Former “Beverly Hills, 90210” wild thing Shannen Doherty claims to have calmed down so that she can focus on parlaying her small-screen fame from “Charmed” into a big-screen career. She’s starting with the upcoming Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
When the editor of this magazine asked me to conduct an interview with former “Beverly Hills, 90210” star Shannen Doherty, who has recently quit “Charmed” but is busy making the TV movie Another Day with Francis Ford Coppola and will soon appear in Kevin Smith’s quirky comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, I felt like Luca Brasi being sent to sniff out the Tattaglias. I wondered aloud if I should wear a flak jacket. After all, this is a woman who, in the early ’90s, allegedly pulled a gun on a former fiancÚ, tried to run him over with her car and threatened to have him sodomized on his front lawn. In 1997, she was sentenced to anger management counseling by the Beverly Hills Municipal Court after she got into an argument with a 22-year-old man and smashed a beer bottle on his car window. Last year, she was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and was also accused of verbally harassing the proprietor of a yogurt store after she was told that her favorite flavor had sold out. In between these explosive, tabloid-worthy incidents were the more quotidian restraining orders, barroom brawls, and shouting matches with her “90210” producer Aaron Spelling, plus a love affair with Judd Nelson (whom she met on the set of the film Blindfold: Acts of Obsession) and a seven-month marriage to Ashley Hamilton, son of George.
After a week of negotiations with Doherty’s publicist, we agree to meet at Cafe Des Artistes, a hip, ficus-festooned hideaway on one of the quieter side streets of Hollywood. I arrive early to secure a table. She’s late. Her publicist calls to say that it’ll be another 45 minutes. I nurse a vodka and tonic and wonder if I should remove the sharp objects from the table. And then Doherty sweeps in with her entourage. Not only her PR gal, but her mother (who’s now on her payroll) and her little goddaughter. They seat themselves at a table across the room while Doherty comes over to my table, takes my hand and tells me how sorry she is for keeping me waiting. She looks younger than her years, and, like most actors, she’s smaller than she looks on TV—a shade under five foot four and a waiflike 97 pounds.
“How are you dealing with having just turned 30?”
“I’m happy to put my twenties behind me.” I’ll bet.
“How did you celebrate?”
“I went to San Francisco for the weekend.”
“A friend.” She had been in a seven-year relationship with writer-director Rob Weiss (Amongst Friends), but now she says they’re merely best friends. “He went through the most tumultuous times of my life with me, and he played an essential part in my growing up.”
Doherty is so composed and cooperative that I wonder if I’m not interrogating a clone. While she’s pulling the leaves off her artichoke, I confess that I’m having trouble reconciling this Girl Scout across the table with the actress whose exhibits have been tabloid fodder for years.
“The tabloids are terrific at taking two percent of the truth and turning it into a huge story,” she says. “If I did half of what the tabloids said I did, I’d be dead.”
“Are you saying you weren’t a pain in the ass on the set of ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’?” She leans back, smiles and then offers the following self-analysis.
“I signed up to do a show that was part of the teenage, pop culture thing, but I also wanted to do a show that meant something. I was used to playing intelligent girls who had something going for them. Also, I grew up in a house where my opinions were valued. So it was disappointing to me when my opinions about my character, Brenda, were ignored and when Brenda got reduced to being a bitch who spent her time worrying about who was sleeping with whom. I was not happy doing a soap opera. On top of which my life had completely changed, and I was having a really hard time dealing with it. People would pretend to be my friends and then go sell stories about me to The National Enquirer. I’d wake up and there’d be photographers taking pictures of me through my bedroom window. I didn’t know who I could trust. I felt like a caged animal.”
“Why didn’t you just quit the show?” I ask.
“I was under contract. And the longer it continued the worse it got, because I thought, ‘Who do these people think they are? I’ll show them.’ So I went out at night and gave the tabloids even more to write about. I’d go out and drink six or seven kamikazes to escape my problems.”
“Did you try to run over your fiancÚ?”
“Look. I have good aim. If I really wanted to run him over, I wouldn’t have missed.”
“Were you abusive to the owner of a yogurt store?”
“I hate yogurt,” says Doherty. “I’ve never even walked into a yogurt store.”
“Though you hated starring on ‘90210,’ you agreed to do another series, ‘Charmed.’ What made you want to go back to TV?”
“Granted, ‘Charmed’ is not ‘Law & Order,’ but at least I was working and getting paid.”
“Then why did you leave the show?”
“After three seasons I felt I had done all I could do with the character. They would not allow me to push the envelope any further.”
“Do you feel as if your safety net is now gone?”
