Smoke Winter 2001

Shannen Doherty is used to being called a witch. The former “90210” star and notorious Hollywood bad girl of a few years ago was a tabloid fixture before leaving the teen drama — under very public circumstances — and dropping out of sight. Now, a little older, a lot wiser, and still undeniably sexy, she’s taken her witch role more literally, as star (and more recently, director) of the popular WB series, “Charmed.”

Witchy Woman
Despite anything you may have read in years gone by, Shannen Doherty is a good witch. The one-time Beverly Hills bad girl, who got more negative press than Mike Tyson in the early ‘90s, has had a more complete image makeover than Times Square. Celebrated battles with “90210” co-stars, producer Aaron Spelling, and anybody unlucky enough to cross her path in a Hollywood nightclub eventually led to banishment from the seminal show for the Desenex set and out of the public eye for awhile.

But a conversation with the 29-year-old actor/director/star of the WB’s popular series, “Charmed”, makes the controversies of the ‘90s seem like a century ago. Her casting as a “witch” conjured up a thousand punchlines just three years ago, but the show’s a phenomenal success, and Doherty is the star of a cast that includes both Holly Marie Combs and fellow former child-star and alleged divette Alyssa Milano — and nobody’s laughing now.

Doherty is one of the biggest stars on TV again, but this time she’s doing it as a grown-up. She is charming, polite, conversational — even conservative. No controversies. No tabloid headlines. All business. For someone who grew up on TV (she began her career at the age of six as one of the kids on “Little House on the Prairie”), it took some tough media scrutiny of her off-camera activities to help her mature. Now that she has, she acknowledges the mistakes of the past. “I learned to appreciate my opportunities when I get them. In short, I grew up,” she says wisely.

She’s also grown on Spelling. He’s happy to have a big star on a big hit, and America’s male population is once again spellbound by an older, wiser, and still sexy Doherty. But the party girl of 10 years ago has been replaced by a hard-working homebody who’s given up the Hollywood party scene for the Grand Old party.

“I’m sort of known to be a Republican, but I vote for who I believe in. Unfortunately, in this industry, if you’re anything but a Democrat, you can’t admit it. I’m not like that. I’m originally from Tennessee, but I don’t have any home-state affection for Al Gore.”

So, she’s officially independent, and she’s proven it by moving behind the camera to call the shots as a director on the show this season. Still, it was Spelling who brought her back to prominence. And while Shannen doesn’t shy away from making suggestions about the show’s direction, this time she’s smart enough to know who cooked up this witch’s brew — and not to stir up the pot.

Your character Prue shows a lot of maturity. She’s the big sister on the show. Does any of that reflect your own growth?

Definitely. My character has become a lot more relaxed — just like me. I think she’s a great character. She’s always been very responsible and very serious but, between you and me, that gets boring. Three years in, I’m much more in touch with her creative side. She’s also very funny. She doesn’t take the demons as seriously — and neither do I. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still the most serious of the sisters, but she realizes her powers are a gift. This job she’s been given is something she relishes and enjoys. She even does it with a sense of humor. I like to think I approach my job the same way.

You’re not spending as much time in the tabloids as you used to. What do you do with your spare time?

I go home after a 12-hour day and I go to sleep. When I have the time, I ride my horses. I have several horses. If I could, I’d spend more time with them than I would with people. I ride every weekend. I ride even more when I’m on hiatus.

So what’s your idea of a perfect day?

Waking up and having hot coffee waiting for me. Then there’d be a wonderful breakfast. Bacon and pancakes and syrup and anything else that clogs the arteries. Then there’d have to be some riding and some productive hanging out — relaxing and watching a good movie. I’d finish it off with a nice dinner with someone very close to me.

Who would that be?

None of your business. How do you think I stay out of the tabloids?

Your flare-ups with Aaron Spelling and your castmates on “90210” were well-documented. You were asked to leave. People wrote that you went to Europe to recover from the experience.

I went on a vacation to Europe after I left “90210.” The press acted like I took a year off to go and discover myself in Europe. Jeez! It wasn’t exactly Seven Years In Tibet. I love Europe. I’ve been there a bunch of times. I love experiencing different cultures. I don’t need to go to Europe to discover myself. I can get that in therapy.

A lot of people were surprised that you refused to appear on the farewell episode of the show. When they invited you back, why didn’t you want to take the opportunity to bring closure to that episode of your life?

I never watched “90210” when it was on, and I had no reason to watch it when I left. I didn’t care how they ended it. I had plenty of valid reasons not to do it. First, I was working. I was doing a show I love, and it’s a joy to work on. There is no stress, there are no attitudes. Second, I was directing that episode [of my show]. They were filming their farewell at the same time we were filming our season finale. I didn’t want to take time off for a show I left happily. I never want to play that character again. Moreover, I thought the plot was weak and pointless. Finally, I didn’t want to work with a single one of those people ever again.

When you got this show, a lot of people expected to see some of the fireworks from the “90210” days. How have you changed?

I think I appreciate the job and the opportunity more than I did 10 years ago. I’m very aware of trying to handle myself more diplomatically when I have a problem. I have more experience now, so people are more willing to listen to my opinions. I’m more relaxed now. Aaron Spelling trusts me a lot more now. He doesn’t look at me as a 19-year-old punk ass with an attitude. If I have a problem with a line or question the direction that my character is being taken, he’ll be more willing to think that my opinion is valid, and usually I’m right. I’m not looking for controversy, but if I think I have a valid opinion, I’ll push — just as hard as I used to — to have it heard.

