New York Associated Press December 4th 1998

New York Associated Press December 4th 1998

'Beverly Hills' girl is back on TV at 27 with more going for her, but she's still shy of respect for acting

NEW YORK: Sneer all you want at the years she spent in high school on Beverly Hills, 90210.

Jeer at her bad-girl image, and savor recollections of the stories that advanced it, those press accounts of tantrums and boozing and a marriage-for-a-moment to, of all people, George Hamilton's son.

Then scoff, if you must, at her return to series TV four years after ditching the gang at West Beverly Hills High. For she came back this fall in a hocus-pocus frolic called Charmed. Here was Shannen Doherty, at age 27 a little older and a lot wiser.

"Yeah, right," you may be thinking.

Meanwhile, here are three other things to consider.

One: With her return, Doherty is once again TV's most beautiful presence. Those regal cheekbones! That saucy overbite! The soulful eyes, set at a blessed bias on that fabulously asymmetric face! Of all TV's lovelies, surely she's the fairest of them all.

Two: Doherty, who was acting professionally when she was 10 and a regular in two series prior to 90210, remains undiscovered. Certain TV films she made in recent years reveal acting chops no one is quite ready to acknowledge. Yet Doherty could be just one meaty role away from something she has never been accorded as an actress: respect.

Charmed won't gain her that stature, of course. But as one of three comely sisters who learn they are witches, Doherty gets to play a responsible career woman stuck with an unsought sideline -- righting wrongs with the magical powers she would just as soon not have.

Doherty-as-good-witch, then, reflects an image make-over of mammoth proportions, and she's fun to watch in action. Charmed, which also stars Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano, airs on the WB network at 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

"The story line was adorable, and I had never done anything that involved special effects," says Doherty, listing reasons she signed on. Plus her new show would be on the WB, a network with cheek not unlike Fox back in 1990, where her fortunes soared on a teen soap named for a ZIP code.

Besides, Doherty was ready to work again.

"You can only travel so much, you can only ride your horses so much,'' she said. "I sort of got out what I needed to get out of my system."

So has the press, Shannen-wise. Now stories about her focus -- with can-you-beat-this? wonderment -- on her hard-won equilibrium.

Which brings us to our third point: Over lunch during a recent Manhattan publicity swing, Doherty seems anything but the Hollywood brat for which she once served as role model.

No horns. No claws. No attitude. Can you beat that?

On the contrary, she is understated, even self-effacing. She is excited about her series, which has shown ratings heft and won a full-season order from the network. Yet she is also full of reservations: "We've still got a lot of work to do."

And she is philosophical about her years as the starlet the press loved to hate.

"I did bring a lot of it on myself," Doherty says. "I don't think I can point fingers and say, 'Oh, you're to blame.' And I don't do that with myself, either. Because I was just growing up."

But growing up that way has left scars.

"I'm an incredibly self-conscious person," she says. "If I'm out, my head is usually down. I think that people are judging me or looking at me weird or thinking awful things about me."

Indeed, she confesses that when her publicist accompanied her into the restaurant to hook her up with the reporter, it was not just a courtesy. She felt unable to enter alone. "I think, 'Oh, God, if somebody recognizes me and what are they gonna say? Are they gonna say something really mean?' And it's odd to think that, because most people are really nice."

The cell phone in her handbag chirps. She knows before answering it's her mother in California. "I'm doing an interview," says Doherty, apologizing. "I'll call you in one hour. I love you."

Her phone disposed of, Doherty muses, "In interviews, I try and compensate for my shyness, and overcompensate a little, too, and say too much. I used to be incredibly honest and talk about everything."

"It's so awkward, because there are certain parts of your life that shouldn't be told."

Which raises the question: What's something about her life that should be told and hasn't been? Doherty thinks a moment before answering.

"The only thing I've ever, ever really wanted to convey -- and I don't think I get this across -- is my appreciation," she says. "It bothers me that somebody might think I'm not appreciative for everything I've been given in my life, that anybody wouldn't think that I'm the type of person who would go home and literally thank God every single night.

"How could I not be appreciative . . . you know?"