“Not at all. I feel it’s one of the more exciting times of my life. To finally realize the kind of work I want to do and to just put myself out there—it’s a risk, but that’s the exciting part. To challenge myself makes for an interesting career and life.”
One of her new challenges is starring in and producing with Francis Ford Coppola the TV movie Another Day. “I have great respect for Francis,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to work with someone of that caliber. And then there’s the material, which is challenging. It’s the kind of work I want to do from here on out.”
“When did you start to love acting?”
“When I was 10 years old. I was a self-conscious kid. I was worried about my looks, my teeth, my legs. But when I was acting, I felt comfortable.”
At the age of 10, Doherty landed a part on “Little House: A New Beginning.” She continued to appear on television shows and in TV movies throughout her teens. Then, in 1989, she played Heather Duke in the macabre teen comedy Heathers. Her costars included Winona Ryder and Christian Slater.
“Why didn’t you continue to make films after Heathers?”
“I wasn’t concerned whether the work was in film or TV, I only looked at how interesting the character was. Keep in mind I was 18 when I was offered ‘90210.’ I didn’t realize that it was going to pigeonhole me or that people would start hateful newsletters about my character.”
Doherty admits that by working almost exclusively in television, she hasn’t had the chance to work with two directors she admires, Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese. But then she adds, “The TV audience has always been loyal and for that I’m eternally grateful. My fans have been with me since ‘Little House.’ They’re almost like family.”
“You sound as if you personally know them.”
“Some of them I know,” she says. “I love reading fan mail. I called a 15-year-old kid after reading his letter. He hung up on me three times and finally, it was like, ‘Look, if you hang up on me again I’m not gonna call you back, and then you’re gonna feel like an idiot. So ask me something only I would know.’ He asked me my birth sign and my dogs’ names and then he realized it was me. And we chatted for half an hour. It was pretty cool.”
“Has there been a film role that you’ve gone after with a vengeance?”
“Yeah, Heat. I wanted to do that movie so bad. All my favorite actors were in that—Val Kilmer, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro. And Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors. When I went to audiČtion I was freaking out. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I got hives all over my arms and neck. On a set, I’m OK. I tune everybody out. But at auditioning, I suck.” The part went to Ashley Judd.
“How do you cope with rejection?”
“Therapy helped. I went for four years.”
“Was that part of the anger management counseling?”
“No, I was in therapy long before that. The anger management person spent most of the sessions talking about herself and telling me what a victim I was. My real therapist said that I was a bit of an asshole and asked me how I could have avoided the situation.”
“Exactly what was the situation?”
“It was a dark parking lot. A drunk man was spitting in my face and calling me obscene names, and I created a distraction and ran. But people have their own perceptions of who I am, and they don’t want to let go of that. And the more I try to explain myself the more stupid I feel. So now, I just want it to end. I’m not up for the battle. I don’t want to sue the tabloids even though they’ve portrayed me as this crazy and angry woman when, in fact, I’m the furthest thing from that.”
“You’ve done two movies with Ben Affleck—_Mallrats_ and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Do you think he’s all that he’s hyped up to be?”
“I can acknowledge that Ben is good-looking, but he’s not my type.” Now she waves to the waiter. “Excuse me. May I have another Coke please? And I am so done with this artichoke.” Then back to me without missing a beat. “I like a man who’s a little rougher-looking. I like some character in the face. A face should tell a story. See the wrinkles around my eyes? I’m proud of them. They tell me what I’ve been through.”
“What actors do you find sexy?”
“Al Pacino. Harrison Ford. And Brad Pitt in Snatch?
“Whom among your contemporaries do you admire?”
“Angelina Jolie. I love her spirit. And she’s not going to change who she is.’
Doherty seems to have changed who she is a bit. Instead of living in L.A. and hanging out at nightclubs, she now calls a quiet 25-acre horse farm in Ventura County home. She lives alone and is single. She does her own housework (“vacuuming burns a lot of calories”). On the weekends, she rides her horses and watches videos. And she tells me she’s trying to make it through James Joyce’s Ulysses.
“Do you think you’re prepared for what may lie ahead careerwise?” I ask.
“On ‘Charmed’ there were a couple of moments when I gave the most brutally honest performance I could ever have given as an actor. What you saw came from my gut. And when I looked at those moments I knew that they weren’t being given their proper due, because they were on ‘Charmed.’ It’s a show for 12-year-olds! I used to always think, ‘Why can’t I have that John Travolta comeback thing where I’m taken seriously?’ I’m ready to take on bigger and better. I want to show people what I can do.”