Then, when Alyssa joined the show, there was a ton of stuff written about how the two delinquent divas were going to be at each other’s throats. How did the two of you handle that?

We’d both been through that kind of mill before and we both knew how to deal with it. It was a mountain of crap, and we weren’t going to spend any time rolling around in it. It didn’t affect our relationship at all. We’ve both had things written about us long before this show. Both of us had big fan followings. It’s obvious that people were trying to sell papers. We were mature enough to get it. None of the instigation went anywhere, because we are friends. We like each other. If I had pulled her aside to clear the air before we started working together, that would mean I would assume that any of those crap allegations were true. I never did.

Did the expectations of disaster create a bond between you?

It actually did. But I think we would’ve grown close, anyway. And the three of us have grown closer over the years. We’ve meshed. But the dynamics change constantly. When one of us is depressed or down, the others try to help out. We try to be considerate of each other. It’s funny. In the beginning we were very different, but we’ve sort of blended elements of our individual personalities into each other. We’re much more similar now.

So does that mean you’re having sleepovers every night?

Listen, we work 14 hours a day. For that time we have a strong bond. Then we go home and go to bed. I mean, Holly and I get together and ride on the weekends. Both of us will go to Alyssa’s parties. She loves to throw parties. Still, it’s not like we see each other every weekend.

So who do you spend the most time with on weekends?

I do seek out a different life when I’m off the set. I have a lot of friends in the horse business. I’m not normally best buds with a lot of actors. But most of my friends are in the business, because those are the people I meet. They’re stylists, costume designers, and stunt people. I also have friends who are directors and producers. These are the people who you meet in Hollywood.

So how have you, Holly, and Alyssa had an effect on each other since you’ve been together?

I remember when Holly used to worry about voicing her opinions. Then she saw how Alyssa and I have been able to make positive changes on the show. We gave her assertiveness and now nobody can shut her up when she has something on her mind. Alyssa’s made me less self-conscious about being funny. She’s crazy and has no inhibitions. I was never like that, but I’ve opened up a lot more because of her. Now she’s taken on some of my more serious nature. She can be very level-headed when she needs to be.

Have you created a witches’ coven on the set?

There are days when it seems that way. We have a lot of fun days. There’ve been food fights against the crew. Alyssa’s usually the instigator. We play music and dance and relax between the shots. We have very girly bonding moments. We’ve had plenty of long talks about men and sex. Nothing I can tell you about, unfortunately.

What can you tell me about what you guys do?

We’re mostly spontaneous jokers — but we occasionally cook up some schemes. But we’ll work with the crew to put together the odd practical joke. For example, my makeup artist is as Democrat as you can get. We put a Bush sign on the back of her truck before she went home one night. She drove all over L.A. with it. When she came back she was livid.

You’ve stepped up and become a director on the show this season. Is it hard to boss your co-stars around?

I think it helps, if you’re an actor, to direct other actors. On the episode I directed, I was able to push the girls more — because I knew them. I know how far they can go. That helps me as a director. When you’ve been acting for 20 years you become observant. I observe other directors and study them. I study their angles and lenses and how they tell a story. It makes me better as both an actor and a director. I also observe other actors — maybe more than [another] director would.

Which directors have you borrowed from the most?

I’m a huge admirer of Oliver Stone. He’s one of the filmmakers that I would aspire to be. His shots are simply fantastic. Jarring. In your face. But he’s amazing in the editing room. I’m amazed by every aspect of how he tells his story — his cuttings and the depth of his shots. He gets extras in the background to make an impact in the film. I also love John Woo and the Wachowski brothers who did The Matrix. I love action movies, and nobody does them better. I’d like to use my imagination the same way with our show, but they have $100 million and we have $1.9 million. It’s hard to get the same kind of results with that kind of budget. Action is hard to shoot on TV, but we do what we can.

How has that translated to what we see on TV?

We’ve been allowed to experiment with this show quite a bit, and I think it’s paid off. I think that our third season has been the best yet. The story lines are more interesting. We’ve been integrating a lot of visual stunt work that’s demanded a lot of the actors, but has given the audience a lot to appreciate. Some of it really takes everything I have to pull off. There’s some unbelievable stunt work that I’ve helped push for. I do all my own wire stuff and I’ve pushed it in the direction of films like The Matrix. The writing is a lot better. The look is better. It’s allowed us all to come into our own. We’ve all gotten the confidence to experiment more, and it’s really paid off in the final product.

So how did you become TV’s answer to Jackie Chan?

My stunt training came on the job. It was just another challenge for me as an actress. I’m an adrenaline junkie. It’s like my passion for horses and jumping. It’s all an adrenaline rush. I’m learning it as I go.

You had a budding film career with roles in critical favorites like Heathers, before “90210” made you a TV star. Do you want to move back in that direction?

All TV actors want to do movies, of course. It’s a wonderful experience to have three months to do everything perfectly. Relatively speaking, there are no restraints. For me, I would love nothing more than to do an action movie, because it’s what I love. But I do the best I can to make my experience on “Charmed” as close to that as possible.
So does that mean you may be less “charmed” by your current job?

I look at “Charmed” as a “right place at the right time” experience. I was ready for a regular job. I like the structure it provides. I need that focus and direction. I’m there five days a week and I’m happy to be there until 8 o’clock at night. I appreciate the work and the job. TV may not be where I want to stay, but work is work, and as long at it excites me, I’m going to stick with it.

**Thank you, Crystal for typing this up!**