Steppin' out magazine April 27th 2003

Steppin' out magazine April 27th 2003

Veteran actress and tabloid diva Shannen Doherty has experienced both the good and the ugly side of Hollywood during her long career. However, these days Doherty is riding high with her critically acclaimed Sci-Fi channel reality show called "Scare Tactics."

The series which features Doherty as both the host and sometime prankster airs at 10pm on Fridays and a past show airs immediately after at 10:30pm.

Beginning her career at the mere age of nine, Doherty, 32, always knew she wanted to be an actress. When the late Michael Landon discovered her from an episode of "Father Murphy," her fate was sealed. She was cast in her first series regular role as Jenny Wilder in "Little House: A New Beginning." Doherty was only 11 at the time.

During the 80s Doherty became a pop icon for her role as Brenda Walsh on the FOX series "Beverly Hills 90210." Doherty also starred for 3 turbulent years on the WB Network's "Charmed."

Indeed, Doherty's resume is long and impressive. Recently the outspoken actress starred opposite Shirly MacLaine in "The Battle of Mary Kay." Some of Doherty's other work includes starring in "Margaret Mitchell" as the title role about the famous "Gone With the Wind" author. Other television credits include, "Our House," "21 Jump Street," "Life Goes On," "Obsession," "Friends Till The End," "The Other Lover," the mini-series "Robert Kennedy and His Times", and the ABC television movie Satan's School for Girls opposite Kate Jackson.

Moving effortlessly between television and film, Shannen was cast in "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" which starred Helen Hunt and Sarah Jessica Parker. Doherty was then cast alongside Christian Slater and Winona Ryder in the 80's classic "Heathers." Shannen starred in the acclaimed film "Night Shift" for director Ron Howard and starred in director Kevin Smith's second installment of the "Clerks" trilogy entitled "Mallrats."

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Shannen Doherty about her career, the tabloids and the downside to being an outspoken actress.

Chaunce Hayden: "Scare Tatics" has been described by several TV critics as hilarious. It's also been described as disturbing to a certain degree.

Shannen Doherty: It's both because it's extreme. I mean, we really pull some extreme pranks on people. But the bottom line is that it's a ton of fun. I mean, everybody who's on the show seems to have a good time. In fact, the people who we're pulling the pranks on are liking it so much that they're wanting to set their own friends up and still be a part of the show. We even have parents setting up their kids!

My description of "Scare Tactics" would be "Candid Camera" on acid.

(Laughs) What a great description! I like that! It totally fits.

I know you're the host of the show. But besides hosting, what other input do you have?

I don't really have a lot of input because that's just not my forte. We've got Scott Hallock and Kevin Healy doing the writing and they're amazing producers and writers. They come up with the ideas. These are the same guys who did "Spy TV," so they know what they're doing. I get paid to host the show and I do my job and let them do their job.

Some of the pranks are so extreme I have to ask if there's any concern that someone might actually get a heart attack. For instance, when you bury a man's girlfriend in a coffin alive while the poor guy begs for help. Couldn't someone actually go into shock, or worse?

First of all, we're monitoring everything as it's happening. So if we see that somebody is getting a little too much into it, we'll stop it right at that point. We're very cautious. But also, we're playing it on young people. We're not really playing any pranks on 80-year-old men with heart conditions.

What were your first thoughts when the show was explained to you?

I thought it might be too mean for me to be a part of it. But after I saw a few of the pranks I thought, "Wow! Everybody is having such a good time." There's only been one person who I know of that had a prank pulled on them and then turned around and been incredibly pissed off. But it's all in good fun. A show like this would be incredibly successful in London because they love these types of wicked shows.

We're all used to seeing shocking things on television. However, "Scare Tactics" seems to raise the bar a few notches. Where does television go from here?

I think we've turned it up so many notches that there's nowhere for anybody to go now. We're at the top at this point.

Most actors seem to hate reality TV. But you're embracing it. Why?

I hate reality TV as well.


I don't think this is a reality show.

Isn't it the ultimate reality show to see people's true reactions to horrible situations?

Yeah, but it's scripted. Reality shows aren't scripted, but our show is scripted. Granted, the person we're playing the prank on has absolutely no idea what's going on. But that's the only bit of reality in there. We're dealing with supernatural things, like aliens coming from outer space. There's no reality to that. So I don't see us as a reality show. In fact, I really hate reality shows.


