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Hollywood Embraces 'Tween Queen' Hilary Duff

The following interview aired on the May 9 edition of  The Pulse. If you haven't yet had a chance to catch television's hottest newsmagazine, be sure to tune in to the FOX network this Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. Check your local listings.

From billboards to bus stops, magazine covers to malls, this familiar fresh face has launched an entertainment empire boasting a no. 1 rated TV show, two top-selling CDs, a fashion line and now a movie.

She is Hilary Duff, star of The Disney Channel's popular series Lizzie McGuire — a show that follows a 14-year-old girl through all those awkward adolescent issues from first bra to first kiss.

Duff's disarming charm and wholesome humor have enchanted more than two million "tweens" — kids between childhood and adulthood, ages seven to 14 — who tune in every week to watch her. And her appeal doesn't end there.

"I've had college students come up to me and say, 'Oh my God, we love your show and our dorm doesn't have it, so we come home at night and we go to the next dorm to watch it,' which is really cool," Duff said.

Even cooler is having rocker Steven Tyler as a fan. The Aerosmith frontman likes the show so much that he agreed to be a guest star on last year's Christmas episode.

Stan Rogow, the show's executive producer, credits Lizze McGuire's success with Duff's casting.

"[Duff] is a unique blending of a person and a character that we had in our minds," he said. "I think that is what has made it so special,"

So what's it like to be 15 years old and in the limelight?

"Everybody says to me, 'Oh,you're 15 years old. You have a full-time job'. But I don't think it's like a job," Hilary said. "It's more like fun than it is like work. I always say that my friends play sports and I act. It's like the same thing: it's a hobby."

It's a hobby that Duff picked up back in her hometown of Houston, Texas.

"I have an older sister named Haylie, and she kind of started it all," she said. "[My sister] wanted to be an actress so I wanted to be an actress."

The performing bug hit the Duff sisters early. By the time Hilary was eight years old, the girls were enrolled in acting classes, auditioning for commercials, and hoping for success. Haylie Duff remembers that it wasn't always easy.

"We actually found a manager in Texas who said, 'Give me a $1,000 and I'll take you out to Los Angeles and I'll have all these auditions for you,'" she said. "So of course, we did that and she ditched us as soon as we got out there."

Far from their Texas home with no prospects in sight, mom Susan Duff pioneered their cause.

"My mom went to this bookstore and she got all these books on the business and what to do and how to get an agent," Hilary said. "She worked super hard for us and she got us an agent and a manager and a couple of auditions."

A couple turned into many. Hilary landed a few TV roles and the lead in the straight-to-video movie Casper Meets Wendy. Still, steady work wasn't easy to find.

"Going to audition after audition after audition… you can go on 500 auditions and maybe get two callbacks," Haylie said.

Then in 2000, Hilary was cast for the pilot episode of the TV series Daddio, starring Michael Chiklis.
 
"I had been on so many auditions and I finally got it. I was really excited," Hilary said. "Then I got fired. I was like 'Oh my gosh' and I told my mom 'I want to go back to Texas' and she's like 'sure,' but I had one more audition left. It was for Lizzie McGuire."

Though Hilary didn't want to go to the audition and even cancelled it, the persistence of the show's producers finally convinced her to give it one more try. After her first audition and two weeks of callbacks, she got the part and the legend of Lizzie began.

Lizzie McGuire's success has put Hilary Duff on the media map, allowing her to branch out from cable TV. She's landed roles in movies like Agent Cody Banks, launched her singing career and even tested her comedic timing on the ABC sitcom The George Lopez Show.

"Sandra Bullock is an executive producer on my show," Lopez said. "[Hilary Duff] reminds me a lot of Sandra. They got that same drive and they know what's right for them. They're focused and that's tough."

Lopez's co-star and Duff friend Masiela Lusha agreed.

"One of the main strengths she has within her is that she's very driven," she said. "A teenager in show business has to deal with much more stress. Not only do you have to deal with the stress as an adult in the real world but you also have to deal with growing up"

Growing up in Hollywood is no easy task, and being away from family is especially difficult.

"It's hard," Hilary said. "I miss my dad, so we talk on the phone every day and he comes
out every three weeks"

The Duff family is extremely close-knit, so recent gossip comparing mom Susan to a controlling stage mother doesn't sit well with Hilary

"It's horrible. If you meet my mom and you really know my mom and you know our family, she is the nicest woman ever," she said.

"She's smart. She's not going to let anybody take advantage or let anything bad happen. When stuff comes out on her saying she's taking control of my career, it's like, well yeah. I'm 15. Who else is supposed to do it?"

Family is what keeps this "tween queen" grounded, even while she shuttles from production set, to interviews, to photo shoots, and voice-over sessions.

"I'm like a normal teenager. I work on TV, and I do movies, and I'm a singer, but I'm so normal," Hilary said. "I hang out with my friends. I like to go shopping".

But now that Hilary has conquered tweendom, can she make that transition from kid actor to young star?

"Her challenge now that she's expanding into film is to increase her fan base to include older viewers," Entertainment Weekly Senior Editor Sarah Saffian said.

"Disney executives say, 'You're not going to see her on the cover of Maxim' and we'll see if they stick to that, but as beautiful as she is, she's not working the sexuality," she said.

So is Hilary anxious about embracing more mature roles?

"Not at all," she said. "I'm always scared to do another TV show because Lizzie McGuire was such a hit, but I think we'll be okay"

Despite a poor opening weekend for The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Hilary's career is on a roll. She's releasing her debut album in September and is slated to star in The Cinderella Story, for which she'll earn a reported $2 million. Not bad for a girl who's still too young to drive.

"I feel lucky," she said. "Like my dreams have come true."