The original cast of Beverly Hills 90210.
If you’re a 20- or 30-something woman you probably grew up watching Shannen Doherty. Whether it was on Beverly Hills, 90210, Heathers, Mallrats or Charmed the actress lit up screens everywhere with her effortless cool and despite a little bad press along the way cemented her position as one of the it girls of the nineties (we all secretly wanted to hang out at The Peach Pit, right?)
Now Doherty is coming out to Australia for the first time ever for Oz Comic-Con. We spoke to her on the phone in Malibu, where she graciously indulged our inner fangirl by chatting about being Brenda, how the paparazzi are worse now than in her teen queen days and her upcoming role in the James Franco-directed Bukowski biopic.
You’re coming out to Melbourne for Oz Comic-Con, can you tell us about that?
I did an autograph convention in London. I’m never quite sure if I should do them, if I shouldn’t do them... The Australian one came about, and I know Charmed was huge in Australia. We have so many loyal, dedicated, amazing fans there that I was like, “We have to go”. It’s a good way to know your fans, to hear their opinions and also say thank you.
Can it get tiring? Do you need to do hand exercises in preparation?
Yeah, I train like Rocky right before one of these things! (laughs) No, they’re easy. You’re surrounded by friends in a way. Everybody is there to be supportive.
You’ve had a long and varied career. Which of your characters are fans generally most excited about?
It always depends on where you are in the world. For some people it just doesn’t get better than Brenda in 90210. For some people Heather in Heathers was the ultimate, or Rene from Mallrats. I think everybody can collectively agree that Charmed was one of the favourites. Prue always had a strong, moral family foundation, and her whole job in life, or what she thought was, was to take care of her sisters. Playing a character like that is really amazing because she always came from a very good and grounded place.
I read that you quite hated the character of Brenda on 90210 by the end due to the notoriety and response you were getting from the public.
Brenda in the beginning was fun to play because she was still a good Minnesota girl. And then I think it was all that teenage angst that became... There was just so much drama. It was drama to play her. It was drama to have her best friend cheat with her boyfriend. There was always something happening and for me after a while it became not challenging.
But now I look back and I think wow, she was a pretty cool character. By the end you either loved or hated Brenda. And the middle is the worst place to be, in my opinion. I loved the fact that you couldn’t be indifferent towards Brenda. You had to feel an emotion for her, which said that I did my job as an actor, because I brought her to life enough that people had a strong reaction to her.
There was even an ‘I hate Brenda’ newsletter and record.
There was a newsletter, but you know those things are trumped up most of the time by the people you are actually working for to gain publicity for a show. That kind of stuff drives me bonkers. And I didn’t find out until much later everything that was behind it. But with that stuff you just have to laugh.
At my school the cool thing was to pledge allegiance to either Jason Priestley or Luke Perry – kind of a proto Team Edward/Team Jacob thing. Did you have a crush on either of them at the time?
No, I didn’t. But I often got asked the question of if you had to choose one, who would you choose? And I always chose Jason just because – I like Luke – but Jason was probably more my personality. He’s like a guy’s guy, and I’m a little bit of a tomboy.
They did the remake of 90210 which has been really successful [Doherty was a special guest star on the first season]. When you first heard about it were you like, “That’s a horrible idea”?
No. I didn’t think it was a horrible idea, I was definitely curious of what they were going to do. But from the beginning I was, “I’m never going back there, I’ll never play that character again”. It just reconfirms that you never say never!
Heathers is an amazing movie. When you read that script did you know it was something completely out of the ordinary?
I knew it would either bomb or be this super cool movie. And thank god it turned into a super cool movie. The script was even darker than the movie turned out. That was just a delicious character to play. There was such a difference between her in the beginning of the movie and her at the end. To go from being that sort of meek and mild girl – yes, she’s a Heather but she’s the one who gets kicked around – to then be the ultimate Heather, it was so much fun to play.
In the nineties you got a lot of bad press. How did you deal with all of that?
You just keep your chin up and go, ‘This too shall pass’. There are moments when it’s hurtful and you’re upset for your family. But you also have to stand up and take responsibility and say, “Yeah, I made mistakes back then”. So did we all at eighteen to twenty-one. I was being my age, but doing it in public. The great thing is that I did weather that storm and I learnt a lot. There are mistakes that I made that I know I’ll never repeat. You’re in the trenches a little bit at times like that, you just have to grin and bear it, and go, “Okay, I’ll get through this”. And you do.
What would you have done differently?
I think that it’s okay to go through what you’re going through in your personal life, but I think you have to be more private about it. I don’t think I understood how public I was, and I don’t think I understood that people would take that big of an interest. So I lived my life and didn’t really worry about how it was going to look to everyone else.
And it’s also being diplomatic. But again, no 18-year-old really knows how to be diplomatic. Especially when you’re thrust into an adult world and you’re working 17 hours a day and you’re being chased by paparazzi. It’s an incredibly invasive thing.
I think it’s ten times worse now, because of the internet and things like TMZ and gossip blogs. The minute that something happens, it’s everywhere. And it’s the most minute things – you go into a store and someone takes a picture with you and two minutes later it’s on their Twitter feed and then all over the internet. And you know, you don’t look your best – you’re going to a hardware store, so you don’t have make-up on. And that starts a whole round of “Gosh, did she gain weight? Is she this? Is she that?” It’s never ending. Because of it I’ve definitely become a little more of a hermit. You have to pick the places that are private and that are not paparazzi hangouts. And at the same time I think we as the public – me included – have to actually stop and say there has to be boundaries put into place.
You’ve been filming Bukowski [a biopic on the author directed and co-written by James Franco]. What was it like to work with James Franco as a director?
Unbelievable! He’s kind and he’s passionate and he’s got a sense of humour. He knows exactly what he wants and he gets it. And yet he works with you, he loves actors to bring ideas to him. So he’s phenomenal.
What’s still on your life to-do list?
Just live. That’s the only thing I want to do at this point – just live!
Catch Shannen Doherty at Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne on 6 & 7 July.