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Duff says goodbye to ‘Lizzie’

At age 15, actress Hilary Duff is leaving behind the role that made her famous. Why, and what lies ahead? Hilary Duff talks with “Access Hollywood’s” Nancy O’Dell.
/ Source: NBC News

She started in show business when she was just six years old, then skyrocketed to the top as Lizzie McGuire. Now, at the tender age of 15, actress Hilary Duff is leaving behind the role that made her famous. Why, and what lies ahead? Hilary Duff talks with “Access Hollywood’s” Nancy O’Dell.

If you are a pre-teen, 15-year-old Hilary Duff is the celebrity of the moment, with her pretty looks, style and charm, not to mention TV series, movies and recording deals. She seems to be the perfect teen idol. And if you are a business executive trying to appeal to this age group, Hilary, who seems to be popping up everywhere, presents the perfect marketing opportunity. Which means if you are an adult and have not heard of Hilary Duff, you soon will.

Nancy O’Dell: “Could you have ever predicted that all this would happen?”

Hilary: “No way, not at all. I never thought anything like this would happen.”

Hilary’s first professional performance was at age six, dancing in the Nutcracker with a touring ballet company. When she was eight, Hilary, her mom Susan, and sister Haylie left their Texas home for L.A., to try their hand at show business. Hilary’s dad Bob stayed behind to run his chain of convenience stores. The move west came not because of Hilary, but because of her sister Haylie’s desire to perform.

Susan Duff: “Hilary kind of was dragged along. You know, whatever the big sister was doing the little sister wanted to do.”

She would sit on the sidelines while Haylie worked, because clearly Haylie worked more than Hilary did in the beginning.

Bob Duff: “There’s really not a road map to this whole thing. It came on in stages.”

Nancy O’Dell: “A lot of people would wonder if your parents were the ones who pushed you into this, but you’ve been very clear to say, ‘No this was all my decision.’”

Hilary: “It was — I wouldn’t say my decision, I would say Haylie’s decision. I didn’t really want anything to do with it and then we started modeling and getting involved in commercials and I fell in love with it, too.”

Hilary’s first break came when she was 10 years old. She got the part of the gal pal to Casper the Friendly Ghost in the video, “Casper Meets Wendy.” From there, she caught the eye of Disney executives who, in 2001, cast her in the lead role on Disney Channel’s “Lizzie McGuire” show.

Hilary: “I love Lizzie McGuire. That’s my character. That’s my girl. What was really cool about the show is that everyone goes through that stage of life feeling uncomfortable with themselves and not really knowing who they are, trying to fit in, trying to find out who you want to be, where you want to be.”

As the character Lizzie McGuire navigated her way through the pitfalls of middle school, the show quickly became the Disney Channel’s top-rated sitcom, striking a chord with 8-14 year olds, an age group commonly referred to as tweens. In Hilary, tweens found someone they could relate to.

Jane Buckingham is president of Youth Intelligence, a market research and trend forecasting company:

Buckingham: “Hilary Duff has some amazing qualities that appeal to tweens. She is really likable, she has a sense of humor. She’s pretty, but not so beautiful that you feel you couldn’t know her. And she seems to really appreciate the fame she’s gotten. And I think tweens today want that.”

Buckingham’s company follows the careers of tween celebrities like Hilary because of their appeal to big businesses. It is estimated that tweens spend over $100 billion annually. That’s not including the billions of dollars more they influence in family purchases. A prime example is another tween phenomenon: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Their string of videos and merchandise line alone are responsible for over $1 billion a year in sales.

Buckingham: “I think that there are companies who are building off the Olsen twins’ success. And I think marketers today are saying, gee there is opportunity there. We need to find the next Olsen.”

The feeling is that Hilary Duff is the new tween queen. So it’s not surprising, when Hilary’s popularity as Lizzie McGuire soared, that she moved from the small screen to the big screen, with movies like “Agent Cody Banks” and the “Lizzie McGuire Movie,” which grossed $40 million in the U.S., and for which Hilary just won a Teen Choice award. She also scored a Disney recording contract. There were Lizzie McGuire CDs, dolls and books. Lizzie became one of Disney’s most valuable franchises.

But despite the success of Hilary as Lizzie, the Duffs recently decided to leave the role that took Hilary to the top.

O’Dell: “You had a very successful run going with Lizzie McGuire and then you broke away from Disney. What happened?”

Hilary: “It’s funny because I never, like, broke away. It wasn’t like I’m leaving, I’m gone, I’m done. It was never like that. All Disney Channel picks their television shows up for is 65 episodes. We did 65 episodes and we did the ‘Lizzie McGuire Movie’ in Rome and it was exciting. But things just didn’t work out for the second one. They kind of put it out there that it was all about the money, why we weren’t going to make a sequel and it really wasn’t about that.”

O’Dell: “What do you think the cause of it was, if it wasn’t about money?”

Hilary: “You really have to ask my mom.”

