L.A., and I started hearing these stories. I saw one human in particular who didn’t identify as male or female. Looking at them, they were both: beautiful and sexy and tough but vulnerable and feminine but masculine. And I related to that person more than I related to anyone in my life. Even though I may seem very different, people may not see me as neutral as I feel. But I feel very neutral. I think that was the first gender-neutral person I’d ever met. Once I understood my gender more, which was unassigned, then I understood my sexuality more. I was like, “Oh — that’s why I don’t feel straight and I don’t feel gay. It’s because I’m not.”
Why do you think inequality still exists for women in Hollywood?
A lot of it could be changed if we had a female president. That would give us a subconscious boost. I think people will have to realize they’re looking really dated. For example, there’s a show called “Supergirl.” I think having a show with a gender attached to it is weird. One, it’s a woman on that fucking billboard — it’s not a little girl. Two, what if you’re a little boy who wants to be a girl so bad that this makes you feel bad? I think having a title like “Supergirl” doesn’t give the power that people think it does.
Where does your power come from?
My empowerment comes from feeling like I have a purpose now. On my tombstone, I didn’t want the “Wrecking Ball” lyrics. I wanted it to be something greater. I’m the only fucking Disney star who would say I’m pro lesbian and gay, before it was OK to say that.
Did you get in trouble?
I actually didn’t, because a lot of the dudes that work for Disney are gay, so they were very happy to have someone on their side.
You’re a mentor on “The Voice.” Do you think you’ll do more seasons?
I don’t know. I definitely would like to if it made sense. I haven’t done the live shows yet. I want to see how that feels. They might be a lot more pressure.
Do you not like live TV?
I don’t mind the live TV as much as I do that America gets to vote when it comes to “The Voice,” and America did vote for Donald Trump to be the candidate. I actually told my team they can be the Bernie Sanders of “The Voice.”
How often do you cry on the show?
When I have to kick them off. It’s a nightmare. For a non-confrontational person, it’s the worst gig ever.
How did you get cast in the Woody Allen TV series? Were you a fan of his work?
I am. I had moved, and the only thing that I brought into my new house was a picture of Woody Allen. My first night I slept in my new house, [my manager] called and said, “Woody wants you to fly to New York.” I loved working with Woody. You do like two takes. He just wants to go home and have dinner with his wife. One night it was 5:30, and the camera operator wanted to do another take. He goes, “I can’t dedicate my entire life to making movies.”
Many people are now having a conversation about whether it’s possible to separate the art from the artist. Were you aware of the sexual-abuse allegations made by Dylan Farrow against her dad, and if so, did that give you pause?
I live a similar life to Woody — I live a public life. Until I know someone and I know their story, I never really judge anyone. That’s kind of how I went into it. From the way I saw him with his family, I never saw him be anything but an incredible person and a really great dad. People might slam me for saying that. I’m sure it was a hard time for that family. My family has been through hard things, and I think everyone’s suffering is different.
What do your parents think about your work now?
On “The Voice,” this young girl started crying when she left, because I’m the reason she came out. My mom started crying. She was like, “I’m so sorry about the way I was when you were that age and coming out.” She never understood me until she saw that girl who couldn’t be herself. It was very cool.