There are a few that I liked. For instance, I was glued to "The Bachelorette." But I had not seen "The Bachelor." I also don't watch "American Idol" or "Star Search." I don't even watch "Survivor."

But what do you have against them? Obviously many people are tuning into these kinds of shows or they wouldn't be on the air.

I just think there's an influx of this kind of show, and at this point it's overkill.

Some actors I've spoken to feel reality TV has cost them work. Do you agree?

Yeah, but that will change. Everything is a fad. Everybody jumps on the bandwagon at first, but only the really top notch great ones will remain and the rest, like the ones that are coming out now, will be seen just as poor imitations. The really bad shows that grab any half-ass wanna-be actress or model off the street and give them their own reality show will be gone very quickly. The public is pretty smart and eventually they'll want their real TV back. They'll want the shows back where they're invested in the characters and they get to see actors act. Personally, I really don't think reality TV will be a trend that lasts.

Actually, your timing for "Scare Tactics" couldn't be better. I would think viewers are ready to see something other than Baghdad getting bombed each night.

Yeah, now you can see people on our show getting bombed! (Laughs) Actually "Scare Tactics" is a huge break for everbody. I just got done doing the "Conan O'Brien Show" and we showed the alien clip and the audience was laughing hysterically. They loved it! It's just one of those shows that makes people laugh. My dad is 59 years old and I showed him a tape of the show and he couldn't stop laughing for half an hour. I agree, people are probably tired of watching FOX News with Shepard Smith at this point. The Sci-Fi Channel is a nice escape from all the war news coverage. It's a nice escape from reality where you can just sit back and laugh.

Linda Stasi of the New York Daily News wrote the following about you: "Shannen Doherty looks fantastic, dressed in the best clothes on TV, and is every bit the bitchy nut job she plays on screen." She goes on to say, "But maybe she's not acting after all." Are you hoping this show will change the media's attitude toward you?

I don't ever do anything thinking that it's going to change people's perception of me, or that it's going to change my image. I do things because I want to work with the people involved or I think it's going to be a fun experience. I don't really care about changing my image. I know who I am and I know that I'm not a nut job. All that tells me is that I'm a really good actress because these people believe that about me. So I must be doing my job really well.

As a person, how have you changed since the "Beverly Hills 90210" years?

I simply grew up. I was 18 years old when I started "90210." When you're 18 and bars are letting you in and you have the red carpet rolled out for you, what 18-year-old isn't going to go out and take advantage of that? I know I did, and I had a lot of fun. I lived my life as I would normally live my life and I didn't worry about being recognized, and I never felt like I had to lock myself up in my house and behave a certain way.

So you really enjoyed the early fame and fortune?

Yeah. (Pause) Although, I don't know if that's true. The truth of the matter is that I just wanted to go out and have a good time. Just good, innocent fun. But other people saw me out and saw it as an opportunity.

What do you mean by opportunity?

I mean, people saw an opportunity to make money or capitalize on getting 15 minutes of fame. But that will always happen no matter how old you are. There's always going to be somebody who is going to sell a story that is completely false about you in order to line their pockets.

You could have been anything in life besides an actress. But you chose to act and you became very successful at it. However, when the tabloids are reporting every thing you do, both at work and at home, it has to take its toll on you as a person. No?

(Long pause) I used to say that it made me a much more guarded person. But I don't necessarily know if that's true.


I'm still pretty naive when it comes to people. I still try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

I would think by now that you're very mistrusting of people, considering some of your past experiences both with the media and fellow actors.

I think I'm much more private about my personal life than I was in the past. There are certain places I will avoid going to these days.

Such as?

Well I've definitely grown out of my clubbing days. But don't get me wrong, it's not like I don't like to go out with my friends to dinner every once in a while and then a bar to hangout and have a good time. Because I do. But I think that I'm just more aware of what's going on around me. Although I'm 31 and I still make mistakes. I still put myself in situations that aren't necessarily good for me. But like I said, that's always going to be there. It doesn't matter who you are, there's always going to be somebody who wants to make money off of you or make a name for themselves by how they react to you.

To be honest, I was a little worried about how you and I would get along. And I base that thought just on what I've read about you. Are people normally intimidated when they first meet you because of what they expect you to be like?

