What Aaliyah and Cher Have in Common

Outside of music, Aaliyah showed promising potential as an actor. She starred alongside Jet Li in Romeo Must Die and landed a dream role as a mystical queen in Queen of the Damned. The film would be her last ahead of her unexpected plane crash. As it turns out, there were other notables who auditioned for the film – including Cher

Aaliyah
Aaliyah at the 2000 Teen Choice Awards | Chris Weeks/Liaison

Aaliyah and Cher both auditioned for the same role in ‘Queen of the Damned’

In a recent interview, Queen of the Damned director Michael Rymer, revealed that he met with some big names for the queen’s role in the movie. ​​“I had a number of meetings with actresses, including Cher,” Rymer said, per a report from The Jasmine Brand.

Source: YouTube

Related: Aaliyah Was Making Huge Plans for the Future Before Her Tragic Death

He visited the icon and was immediately impressed. “I drove out to her Malibu house and went through this vast series of Spanish Colonial rooms,” he said. “There she is sitting in this chair, and she really was already quite a viable Akasha.”

But despite Cher’s striking presence, there’s a distinct reason why she was not selected for the role. “I just had a very strong belief that if we were going to do African queens, we had to have a person of color,” he said. “I said that to the studio, and we made these long lists – Halle Berry, Regina King, an embarrassment of riches.”

Aaliyah’s personality won the film team over

As it turns out, Aaliyah’s name was pitched to star as Akasha. Queen of the Damned’s producer, Jorge Saralegui, spoke of hearing Aaliiyah’s name for the first time. He said of Aaliyah, “[she] was proposed by the studio as a big name to hang the movie on, given that the movie wasn’t going to be that expensive.”

Source: YouTube

Related: Beyoncé and Aaliyah Auditioned for the Same Role in the Early 2000s Cult Classic ‘Josie and the Pussycats’

Rymer was also taken aback by Aaliyah during their first meeting. “She was lovely. I said, ‘Look, I’m very serious about this, but I need to know that you can pull this off, for your sake as well as mine,” he explained. “Will you go through a process with me before I say to the studio that I think it’ll work?’ And she said, ‘Absolutely.’ So I put that poor girl through the wringer.”

In order to test her skills, he put her through a string of tests. “I got her to learn a monologue from Oscar Wilde’s Salomé and then I had her separately working on Egyptian accents,” he said. “By the end of the process, I had her reciting Oscar Wilde in a very exaggerated Egyptian accent, crawling around on her knees like a calf. I was like, ‘All right, you are such a trooper. You’re gonna go the distance.’”

How well did ‘Queen of the Damned’ do in theaters?

The gothic horror film was released in 2002. It was loosely based on the third novel by Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles series, which was released in 1998. Much of the film was completed ahead of Aaliyah’s unexpected August 2001 death, where the singer filmed on location in Australia. It was reported that Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad Houghton, completed some final voice-over work for Aaliyah’s role.

Many flocked to see the film in one of Aaliyah’s final on-screen performances. But, they were unimpressed. A New York Times review noted: 

The real victim of this dreary mess is the late Aaliyah. She plays Akasha, the Queen of all Vampires, who is so powerful that she can even venture out in daylight. Poor Aaliyah, who showed such unaffected naturalness in ”Romeo Must Die” that she exacted immediate audience rapport, is also saddled with a ludicrous Transylvanian accent. If they all sounded so operatically goofy, who exactly is it that Lestat and his similarly afflicted souls thought they were hiding their identities from?

Unfortunately, Queen of the Damned received mostly negative reviews from critics. On a budget of $35 million, the film earned just $45 million by the end of its theatrical run.