Singer tunes in to first movie role
SINGER Tori Kelly never imagined her voice would get her into the movie business.
The YouTube star from California was working on her debut album when she was approached by Illumination, the animation studio behind Despicable Me and Minions, for their next film - Sing.
The story follows Buster Moon, a koala who has one final chance to restore his theatre to its former glory by producing the world's greatest singing competition.
"I wasn't expecting anything like this to come up, especially so soon in my career," Kelly tells Weekend. "I was a little nervous at first because it was new territory for me."
Kelly, 23, voices Meena, a teenage elephant who is so painfully shy the only people who have ever heard her sing are her family members, including her pushy grandpa.
Meena tries to audition for the talent competition but freezes on stage and through a series of misunderstandings ends up as Buster's novice stage manager.
Unable to break the news to her family and too scared to ask Buster for another audition, Meena watches on as the other finalists rehearse for the big show.
"I actually was really shy as a kid," Kelly says.
"When I first started singing I wasn't as bad as Meena. I could get the notes out but I definitely got really stiff on stage. My dad's a musician and he would try to pull me on stage and I'd chicken out. I was definitely a shy kid and I could relate to Meena on that level for sure."
The singer was surprised by writer-director Garth Jennings' collaborative style in the recording studio.
"I thought you'd go in and they'd know what they want and you say it like they want, but it wasn't like that at all," she says.
"It was very collaborative. We were creating this voice of Meena together. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done."
In one of the film's most touching moments, Meena sings an a capella version of Hallelujah, by the late Leonard Cohen.
"It's the first time people get to really hear Meena sing," she says. "Even before we recorded the song and they told me I was going to get to sing that song, I thought it was so fitting.
"I've always loved that song and it was an honour to sing it. With him (Cohen) passing it adds this whole new meaning to that scene and makes it a little heavier."
Kelly didn't get to meet her A-list co-stars including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and Seth MacFarlane until the film's world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September.
"When the whole movie was done I finally got to meet all the main actors; kind of crazy, huh?" she says.
"It was weird to see Meena talking but it was my voice coming out. I started to really believe I was Meena; it was so surreal. I've seen the movie twice now and it still trips me out."
Apart from hitting the promotional trail for Sing, Kelly has also begun work on her second album, due for release some time next year.
"I'm getting to catch up with life, chill out and reflect on the year I've had," she says.
"There's a lot more I have to say and if anything life is my biggest (songwriting) influence right now."
But the Grammy nominee would consider another foray into acting, for the right role.
"I would love for Sing 2 to be a thing," she says. "In terms of acting in general, I might give it a shot if it's the right role. I think I'll just know if the right thing lands on my plate."