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This Raven soars

Today, 'College Road Trip,' tomorrow, all of showbiz as the Disney star reaches for CEO.

March 06, 2008|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

The future head of the would-be Raven-Symone Enterprises or Raven-Symone Inc. sits in a Toluca Lake diner, chewing ice out of a plastic cup, outlining her plans for world domination.

"I want to have a record label and a licensing company," declares Raven-Symone. "I want to have a publishing company and a management company where I can launch all kinds of artists. I want to do everything."

After a brief pause, Raven-Symone delivers the bottom line, without a trace of irony: "I want to be Disney."

For the 22-year-old star -- who started out at 5 years old on "The Cosby Show" and was featured in several TV series, such as "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper," before landing as the star and producer of the Disney Channel series "That's So Raven" and "The Cheetah Girls" movies -- it's a distant goal but a very real ambition.

As for now, she'll be content with conquering the big screen.

Next up is Walt Disney Pictures' "College Road Trip," which hits theaters Friday. She plays Melanie Porter, an energetic 17-year-old who finds her plans for a "girls only" road trip to check out prospective universities upended by her overprotective father (Martin Lawrence).

Her character is a mature extension of her aggressively loopy, rubber-faced character, who is at the center of the longest-running series on the Disney Channel (the comedy, which wrapped production in 2006 after four seasons, airs daily on the cable network and on Saturday mornings on ABC). The success of "That's So Raven" and its related merchandise prompted Ebony magazine last year to dub her "The $400 Million Woman" (just the mention of that label makes her cringe). "College Road Trip" also boosts her filmmaker credentials -- she is an executive producer and had script input on many of the exchanges between the two main characters.

Despite the presence of Lawrence, who has often dabbled in raw-edged adults-only comedy in his wide-ranging career, and a title that could conjure up images of sex-crazed frat boys and tasteless high jinks, "College Road Trip" pointedly earns its G rating and is compatible with its star's innocuous TV image. There's even an adorable little pig to amuse the toddlers.

Raven-Symone's involvement with the squeaky-clean "College Road Trip" may at first glance seem like an unconventional move for an actress easing into young adulthood, particularly when her Hollywood contemporaries are moving in and out of rehab clinics or are seeking edgier fare, such as horror movies or tawdry reality shows.

While Lindsay, Britney, Paris and Jamie-Lynn continue to find new ways to set gossip websites ablaze, that's so not Raven. When it comes to the Hollywood club scene, Raven-Symone not only flies under the radar, she's not even a blip on the screen -- a factor that makes her star power and appeal to tween audiences shine more brightly. It's all part of her calculated plan to nurture her fans and maintain a devotion to her craft while creating more opportunities for herself and her brand. In addition to the film, she is releasing her fourth album, "Raven-Symone," next month and is preparing to go on a national tour.

"I'm not in this to be a celebrity," she says. "I'm in this to work."

She adds: "I see this movie as sort of the middle ground to help me move to the next section. I want to help my audience grow with me, and I see this as the perfect vehicle. I love being able to keep that family audience."

She was particularly attracted to "College Road Trip" because of its story about a father and maturing daughter discovering each other: "It's a story that hasn't been done in forever. In today's world, there are difficulties in that relationship, where both people don't know how to tackle it. They have to grow together, and it's not easily done."

And, unlike many of her peers, she is in no rush to find that hard-edged independent movie or project that will redefine her image. Says Raven-Symone, "I'm not trying to be something I'm not. I like where I am. I don't have a problem with it."

Her demeanor as she sits in the diner -- one of her favorite off-the-beaten-path haunts -- is of a seasoned veteran who is poised and somewhat guarded, though she occasionally loosens up with a smattering of a youthful "Know what I'm sayin'?" and references to some of her musical idols such as Janet Jackson. She arrives at an interview sans entourage, manager or publicist and dressed in a stylish brown hooded sweat shirt. The only hint of show business are large eyelashes accenting her face.

And though she exhibits a polite warmth, Raven-Symone makes it clear in her terse responses and tone that she is not keen about discussing the roller-coaster exploits of young Hollywood (Lindsay Lohan was her roommate several years ago).

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