Beyonce Knowles is not pleased. The 20-year-old lead singer of Destiny's Child wants something to read while a stylist weaves her curly, honey-blond hair into a funky ponytail. More specifically, she wants the August issue of a certain magazine that her staff has been hiding from her. "I really don't want you to read it again," her publicist says, before reluctantly forking it over. Knowles is incredulous as she flips through the story, which, she says, barely mentions her role in the new "Austin Powers in Goldmember," and, instead, paints her as a pitiful and unstable diva. "It's like they don't think I'm human," she says. "That I need people to feel sorry for me and my so-called unhappy life. There've been ups and down, but I don't have an unhappy life. I'm doing just fine.''
Blame the Beyonce backlash. Ever since two of the original Destiny's Child girls quit the Grammy-winning group, claiming nepotism by its manager (who happens to be Beyonce's father, Mathew), she has been accused of having a Diana Ross complex. But in person, she doesn't seem much like a diva. With a giggle that would suit a 16-year-old at a Lil Bow Wow concert, Knowles is hardly the bootylicious, independent woman of her videos. She even confesses that the inspiration for last year's megahit "Bootylicious" was the weight she was gaining thanks to her two big vices, popcorn shrimp and french fries. "I wrote that song because I was getting bigger and bigger and I just wanted to talk about it,'' Knowles says. "I like to eat and that's a problem in this industry. I'm still probably twice as big any of the other actresses out there, and that's a constant grind that I really hate to have to worry about.''
You'd be hard-pressed to find much fat on Knowles in "Goldmember." She stuck to a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet while playing a funked-up Bond girl to Mike Myers's shagadelic spy. Her performance as a badass black chick is sure to make the mother of all badass black chicks--Pam Grier of "Foxy Brown" fame--mighty proud. As Foxxy Cleopatra, a spy posing as the lead singer of a girl trio at a 1970s roller disco, Knowles serves up the sassiness audiences have come to expect from her. She had to audition twice. "I read with Mike and just tried to be the straight guy," she says. "When I left, I was convinced I wasn't going to get it." Nonetheless she got a callback, and this time she was ready. "I went back in wearing a Pam Grier-like cat suit, an Afro wig and had memorized every blaxploitation film ever made.'' Myers ate it up.
"Austin Powers" producer John Lyons takes credit for "discovering" Knowles after seeing her in a hip-hop version of "Carmen" on MTV last year. "I felt strongly she was our girl from the very beginning, because she lit up every frame of that project and that was just her first acting role,'' Lyons says. "She has this Streisand-like quality, where you just know she can do anything and have this amazing career in both music and film. If she wants it.''
And that's the million-dollar question: what does Beyonce want? She's surprisingly ambivalent. There are days, she says, when she wishes she had a 9-to-5 job teaching art, something she says she still might do. "It's overwhelming sometimes," she says. "I'm happy, but at the same time, I'm not sure how long I want to do this. You have a lot to worry about all the time.''
It hasn't helped that the ranks of the "Hate Beyonce" club have grown with her success. After LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson left the group in 1999 and sued her father for financial mismanagement, Knowles says she went into a deep depression. "Up to then I had never had anything bad happen to me, and so it really threw me because I became the villain and that hurt so bad,'' she says. "I was only about 17 or 18, and all of a sudden I'm walking through airports and hearing people say, 'I can't stand her, she just thinks she's all that.' And I wanted so badly to say, 'You don't even know me. How can you judge me?' ''
That case was settled (terms were not disclosed), but the lawsuits continue. Earlier this year, Luckett and Roberson sued for defamation over the hit "Survivor," which Knowles wrote and recorded with a newly constituted Destiny's Child. A trial date is pending. Then there are the rumors, like the story about her father's forcing her bandmates to go to a tanning salon so that his daughter would be the "fairest" of them all. When asked about it, Knowles laughs, and then one-ups with her own wild rumor. "Did you hear the one about my mother and Michelle [a new member of the group] being lovers, and that's why Michelle got to sing some lead songs?'' During the "Austin Powers" shoot, the tabloids were reporting that Knowles was flubbing her lines. Myers disputes that. "She came to the set prepared in every way, every day," he says. "In fact, she was overprepared.''
Through it all, Knowles says she's trying to find some peace in the spotlight. "I can certainly understand what Lauryn and Mariah have gone through," she says, noting the all-too-public meltdowns suffered by her peers Hill and Carey. Perhaps to avoid the same fate, Knowles has postponed the release of her first solo album, originally slated for later this year, and is instead taking a monthlong break to chill and shop for a beach house in Miami. She may even have time for her love life. She denies romantic involvement with Eminem, but is coy when asked about recent photos of her embracing Jay-Z. "We're good friends,'' she says, smiling. "To get a boyfriend, I have to date, and it's so hard to trust people. But I'm hopeful." Spoken like a true survivor.