08/12/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT
Call it diva-to-diva outreach. Last September, after Mariah Carey
weathered a very public emotional breakdown, fellow songbird Beyoncé Knowles sent her a videotaped message. Having endured bad publicity over legal battles involving her group Destiny's Child, "she related to how isolated Mariah must have been feeling," says makeup artist Billy B., who works with both stars. Though they'd never met, Knowles "said if she ever needed a friend to talk to that she'd be there," says Billy B. "It was a nice thing to do, and that's just Beyoncé."
She could have offered some career advice too. In her big-screen debut as the sassy, jive-talkin' Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers in Goldmember
(which scored a 24-karat opening-weekend box office of $71 million), Knowles, 20, is winning raves for her dead-on '70s groove. Throw in her group's Grammy (for the 2000 hit "Say My Name") and her songwriting chops (she wrote last year's smash single "Bootylicious"), and Knowles seems to be brimming with mojo. Still, she admits to shaking in her platform boots on the set. "In the beginning I was so nervous working with a star like Mike Myers," she says. He was happy to loosen her up. "I'd spend the whole day trying to break her concentration and make her laugh," Myers says. "Finally when I would, her next take would be perfect."
She may have been channeling Pam Grier in the movie, but Knowles says the tough-chick 'tude is hardly the real Beyoncé (rhymes with fiancé). Though she has been linked with rapper Jay-Z and hip-hop singer-producer Pharrell Williams, Knowles complains of still being single. She and her Destiny's Child partners Kelly Rowland, 21, and Michelle Williams, 22, "talk about being independent, being strong and taking care of ourselves, but we want to be domestic," she says. "The dating thing is really hard."
A Methodist who attends church when she stays at her family's Houston-area home, Knowles has long balanced her conservative values with her flashy stage persona. The older daughter of Destiny's Child manager and producer Mathew, 50, and Tina, 48, the group's stylist (sister Solange, 16, is also a singer), Beyoncé began taking dance lessons at 7 and formed her first vocal group, Girls Tyme, at 10. "The first time I saw her onstage, at a school talent show, she was just a different person," says Mathew. "Tina and I looked at each other like, 'Wow! Where did that come from?'"
Girls Tyme evolved into Destiny's Child, featuring Knowles, Rowland, LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson, and their first two albums went platinum. But trouble brewed when Luckett and Roberson fired Mathew as their manager. He, in turn, dropped them from Destiny's Child in 1999, prompting the ousted singers to sue. Though their case was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2000, the public skirmish created the perception that Destiny's Child is really Beyoncé Inc. Mathew, a former Xerox salesman, makes no bones about his role in advancing his daughter's career. "If Beyoncé had said she wanted to be a doctor," he says, "I would have been thinking about how I could buy a hospital for her." As for the other members, they deny any infighting. "We all feel like sisters," says Rowland.
But the sisters are also doin' it for themselves. All three have pursued solo projects, with Knowles's album expected to come out early next year. This month she will begin shooting The Fighting Temptations
with Cuba Gooding Jr. During her downtime, Knowles—who is looking to buy a place in Miami—"paints oil paintings and watercolors," says her mom. "She loves the beach." She's also working on her cooking skills to prepare for another role. "I'd love to have a family one day," says Knowles. "Not for a few years, but eventually I'd love to get married and have children."
For now, children—and the next Destiny's Child album—will have to wait. "This is just a dream come true for me," Knowles says of her new movie career. "I'm so happy."
Gabrielle Cosgriff in Houston, Sona Charaipotra and Dimitry Leger in New York City and Rachel Biermann in Los Angeles