Ester Dean, who is part of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, has spent years behind the scenes, writing hit songs for some of music's biggest names, including Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna, and contributing vocals to albums by such artists as Usher and Mary J. Blige, earning five Grammy nominations along the way. But her newest project may be the first to let her really shine: Dean stars as Cynthia Rose, a lesbian college student in the soon-to-be-a-smash Pitch Perfect, a film by gay director Jason Moore centering on an all-girl a cappella group that also stars Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and Brittany Snow. Dean, whose own self-titled album will be released this year on Interscope Records, talked to us about (lesbian) method acting, going back to school, and whether she's ready for fame.
The Advocate: You’ve spent the last several years writing hit singles for some of music’s biggest names. Are you ready to step into the spotlight yourself now?
Ester Dean: I really am. I think everything that you do comes with a challenge and comes with a little nervousness. So I definitely got a little nervousness, but I’m like, I might as well. I got to do it. [Laughs] I’m a jumper.
Let's talk about Pitch Perfect. I thought the film was great.
Oh, thank you. I love this movie.
So tell me what was the filming like? What were rehearsals like for Pitch Perfect?
My goodness. OK, rehearsals were — we all got to Baton Rouge [Louisiana] and we had to go to this building and we all stayed at this hotel so I remember walking in and [producers told me there'd be] about eight to 11 hours of dance. And I was like, "Dance? You didn’t tell me to dance!" I sing, you know? And we literally a cappella classes, learning how to sing it and knowing how to do the parts with our mouth. We had dance and then we'd have lunch and then … we had to ride in the same van back [to the hotel]. It was so much like college or high school. [Laughs] It was crazy, but I really appreciate it because if we didn’t do that, if we didn’t do all that work we put in there, that movie wouldn’t have come out good — because we couldn’t have faked those moves, we couldn’t fake those sounds. We all had to record it, it wasn’t any time to be faking anything, that’s for sure.
You rock a different look in the movie as well.
Yeah, I remember when I did the audition I had all this black hair and had a kind of cute little bob and I got there and I told Jason, the director, I would totally cut my hair off. And he was like, "You would?" I was like, "Yeah, I’ve been wanting a reason to do it anyway." So I went and I found this picture and it had the red hair, and we had a little blond streak in there and just cut it all off. I like it.
That’s great. I love that your character is just part of the pack. There’s nothing really that makes her different from the other girls, even though she’s gay.
Right. I didn’t want to [treat it like] "I’m playing this gay character." No. I’m playing a woman who likes what she likes. You know, it had a look to it.
Well, you know, me and Alexis got it on a couple of times, you know. [Ed note: Alexis Knapp plays the sex-crazed coed Stacie.] Like, get in your character, you know? I’ve been after boys for a long time, I’ve been doing that for like, 20 years anyway, so it all worked out.
Are you ready to be hit on by women now? Or does that already happen to you?
Well, you know what, well, they haven’t yet and I’m thinking to myself, Come on, girls, come on! I am cute. You know, if I don’t get hit on by girls or guys, I’m really going to have to figure my life out. [Laughs] So, whichever want to come, you just bring it on. I need a date, that’s all that matters.
That’s all that matters?
Yes, I’ll take a date from anybody.