LOS ANGELES, April 8 (Reuters) - Miley Cyrus brings her wildly popular Hannah Montana character to U.S. movie theaters on Friday after a year of publicity that left fans and parents wondering if the 16-year-old Disney sensation might be growing up too fast.
First, there was the "Vanity Fair" cover shot last June in which Cyrus was draped only in a bed sheet. Parents complained that it was an inappropriate move for the schoolgirl star their young daughters idolize.
Then there were personal pictures of her leaked on the Internet showing a strip of her green bra. More recently, a snapshot of her making "slant eyes" prompted an Asian group to say it was "mocking and denigrating" to people of Asian descent.
She has apologized, said pictures were taken out of context and complained that the media were trying to turn her into Hollywood's latest "bad girl."
"I almost feel like people think of me as dumb," said Cyrus, who recently created her own personal "Rumor Patrol" blog on MileyCyrus.com.
"I'm like, I'm smarter than you think. You know, I understand what you're trying to do. It's all a mind game and what not," she said.
Cyrus, the daughter of country music singer Billy Ray Cyrus, spent her first 13 years in Tennessee.
In 2006 she landed a role on the Disney Channel's (DIS.N) "Hannah Montana," a sitcom about a teenage girl named Miley Stewart who has a secret identity as rock star Hannah Montana.
Since then, Cyrus has sold more than 7 million albums, raked in $65 million at the box office with her concert film "Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour 3-D," and started her own fashion line.
In "Hannah Montana: The Movie," Stewart's father -- played by real-life dad Billy Ray -- takes her home to Tennessee for some ego downsizing after she gets swept up in the Hollywood fame game.
Back home, Hannah falls victim to an exploding birthday cake, sits on raw eggs and gets into a cat fight with supermodel Tyra Banks over a pair of designer shoes.
"It was a bit scary," said Cyrus, "but it was fun."
Cyrus said that in general, it is difficult being a kid in Disney's stable of child stars because it leads to a squeaky-clean reputation that any teenage girl would find tough to measure up to.
"I feel like some people will almost think of me as a joke because of it," she said.
As a result, she is now trying to move into more nuanced parts and put Hannah Montana behind her. Cyrus sees the new movie as a first step.
"The big reason I did the 'Hannah Montana' movie is because (film) is something I really want to do for the rest of my life," she said.
Her next project is a movie based on a book that Nicolas Sparks -- the author of "A Walk to Remember," "The Notebook," and "Nights in Rodanthe" -- is writing and adapting for her.
"It's more of an edgy role, which I'm excited to do," said Cyrus. "It's really important to me that people think of me as a real artist." (Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Xavier Briand)