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It's not that Hilary Duff wasn't being well looked after. On the contrary. She was so hyper-attended-to, I wanted to take her by the hand and run.

In Toronto to promote Duff's fourth album, Dignity, her team swarmed into the so-called Pink Room at the Park Hyatt (the upholstery, lamps and art work are cotton-candy-coloured; the hotel donates a portion of the bill to breast-cancer research). Duff's publicist was there, and the publicist's assistant. Duff's tour manager, bearing Starbucks, chatted with her regular manager, who tapped non-stop on a white laptop. Her bodyguard stood by the door, while her stylist meticulously fanned out jewellery on any available surface. Everyone communicated constantly on headsets about when Duff would arrive, what she was wearing, and what outfit she'd be changing into next.

Only 19, Hilary Duff has been famous for half her life. She played the title character in the popular TV series Lizzie McGuire from 2001 until 2004, when she and Disney parted ways over her salary. She has starred in eight movies - most recently Material Girls (2006) with her older sister Haylie - and her first three albums were hits.

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Dignity is being touted as a reinvention for Duff, because for the first time she co-wrote its songs, and its beats are more adult dance club than teen bubblegum. The renowned photographer Andrew Macpherson shot the CD's liner photos, in which a newly brunette Duff wears grown-up black leather and diamonds.

But the idea of "reinvention," so beloved in show business, is laughable here. Nineteen-year-olds can't reinvent themselves - they're still inventing themselves. As Duff put it, "I'm not like, 'I have to be different, I have to go dye my hair!' Don't people dye their hair?"

Dignity's lyrics, thinly veiled autobiography, remind me of my high-school diaries, which were self-loathing yet disdainful of everyone who didn't see how deep I was. In the song Stranger, Duff chastises her ex-boyfriend, Joel Madden, of the band Good Charlotte: "When no one's around/There's no kindness in your eyes." In No Work, All Play, she gives herself a pep talk: "Work on yourself/Don't run from the pain you've felt." And in the title song, she scorns Hollywood Pop Tarts Lindsay, Britney and Paris, with whom she has reportedly feuded: "It's all about you, we got it, we got it. It's not news when you got a new bag." Duff's reputation is Good Girl - she doesn't go out often, and when she does she wears underpants.

When Duff eventually appeared, her minky hair was long and wavy, and her eyes, which are truly hazel, were rimmed in smudgy brown. She wore diamond hoop earrings, a black tank top over a grey T-shirt, skinny black jeans and killer Givenchy pumps, black and chunky. Her slim shoulders were sunburned, which was somehow touching.

Duff is as poised and articulate as a teenager can be, but listening to her is still a bit like deciphering a 20-minute run-on sentence, full of Thoughts and Feelings.

"Writing this record was scary," she said. "I just sat down and said, 'Okay, what affects me, what's inside?' These are what came out first. So it is personal. But I know that the songs aren't really new - everybody has songs about these things. This is just my outlook. Because I'm normal. And growing's not easy."

Duff had a tough year. She shot a movie in Bulgaria, far from home. She endured her first broken heart, immortalized in several songs on Dignity. Her parents, Bob and Susan (who is a producer on Duff's films), are divorcing, "which is a weird thing to deal with at the age I'm at now," she said. "I felt like out of all my friends, I was the only kid whose parents were still together." (I love that she still calls herself a kid.) But she also spent some quality time in New York with her sister, who was doing a play. She's clear-eyed that, "I'm going to make mistakes. I can't not do something because it might look bad. Mothers will come up to me and say, 'Never change.' If someone said that to you when you were 19, wouldn't you be like, 'What?'"

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And she finally addressed the rumours about her alleged catfight - a media creation, she insists - with Lindsay Lohan.

"I'm not the type of person who can just go up to people and say, 'Hi, I'm so-and-so,'" Duff insists. "I'm shy! I'm scared, okay? But Lindsay and I were out at the same place, and we were like, 'Let's get this out of the way.' And she was really nice, and I was really nice."

The whole thing reminded Duff of when she was shooting Lizzie McGuire, and friends would phone her about their "intense" high-school dramas.

"They'd say, 'Oh my god, you'll never believe what this guy did,' and I'd be like, 'Hmm, we just shot an episode about that last week.' But it's nice to be able to see Lindsay out and say hi, and not have this weird weirdness."

Duff paused. "Did I just say 'weird' enough?" she asked.

Not nearly enough for me. Duff's life is weird. She just had her first full week off in - get this - two years. "I'm motivated, I can gut it up, even the stuff I don't want to do," she said. "But then I start to feel like, 'Why do I do this? I'm so tired, I'm not having fun.' We go to these cool cities, and we don't even have time to stop in a restaurant and eat lunch. The job is 24 hours, around the clock, and not everyone understands that. And then millions and millions of people are reading things about you. And some of them aren't even true, and you're like, 'I didn't say that, how is this possible?' But the more you try to defend yourself, the more it looks like you're getting defensive and you're lying. It's a nightmare."

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Here's where I wanted to kidnap her: "Twice a year I have a really good cry," Duff continued. "I'll be, 'Wwaaaaah,' for like, 10 minutes. For no reason. But it feels good. I'm like, 'Whew.'"

All celebrities court fame, but until they get it, they can't comprehend its pressures. The idea that, at 19, you can be called a has-been, denigrated for not changing fast enough to keep up - that's like, whew.

"You hear these stories," Duff said, "and it's like everyone is trying to top each other, 'What can I do that will be more talked about than that?' It's ridiculous. I'm just trying to be honest."

She is dyeing her hair back to blond, though. "It's summer!" she explained. Alert the media.

Hilary Duff's

short but busy career

Film

Material Girls (2006)

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005)

The Perfect Man (2005)

Raise Your Voice (2004)

A Cinderella Story (2004)

Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)

Agent Cody Banks (2003)

The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003)

Cadet Kelly (2002)

Casper Meets Wendy (1998)

Upcoming:

Talking with Dog (2008)

War, Inc. (2007)

CDs

Destiny (2007)

Most Wanted (2005)

Hilary Duff (2004)

Metamorphosis (2003)

TV

Lizzie McGuire (2001-2004)

jschneller@globeandmail.com

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