Susan: “It was a situation where Hilary needed to step back and assess really what she wanted to do. We were in the wonderful position of having other networks call, take meetings with Hilary, see who she is and say ‘What would you like to do? We’d like to do it with you, what would you like to do?’ And we just never had that with Disney.”

Disney told “Dateline” that it provides its artists with enormous opportunities, that its relationship with the Duffs is good, and that they are proud of the Lizzie McGuire franchise and Hilary Duff. The press, however, described a bitter breakup, with quotes from unnamed insiders calling Susan Duff “a handful to deal with.”

O’Dell: “How did you react when you read what some of the papers were saying?”

Susan: “It was hurtful. I did not like the bullets that I came under from that. All it was about was looking after Hilary. Certainly it was not to cause any kind of unnecessary strife.”

Bob: Susan has taken the brunt of the criticism here and of course anytime someone wants to take a cheap shot at someone they throw out the stage mother name.”

O’Dell: “And there were some shots at Hilary, taken at Hilary?”

Susan: “OK, that’s where the gloves came off. I was very angry about that.”

And while Susan was more upset about negative talk regarding Hilary, Hilary was more concerned about her mother.

Hilary: “It’s funny because people talk bad about me and it kind of hurt my feelings, and I was like, whatever, they are going to say what they are going to say. And then they talked bad about her and I was mad. When they said stuff about her being a stage mother or somebody taking over my career and making decisions, OK, what’s your point? You know, you’re supposed to do that. I’ve said many times, I’m a minor. I’m not supposed to make my own decisions. I’m 15 years old. It wouldn’t be right, you know?”

Hilary seems to be having no trouble post-Lizzie McGuire. She is currently shooting a modern-day Cinderella remake, for which she was paid $2 million.

Hilary may be getting paid like an adult, but the teen in her comes out when she takes some time off the set to talk about boys. Hilary’s also starring in another movie, “Cheaper By the Dozen,” which comes to theaters in December. Hilary’s music career is gaining momentum. Her debut solo CD, “Metamorphosis,” hits stores next week. She hopes her music will help expand her audience from tweens to older fans.

Hilary: “I’m really nervous for the album to come out.”

O’Dell: “Worried about its success, worried about that you’ll be accepted?”

Hilary: “I want it to be successful and I want people to like it. And I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh she’s in movies and she’s in a TV show, so now she thinks she can be a singer. You know, I don’t want that to happen. I want them to be able to really see me as a singer and as an actress.”

Fans will also be seeing Hilary as a designer and entrepreneur. There’s Stuff by Hilary Duff, her own fashion and accessory line. A major retailer will soon announce a deal. Even a Hilary Duff prepaid credit card is in the works.

Buckingham: “It’s always hard to predict the next big thing and there are a lot of young tween actresses, but Hilary seems to have crossed over so much so that marketers are saying she’s someone they can relate to.”

Hasbro has signed Hilary up as the spokesperson for VideoNow, a portable video player, and she has joined the ranks of those proudly displaying a milk mustache.

O’Dell: “Basically, you’re a business woman, I mean, at age 15!”

Hilary: [laughter] “That’s scary.”

O’Dell: “Would you even put that title on you?”

Hilary: “My parents handle that. And they do a really good job and I trust them.”

The Duffs also try to handle family life. Bob spends as much time as he can in Los Angeles and Susan makes sure both daughters — Haylie has had some small roles in TV and films as well — don’t become too Hollywood.

Susan: “We’re a family like any other family. And I come home and throw a fit because the dishes are all over the kitchen cabinet and the room is a mess. And I do the typical mother thing.”

Hilary’s workload does mean life in some ways is not typical. She is privately tutored and does not attend school.

O’Dell: “Are there other parts of regular school that you feel like you’re missing out on? Your mom and dad said you went to the prom.”

Hilary: “I don’t know if it’s necessarily the prom that I feel like I’m missing out on or being a cheerleader or something. Those kids are used to it so I guess they would feel like if they didn’t have it they would miss out, but I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t necessarily miss it.”

O’Dell: “How do you find time to do just the teen things?”

Hilary: “I do. I’m going out with my friends tonight. One thing that’s actually hard is to just go shopping with my friends is hard now.”

O’Dell: “You get mobbed at the mall.”

Hilary: “Yeah.”

So Hilary spends time with friends in more private places, like her backyard, complete with trampoline and yes, one can also add gymnast to Hilary’s list of accomplishments. But still, with all she’s achieved, there is one thing Hilary Duff is just going to have to wait for.

O’Dell: “You’re going to turn Sweet Sixteen?”

Hilary: “Yes.”

O’Dell: “What are you looking forward to most about being all of 16 years old?”

Hilary: [laughter] “What do you think?”

O’Dell: “Getting your driver’s license?”

Hilary: “Yes, thank you. It’s all I think about.”

Hilary Duff won’t have to wait too long for her license. She’s hoping to get it this fall.