Selena Gomez is, for now, best known as the former teen star of Disney's "Wizards of Waverly Place" and the current star of Justin Bieber's love life. But with upcoming roles in everything from family fare to a raunchy college comedy, Gomez, 20, looks to be making a major play for her triple-threat talents to propel her from Disney teen queen and gossip generator to major movie star.
Appearing in a Disney or Nickelodeon show often bestows as many blessings as curses for young actors. Once they perfect their goodie-goodie roles tailored for tweens and younger audiences, teen actors are often unable to break into more mature projects that will get them taken seriously as an actor. Just ask Hannah Montana, a.k.a. Miley Cyrus, whose latest film, "LOL," crashed straight to video, her latest setback since "The Last Song" in her effort to nail another plum star vehicle.
So far, Gomez has stuck to kid-friendly offerings, including her latest voice-acting gig in "Hotel Transylvania." She's planning to grow up, however, when "Spring Breakers" streets during Spring Break season next March. The movie, co-starring fellow Disney alum Vanessa Hudgens, follows four co-eds who land in jail after a petty heist job to secure spring break cash goes wrong. They wind up bailed out by a drug dealer (James Franco) who expects them to return the favor with some smuggling and other crimes. Director Harmony Korine's raunchiness will be Gomez's chance to show off her range (and skin!) in a very different kind of role.
"Frothy family fare has long been her sweet spot — flicks like 'Ramona and Beezus' and 'Monte Carlo,'" says Amy Wilkinson of MTV's Hollywood Crush. "If she can wow audiences in this gritty turn and perhaps follow it with a meaty drama, producers will never stop knocking."
Gomez's twin powers of marketability and likability are clear assets on her quest for big-screen viability. Although Gomez has perennially found herself in the path of the paparazzi's telephoto lenses, she's also a class act who — for now, at least — has managed to fly above the tailspins that have grounded so many of Hollywood's talented but burned-out young stars.
Gomez and Bieber are a serious-beyond-their-years couple that already adopt dogs together and pay regular visits to each other's families (they both have young parents) with refreshing regularity. Yes, they might have more money than a hedge fund manager between them, but they seem astonishingly grounded in a way so many showbiz teens aren't.
Thanks to her work on "Wizards of Waverly Place," Gomez has learned the fundamentals of comedic acting, and she's not afraid to try something new. If "Spring Breakers" isn't proof, check out her hilarious Funny or Die video parodying "Fifty Shades of Grey."
"What I've seen of her acting is her addictive 'Love You Like a Love Song' video and the hilarious 'Fifty Shades of Blue' parody on Funny or Die," says VH1 Celebrity's Sabrina Weiss, who admits she's not too familiar with Gomez's family fare. "That gave me no reason to doubt her abilities. She's pretty funny in the latter and looks great in fancy costumes."
But Weiss thinks the one big "obstacle" to Gomez immediately securing a spot on the acting A-list isn't her Disney background or her pop star career but the fact that she might be a tad too adorable to take seriously.
"She's a little too cute. The girl is 20 and has the face of a 14-year-old. It's going to be hard to see her as an adult for some time to come, no matter how many sexy bikini pics we see of her," Weiss muses.
That doesn't mean the future still isn't bright for Gomez; she just might have to prolong her incubation period as a teen star for a bit before graduating to 20-something roles. "But guess what? There's nothing wrong with playing a teen for another five years or so," Weiss adds.
In addition to "Spring Breakers," Gomez has the female lead in the coming-of-age comedy "Feed the Dog" opposite Nat Wolff (of Nickelodeon's "The Naked Brothers Band") and a promising part as a young hacker in the crime thriller "Getaway" with Ethan Hawke.
Her own production company has even optioned two popular young adult novels, "The Sky Is Everywhere" and "Thirteen Reasons Why," both of which would offer Gomez an excellent opportunity to exercise her dramatic chops.
Staying in the teen space, for now, seems like exactly what Gomez plans to do for the foreseeable future. And, as Weiss points out, Gomez is in good company when it comes younger-looking actors. It's not a liability in the long run.
"Work it, Selena, because once you get those 'mature' roles, there's no going back. Then maybe you can follow in the footsteps of actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, who have certainly transcended any typecasting based on their baby faces."