"Do I amooze you?" Miley Cyrus asks, hamming it up in a thick New York City accent while wearing an eighties snakeskin getup and chunky gold jewelry and chewing a huge wad of bright green gum. We're on the set of TV's Hannah Montana, and Miley, playing a Mafia princess, is trying to bail Lilly (comic foil Emily Osment) out from yet another dire situation. "You should have a little thing called a Miley shot," she jokes to the crew, as if she didn't already have their undivided attention. "Four cameras on me."
With taping finished for the day, Miley blows back into her dressing room like the teen tornado from Franklin, Tennessee, that she is. "Honey, I think I'm going to wear this tonight," she jokes to her boyfriend, Justin Gaston, referring to her tacky outfit. The model-singer—dressed in a tight black T-shirt, ripped jeans, a Diesel belt, and fairly visible Calvins—has been waiting patiently for his lady for 90 minutes, quietly strumming a guitar. "Good gosh," says Justin, a relatively Zen yin to Miley's easily excitable yang. The actress slips into sweats and promptly announces that she and Justin just looove Disney animation and plan to watch Alice in Wonderland that evening. "It's such a perverted movie," she continues, picking off her fake magenta nails. "It's all about Ecstasy. I swear! Look it up online." Actually, some associate the movie with trippy psychedelics, not Ecstasy, but Miley's claim is just proof of her refreshing naïveté—her biggest vices seem to be caffeine and sushi. And for the record: Miley has never taken Ecstasy. I asked. "Me? No," she answers. But that doesn't mean she's not wild. "I'm a crazy chiquita," she freely admits. "I'm nuts."
Nuts, maybe. But she's also as close to your typical teenager as someone who earned $25 million last year could be. And like most teenagers, she's got strong opinions. Surprisingly strong, considering how the media follows her every word. Take, for example, her current reading list.
The Catcher in the Rye? "A little long." The Outsiders, however, is "the best book ever. He's going to deny it, but Justin," she calls out to her boyfriend, "didn't you cry?" She also loves Netflix, the iTunes free single of the week, and karaoke. But unlike most people, her recent karaoke adventure was with the JoBros. "Joe singing 'Bootylicious' was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," Miley says with no residual animosity in her voice for former flame Nick.
Instead, her knees get knocky over Jude Law, who is "so adorable" in The Holiday, Javier Bardem, who's "so sexy," and Gerard Butler. "You've seen him in P.S. I Love You, right?" Miley asks, swooning. "My favorite. I bawled my eyes out." And don't even get her started on Scarlett Johansson. "She is, honestly, the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. I went to He's Just Not That into You with Justin, and I was covering his eyes." One person who doesn't make her sweat? "I'm not a huge Rob Pattinson fan. Girls aren't really in love with Rob; they're in love with Edward."
Whether Miley herself is in love at this moment is still up in the air. "I believe in love at first sight," she says. "It just hasn't happened to me." The first time she saw Justin, "I walked right by him. Love doesn't come from attraction, but from somewhere deeper. [Justin] is my best friend." They're inseparable and lately have been writing and producing music together in her home studio.
As for writing with BFFs Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, or Taylor Swift—"Demi and I are the most alike; I'm anti-drama"—that's not going to happen soon. "I like to keep my friendship separate," Miley says. "Otherwise, competition starts."
The way she tells it, it seems Miley is more comfortable with the opposite sex. In fact, in the dating department, she's often happy to make the first move. "It doesn't bother me," she says. "I want to know who made up the rules, because the rules are lame." For a sixteen year old, that kind of confidence is rare—and inspiring. It's probably also what makes her so popular. Women in general, she adds, "have such hard heads. I know I do. Someone can say, 'You're beautiful.' Then I think, Yeah, that's bull." Her songs, she hopes, counteract that insecurity with messages of empowerment: "The more you listen to a song, the more you're inspired by it."
If there's one thing Miley appreciates, it's a positive message. She likes clothes, she says, "but you don't show your personality by what you wear—it's about how you present yourself, by always having a smile." (Although she was born Destiny Hope Cyrus—how's that for prescience?—"Miley" comes from her "smiley" ways.) Her winning personality helped Miley get away with this year's Oscar dress, which, by her own account, was inspired by Ariel in The Little Mermaid. "I thought it was really fun," she says.
Oscar dress included, in 2009, Miley has been breaking out of the shackles of the Disney Channel and, well, trying to grow up as gracefully as possible. There's her memoir, Miles to Go, released in the spring. "People are like, 'You're sixteen, why would you write your life story?'" Miley says. "But in the business I'm in, I have lived a life that some people who are in their sixties haven't lived. I've gone through a lot and seen a lot. But I still have a lot to learn." Then there's the release of Hannah Montana: The Movie. And early this summer, shooting will begin on her first dramatic endeavor, a film Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) wrote with her in mind. After that, she says, "I'd like to do something like Revolutionary Road or Garden State. I definitely want to be more challenged."
And there are so many "miles to go," and not just figuratively. She would like to travel more, but on her own terms. "I've been to Paris a thousand times. Everyone says it's gorgeous, but I've only seen it from inside a hotel suite," she laments. "I'd like to escape to Australia and sleep on the beach. Do crazy things." With new adventures come mistakes, but Miley is sharp and self-assured enough to know those come with the territory. (It's all, as she sings in her most recent hit single, about "The Climb.") "A mistake is only really a mistake if you don't learn from it," she says. "When I'm 30, am I going to be thinking about things that seem massive right now? Probably not." Just then, Emily Osment pops in to throw a wrench in this golden moment. "What's up, loser?" Miley snaps, and she's back to her giddy, quick-texting, Gerard Butler–obsessing reality, managing, like her Hannah Montana theme song proclaims, to have the best of both worlds.