People have written some of the worst, most untrue things of me and I've taken it all in stride. I'll just say, "Well, that sort of sucks, but that's okay." I never get too bent out of shape over it. It comes with the terrority. Yeah, I wish that it was different, but look at the way I get to make a living. Look at the opportunities I have! I've had an amazing career and it's just starting. I feel at my age I'm ready for anything and the responsibilities that come with being my age. I'm really lucky, so what right do I have to be a hard and bitter person?

Speaking of getting older, was turning 30 traumatic for you?

No. I look at kids in their early 20s and I think, "Ugh, what idiots!" I mean, I look back at myself when I was in my early 20s and I was a complete idiot. Personally, I think women get better with age. There's a reason why so many younger guys are dating older women.

However, when it comes to getting work as an actress, don't you agree Hollywood keeps looking for younger and younger women to play the leads alongside older established male actors?

Talent will always prevail. I truly believe that. Sure, you can have a few great years and be very successful. But if you don't have the talent to back it up, eventually the work will dry up for you. So no, I'm not worried about that. Plus I'm not the kind of person who worries about aging. There's too many things going on in the world for me to worry about how old I am. First of all, I look 12 most of the time. I've never had a problem aging. My grandmother looks young. I have very good genes so there's no reason for me to worry about that kind of stuff. I'm happy with myself, and the older I get the happier I become with myself. I think I'm getting better looking with age.

I've never heard anyone sound so happy to reach 30.

(Laughs) I just like the person I am. I think I handle myself a lot better. I know what I want more and I'm less willing to put up with crap in my personal life. I'm just a lot more self-assured and confident and calm. I'm just really happy at this point in my life.

So you feel all the mistakes you've made are behind you now?

Turning 30 doesn't mean I still won't make mistakes. My tolerance for bull**** has just become a lot less. Come on, you're always going to make mistakes in life. That's just part of evolving as a human being. But I don't think the mistakes I'll make will be on the same grand scale that they were when I was younger.

These days, what do you do when you run into some bull****?

It depends on how severe the bull**** is. Know what I'm saying? Most of the time I can walk away from anything, which I don't think I was able to do when I was younger. When I was younger people would look at me and think, "If I can get her in a fight, I can sue her and get really rich!"

Is it fair to say you have an Irish temper?

I don't think it's an Irish temper at all. I think ...(long pause) Honestly, I think I'm a good and nice person who does not like to fight. I don't like confrontation. But, I'm also a very strong person who, excuse the language, but I don't want to be f-ked with. I don't want someone taking advantage of me in order to get ahead. You want to make money, you want your name in the papers, go do something constructive in order to have that opportunity. Don't do it at my expense. I think that's what happened when I was younger. I especially recall being at a club with a group of friends and I got up to leave, and a girl stood up and out of the blue cracked me in the face. I mean really punched me! I swear I never laid eyes on this girl even once! Then she tried to sue me for money! What do you do when somebody from out of the blue punches you in the face?

I think I'd kick some ass.

Exactly! Do you stand there and cry and say I can't believe you did that or do you look at the girl and say, "Are you nuts?" No, you roll up your sleeves and say, "You know what? I'm not going to take this!"

Some people would run away just to avoid the press. Where do you get that "stay and fight" attitude from?

I was taught by my dad not to start a fight but to always finish it. I will never start a fight, and these days I won't even finish a fight. I will walk away. I will not get involved. But back then I didn't take it from anyone.

So did the girl who punched you in the face get any money for her effort?

Sure enough, she tried to sue me, and what ended up happening was that the police found out that she had done this with five other celebrities. This is how she made her living! Just because I'm in the public eye doesn't mean I should be a victim. That's my big thing. I refuse to be a victim of people trying to make money off me.

How selective are you when it comes to picking close friends, people you can trust?

It's so interesting, people always ask me if I hang out with the people that I work with. The truth of the matter is no. Because that is work. I prefer to keep work separate. I have friends that I have known forever. My two best friends I've known since I was 17 years old. They are my absolute best friends, I love them and they love me. It doesn't mean that I don't want to meet new people or make new friends. I'm just talking about my solid core group of friends. The people who I rely on and cry to at night and ask, "Why am I going through this and why am I going through that?"

What was your first reaction when you found out about Jason Priestley's racing accident?

