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Lohan comes of age in the limelight

Casablanca's Mottola takes a teen diva under his experienced wing.

December 07, 2004|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — In an understatedly tony building on Fifth Avenue, next to Louis Vuitton's showcase Manhattan store, music mogul Thomas D. Mottola's label, Casablanca, swaggeringly features in its reception area 32 framed gold, platinum and multi-platinum records, with names like "Born in the U.S.A.," "Thriller" and "Love Deluxe," from labels such as Epic, Columbia, and Def Jam. On a clear and cold early December day, safe behind all this gold and platinum, actress-turned-singer Lindsay Lohan was nestled like an even greater treasure in Mottola's wood-paneled private offices.

Called "Speak," Lohan's new pop CD is a wildly high-pressure launch for her and Mottola. It's his first major volley since his split with Sony nearly two years ago. Can the headstrong executive still bat a young diva straight out of the park and into everyone's iPods? Can he and Lohan, the 18-year-old star of "Mean Girls" and "Freaky Friday" and a money-minting queen bee of the teen-actress set, leverage her juvenile talents onto the Billboard charts?

Mottola -- relaxing in black Prada sweatpants -- on Lohan: "The best record I've been involved with in five years." And: "She has as much if not more potential than any star or superstar that I've worked with in all my careers." On his history with singer-actress productions: "I've worked with a few of them in the past, from Barbra Streisand to Jennifer Lopez to ... whoever," a wry reference to his former wife and personal Eliza Doolittle, Mariah Carey. And, perhaps most to the point: "Lindsay's got such a huge fan base. Thirteen million people went through the turnstiles to see 'Freaky Friday.' If you get 10% of them...." Well, obviously, in that case he'd have a 33rd platinum record hanging above his receptionist's tight coiffure -- and a meaningful notch in his history as a diva-anointer.

Lohan's CD, in fact, calls to mind early Mariah Carey: It's a less "urban," more rock version of Carey's un-lush, tight electronic early songs, though Lohan's smoky and snarly voice has a far more limited range.

Wearing a scoop-neck top and jeans, Lohan settled into a black leather club chair looking like one of those actresses in their late 20s who know how to play teen. Nothing about her belied her age: She even spoke without teen "ums" and "you-knows." She was gung-ho, even chipper, as she talked music.

She doesn't have an iPod -- she gave hers to her brother, not having time to download music herself. "I've been listening to everything just for my album. I listened to Gwen Stefani, the Smiths, Coldplay, U2, Eminem, Jay-Z, old-school Madonna ... the Killers I love right now." She thought. "My brother has all these cool eclectic bands. And Duncan Sheik, I used to love them! I always listen to Journey and Kenny Loggins from my dad ... and Pat Benatar!"

Lohan wrote some of "Speak's" lyrics. She had a surprising amount of control over the album, and often the songs appear to be making vague but discernible references to events or people in he life. "I have a journal," she said, of the sources of her lyrics. "I write in my journal all the time. My next single, 'Over,' came from my journal entries, from -- I don't want to talk about this but -- from when I had a boyfriend. We decided to sit down, and we wrote lyrics in my trailer, two songs in my house, one in Wilmer's house." The reference to ex-boyfriend Wilmer Valderrama, an actor on "That '70s Show," seemed to have bolted out of her corral of privacy with little resistance.

"My next album will be a little edgier; there are things I want to try. Lyrically, I can speak more about other things -- I'll be 19 by then! I mean, I'm obviously not going to talk about graphic details because I'm aware I have a younger audience and a younger sister....

"If you listen to the lyrics, there's ways that I say things.... I could have said them differently in a way that would have been really controversial."

Family troubles

Outside the interview room, a little cluster of female publicists (Lohan's main publicist is Leslie Sloan, who currently seems to spend most of her days denying that her slightly-more-famous client Britney Spears is pregnant) gathered with Dina Lohan, mother of the star, who was clad Long Island-chic in a pinstriped suit and pointy heels. Their pointed performance: kvetching about male journalists who ask rude questions about Lohan's breasts.

Mottola and Lohan had gone off to get some chocolate: Certainly there was no other day during which Lohan could use a surrogate father more. It was widely reported that morning that Lohan's father, Michael, was being charged on Long Island for violating a restraining order that had been obtained by Lohan's mother.

Mottola actually makes a sweet, grizzled father figure, and they're a perfect match: Lohan and Mottola view themselves as characters in the public imagination. Unprompted, they make knowing allusions to their tabloidization.

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