`I'm just double-checking," says Miley Cyrus, leaning over to see if my digital recorder is running. "Not that I don't trust you, but there have been some interviews that have not gotten recorded."

It's pretty clear that the 17-year-old pop idol is taking charge.

After being known as Disney Channel's kid star Hannah Montana, Cyrus is heading in a more grown-up direction in her new film, "The Last Song," which opens Wednesday.

"I've gone these last five years with everyone telling me what to do," says Cyrus as she sits in a sunny Santa Monica hotel room, with what seems like a ring on each finger. "Now it's up to me and what I think is right in my career; so I'm just going in my own direction."

Her role in "The Last Song" was specifically written for her by Nicholas Sparks ("The Notebook"), and even the character, Veronica Miller - who goes by the name Ronnie, was named after her grandfather.

One thing you notice about Cyrus is that she's pretty up-tempo. "I'm from the South. They talk fast. Trust me," explains the Tennessee native, adding that her mom "talks 10 times faster and no one can understand what she says because of her accent."

Her mother, Tish Cyrus, had a hand in producing "The Last Song," directed by Britain's Julie Anne Robinson. It also stars Australian actor Liam Hemsworth - Cyrus' current boyfriend - as Ronnie's love interest, Will.

Cyrus plays a troubled 18-year old who has been sent, along with her younger brother, to live with her composer father (Greg Kinnear), whom she resents for leaving her mother. A good girl but hardly Hannah Montana, Ronnie has some rough edges and, as a New Yorker, isn't happy about living in a Southern beach town.

She is, of course, musically talented, but as a pianist. You'll only hear Cyrus' vocals on two songs on the soundtrack and in the movie once, as she sings along to Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" on the radio while riding in a car.

She currently is finishing up an album that will be released in June, but those may be the last tunes you'll hear from Cyrus for a while.

"I kind of don't want to do music right now," she says, describing the record as sounding a little bit more pop and definitely a little edgier - "kind of like The Killers. That's my favorite band."

The reason she's taking a break, she says, is that she has grown tired of all the politics in the record industry.

"I remember when I lived in Nashville before all of this. I would call my radio station and say, `Can I hear Justin Timberlake' and fans could call in. It was all about the fans. Now it's all about what commercials can we play. What gossip can we hear about. Who do we owe so we can play their music. It's not like it's based on the fans anymore. And that's the kind of industry I want to be in - one based on the fans and doing things for the people that support you."

Production, too, is under way now for the last season of "Hannah Montana." The final episodes of Season Four won't air until next spring, but Disney Channel promises that the series' 100 episodes will continue to air daily "for years to come."

So Cyrus may never escape the image of being Hannah Montana. Still, she thinks the show deserves "a respectful ending," and although the "wig is out" as soon as she has done that last episode, she has mixed feelings about the end, calling it bittersweet.

"It's kind of a bummer because it's like a security blanket for me. It's easy to go back to. It's like my comfort zone."

But then she's quick to look at the flip side. "To go into things that aren't necessarily as comfortable for me will be fun but more of a challenge. I'm ready for that."

Cyrus admits she has to be careful about what roles she chooses next.

"I still want (my fans) to know who I am, but I want to extend my audience. I want to continue to do what I love, but not just be the same person, over and over."

Next up is an American version of a 2008 French film called "LOL (Laughing Out Loud)," a teen comedy about a mother and daughter with relationship problems. The actress, who turns 18 in December, likes the idea of finding projects like "LOL" that "people don't necessarily know here that are really edgy and cool and need to be brought into the States."

If there is one thing you get a sense of from talking to Cyrus is that despite a whirlwind life in the public spotlight during her teen years, she is fairly grounded. Earlier in the day at a press conference she's asked about Hemsworth meeting her real parents.

"So if you love me and my family, which has five kids, my mom, my dad, my grandma and about 10,000 dogs, after you meet my lifestyle, then you're good. You're a keeper," she laughs.

While most actresses play younger roles, in "The Last Song" Cyrus plays older, filming the role of an 18-year-old when she was 16.

"I feel being compared to a normal 17-year old is a little bit hard to do," she says. "I don't feel like that's who I am necessarily. I think the media likes to use that to their advantage sometimes.

"`She's only 17, why is she doing this?' And then they like to act like I'm older sometimes ... (and) when it works to their advantage, they want me to be younger."

She says she found an "in-between" spot in her life, knowing that she's young, but also knowing that doesn't mean she has to be held back.

"It's interesting never getting off this ride. This go, go, go, go, go all the time and never stopping. But I think this is a good point. Once the movie comes out and the record comes out and when I go into my next film, I'll be able to have a little bit more time to look back on things and slow down just a little bit."

Rob Lowman 818-713-3687 robert.lowman@dailynews.com