I felt horrible. I was very, very concerned about him. Because I'm such a private person with my friends and family, I wanted to give him his space to heal on his own. We have a mutual friend who's an agent and I called him and said please let Jason know that I'm thinking about him, and if he needs anything to call me. I'm here, but I'm just going to back off and just let him have his space and heal. But to answer your question, I was crushed when I first heard about the accident. Jason is an amazing guy. He's funny and sweet and he's a good actor and he gets it. He's just a great guy. He's a guy's guy, which I love. So I'm happy to know he's doing a lot better and has recovered.

Is there one question that you've never been asked that you wish just once somebody would ask you?

I don't think so.

So you've been verbally assaulted with every question imaginable.

Yeah! I think I've been asked every single question you can think of. Certainly you wish that the interview consisted more on your career. I wish that I hadn't been such an ******* when I was younger so the past wasn't always brought up. But I'm sure in a day or two I'll think to myself, "Damn, there is a question I wish someone would ask me!" (Laughs)

Any regrets?


Good for you.

I think that everything that has happened in my career has made me who I am, so why change it. Maybe I wouldn't have done "Charmed" if I had to do things over again. But even "Charmed" was an experience that I learned so much from. I learned to trust my instincts and my gut and not get involved in the drama and the bull**** that goes on with young girls. I really learned a lot in that situation. It was a good TV show and it was fun and entertaining and it got me a broader fan base so I have to be thankful for it. I couldn't go, "Well why didn't I learn my lesson the first time?" [Referring to "Beverly Hills 90210"] There's just always more to learn.

Would you do a show like "Charmed" again with two other hot actresses?

Would I do it again? Probably not. I think Aaron Spelling is an absolute genius at what he does, but does that necessarily work for me? Probably not.

So you wouldn't work for Aaron Spelling again?

You can never say never, but I'm going to say to you right now, absolutely not. It has nothing to do with him. I think he's a great guy. It has more to do with the people who run his company. Those people looked at me and said, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But my philosophy is that you have to be honest and always make things better to make sure they don't break, because once it breaks the audience is gone. Why can't we challenge ourselves? There's always room for improvement.

If you were a guy, do you think the perception of you would be different?

Probably. Only because I think a certain person, who will go unnamed, from Aaron Spelling's company is very respectful of men, and when it comes to women the attitude is "I pay you to do a job so shut up and look pretty and say your lines" And I don't follow that policy very well.

Does it bother you that Aaron Spelling's company didn't come to your defense after the rumors that you were hard to work with made the tabloids?

I've worked as an actress for 21 years and only [Aaron Spelling's company] has ever said anything bad about me. Every other company will get on the phone and tell you how professional I am and how wonderful I am to work with. I just did a movie with Shirley MacLaine, and that woman had absolutely no problems with me. She loved me. She's offered to write newsletters about me! So it's interesting. Maybe if I had worked for a company that believed in the same things I believed in, maybe my life would have been filled with a lot less heartache. But when all is said and done, I have to thank Aaron Spelling because he gave me a career.

Would you have been successful if not for Aaron Spelling?

I probably would have been successful anyway, because before "Beverly Hills 90210" I had already done "Heathers." Plus like I said earlier, talent always prevails.

What's next for you?

Right now I'm very into going back to college.


I am! I want to go back to school and get a degree in Political Science.

I wonder if the tabloids will spin your going back to school into a story?

The only thing that scares me is that I'm really a self-conscious person, so going back to college and looking at younger kids is going to be hard for me.

So are you giving up acting?

I will always love acting and I will never give it up. It's just that if you're not doing episodic TV, then you have an opportunity to do other things. For me, going to school is important.

What school do you think offers you the best chance of blending in with the crowd?

Nobody would care at NYU, or even Harvard or Princeton. They're used to celebrities attending their school. But I wouldn't be surprised if the National Enquirer has a student enrolled in the same class and has them pick a fight with me! (Laughs)

Will you ever write a book about your life?

That's funny, I've been asked that a lot. Eventually, yeah. I will because I want to put out there everything that's happened to me, including the people that I've met and situations that have occurred, from my mouth with no middle person to distort them. So yeah, I will eventually, but that's a ways off. I'm much too young to be writing a book about my life just yet. The story is still being written. I'm not done yet.