LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As she leaves her teenage years behind, Aly Michalka, the elder half of the pop duo formerly known as “Aly & AJ,” finds herself on a new career track, unleashing her inner rock goddess.
Michalka, who gained fame as a child actor on the Disney Channel and turned 20 years-old in March, makes her feature film debut on Friday in “Bandslam,” playing a girl in a rock ‘n’ roll band, and she has two more movies in the works.
She and her sister, Amanda “AJ” Michalka, 18, will soon see their new album drop under a new band name, writing about themes common to young adults -- heartbreak and individuality.
But first there is “Bandslam,” also starring “High School Musical” sweetheart Vanessa Hudgens, which tells about a garage band in dire need of a musical makeover.
With a soundtrack track featuring David Bowie, the Velvet Underground, and unsigned indie bands from the edgy Austin music scene, the film and its music are new territory for Michalka, who started playing music and acting in church plays at age five.
“My three songs I had to rehearse were ‘Amphetamine,’ ‘Someone to Fall Back On,’ and ‘I Want You to Want Me,'” says Michalka, “I think people are going to be really surprised.”
In “Bandslam,” Michalka plays Charlotte Banks, the lead singer of a rock group with little chance of winning a local battle of the bands until she gets the help of a new kid in town, Will (Gaelan Connell), and resident outcast Sam (Vanessa Hudgens), as well as a ragtag crew of misfits.
Will instructs Charlotte on how to improve her groove, while Charlotte teaches Will a memorable lesson in kissing.
But, as in real life, not all about “Bandslam” is saccharine sweet. Charlotte also must deal with a father who is battling terminal cancer, which meant that as an actress Michalka had to dig deep inside to find some dark emotions.
“I listened to a lot of music that moved me on those days, like Aqualung and Danny Elfman,” she recalled. “They kind of helped me get there. Thankfully, I’ve never gone through something as traumatic as what Charlotte has to go through.”
These days, however, Michalka is looking on the brighter side of life. Her next two films -- a psychological thriller called “The Roommate” and a quirky comedy “Easy A” -- are now in editing and expected in theaters in 2010.
She and Amanda are busy promoting their upcoming, fourth album, which sounds so different from their previous work that they decided to rename their band 78violet.
”78violet means a lot of different things,“ said Michalka. ”It’s a combination of our favorite numbers, which are seven and eight, and the fact that violet is such a strong and powerful color in the color spectrum.
“This album has really shown our progression as artists. It touches on a lot of different subjects -- heartbreak and love and being an individual and speaking your mind, not being muzzled by society.”
Still, her fans won’t find Michalka mouthing off and landing in the tabloid press like other former Disney child stars. She attributes her ability to stay grounded to her parents and her strong Christian faith.
“I have to say I‘m very blessed with the kind of job that I have,” she says. “Being able to make people laugh and cry and being able to entertain them is a huge gift. So I’d hate to be irresponsible with that. It’s something that’s so precious that you have to be grateful.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte