Tori Spelling: Spelling it Out
Tori Spelling has never been on my radar. I was a couple of years too old to get invested in Beverly Hills 90210, so I was never a fan nor was I a detractor. Spelling had plenty of each – especially in the days when she was seen as a spoiled party girl whose rich daddy bought her an acting career. This profile from the September 1997 issue of Movieline magazine took place at a time when Spelling was starting to branch out into movies after a steady stream of cheesy made-for-TV schlock.
Tori Spelling is giggling like a schoolgirl in a shoulder-shaking, waving-her-hand-in-her-face, helpless kind of way. What’s provoking such mirth? She’s reading and reacting to the latest spew I’ve downloaded from the Internet, venomous rants from the public about how unattractive, untalented, undesirable and unnaturally endowed “Beverly Hills 90210” star Tori Spelling is, about how she’d be on the wrong side of a fast-food counter if she weren’t the daughter of TV magnate Aaron Spelling. “Excuse me,” Spelling gasps, coming up for air, “but I want to say to these people, ‘Is all you have to talk about my boobs?”‘
Why, exactly, is Spelling laughing? “Because I’ve sat there being catty about people I don’t know,” she explains. “I watch awards shows with my girlfriends, going, Omigod, she is kidding with that dress! Look at her tits hanging out. But,” adds Spelling with another burst of laughter, “I was also thinking, ‘I’m surprised they focused on my boobs, because I think my butt’s much better!'”
You needn’t consult the Net to hear people making cracks about Tori Spelling. If folks aren’t complaining about her rich upbringing and how she used Daddy’s connections to break into the business, they’re making snarky remarks about how she’s got a face only a father could love or how she’s undergone so much cosmetic surgery you could make another starlet out of her spare parts. You’ve probably made some of the same comments yourself.
Spelling is wise to the loose talk about her. She’s even aware of the single most spiteful Web site around–a boxing ring in which one can pummel a virtual Tori until she purples.
“I used to cry reading the Internet,” Spelling says. “The thing that bothered me the most was when someone said, ‘Did you see that new TV movie Tori Spelling was in? I’m sure her dad did it, because why else would anyone cast her?’ I wrote back, ‘I know someone who knows her, and her dad had nothing to do with that movie.'”
If you’re starting to feel sorry for Tori Spelling, don’t. She’s laughing right back at her detractors these days. While critics and anti-fans have been carving her up, she’s quietly carved out a career beyond Beverly Hills 90210. Unlike Luke Perry, who made a brouhaha about quitting the series to do feature films, Spelling made a string of TV movie hits, including A Friend to Die For and Co-ed Call Girl, and became prime-time movie gold. Now she’s going for movie stardom. In the Sundance attention-getter The House of Yes, an independent picture that also stars Parker Posey and Genevieve Bujold, she plays a fresh-off-the-farm donut shop clerk.
Sure, Big Daddy did put up the cash for it, but Tori doesn’t bump into any furniture, miss the laughs or seem incongruous even against such quirky heavyweights as Bujold. Hate and mock her all you want–at 24, Spelling is tiptoeing though showbiz’s land mines far better than any of the actors she’s ever shared a TV zip code with.
As I sit close up to Spelling at a terrace table at the Chateau Marmont, it hits me that the camera doesn’t accentuate her positives. I would never have guessed that these (now) sienna-tinted tendrils, this defined jaw and these stricken-doe eyes could easily let her pass for Rene Russo’s daughter. Seeing her in person, I don’t feel it’s all that implausible she could have a decent shot at the big screen. My question is, why did she choose an offbeat independent ensemble comedy to get her dad to produce for her?
“He financed it–he had no creative input,” Spelling corrects me, sounding touchy. That point clarified, she continues, “I was attached to it before we went to my dad for financing. Parker Posey was already attached to it, and she is to-die-for. I met the playwright and thought it was a sick little script I really liked. I thought, ‘Great, an independent feature and an ensemble cast.’ When TV celebrities dive into starring roles in feature films it doesn’t always seem to work out. We needed financing, and my dad liked it, but it wasn’t because of me–I’ve taken other scripts to him that he turned down.”
Did Daddy’s girl get a shakedown from any of her costars? “I felt funny going in,” she nods. “But, you know, we just clicked. Parker is totally eccentric, totally funny, and she kind of took me under her wing. The first time we rehearsed and read through the script, I was really nervous and Parker kept laughing, going, ‘Genius casting.’ Her telling me I was funny gave me confidence that I so appreciated.”
And how did she find working with Bujold, who plays the weird matriarch of a weird East Coast family? “Scary,” Spelling declares. “When I first met her I was really intimidated because she’s such a big star. She was kind of quiet at first, almost like the character she plays, and I thought, Oh no. But we had some scenes alone together and she was right there. After shooting she wrote me a letter saying, ‘I know it’s really hard for you because of the baggage you carry, but you came in, you did this part, and you were wonderful to work with.’ I have that letter in my photo album.”
What does Spelling herself think of the quirky flick that deals with incest and mental illness? “It’s the kind of movie you have to see a couple of times,” she observes. “When we showed it at Sundance and my name came up, the reaction was like, ‘What’s she doing here?’ They didn’t want to like me. By the end they were just laughing, as they were supposed to, at everything I said. I’m glad I picked something that I could just blend into instead of being the lead. I think I made a good move.”
Does this mean her days on the long-running TV series that made her a household name are numbered? “I say this under penalty of death, but no,” she answers, giggling. “Even if it wasn’t my dad, I would still stick with the show. [Without it] I wouldn’t have the opportunities to do these things. I’ll stick with the show for as long as it goes.”
Spelling’s respect for what a series can do for an actress may stem from the fact that she’s been acting for close to 20 years. She knows all about the audition circuit. “I did stuff at age five for my dad, but I didn’t start auditioning until I was 10. I’d walk into a room and find these little windup dolls, Stepford kids, all made up, with their parents telling them what to do. My mother couldn’t bear it. But I was the type of kid that tried something new every week, like piano or skating, so when I said I wanted to act, my parents were supportive because they thought, ‘OK, next week it’ll be horseback riding lessons.'”
But acting stuck. Why? “I guess because I was so shy that acting was something I could use to come out, to talk to people,” Spelling reflects. “I think I turned out fairly normal. I found out right away that I love entertaining people and making them laugh. What I really like to do best is comedy.”
Spelling got close to comedy when she nearly won the role that went to Neve Campbell in the horror spoof Scream. But even if she does love comedy, she gravitates toward dark dramas, like the part she went up for but Liv Tyler will probably get in The Cider House Rules.
“I can’t blame them,” Spelling says of the producers who prefer Tyler. “I look at Liv Tyler and think, ‘It’s not fair,’ because I can’t find a flaw on her. And on top of that she seems nice, so it’s really not fair. Anyway, I don’t know if movies are the goal as much as just finding the right things to do. If something’s good, I don’t care what arena it’s in. I love doing TV. If I found the right TV movies I’d stay with that. But if I got the name ‘The New Valerie Bertinelli’ or ‘TV Movie Queen’ I’d start to go, ‘Uh-oh, have I done too many?'”
But let’s discuss some of these TV movies.
“I cringe at Co-ed Call Girl,” Spelling admits. “I just thought about my 90210 image and was like, ‘What’s the farthest I can get away from being the good virgin?’ Also, it’s always been a dirty little fantasy of mine to be a stripper. I didn’t get a fair shot at it in Co-ed, though. See, I’d gone to a couple of strip clubs and wasn’t impressed. With a lot of dancers it’s about sex and grinding and doing it. But I also saw a girl who had a beautiful body and was a beautiful dancer. When I had to strip in Co-ed, [the producers] said, ‘Just do a little thing, you don’t have to really dance,’ I could have done a lot better than that. So, even if the movie I did wasn’t so hot, whatever success I have, I feel like I deserve it because I’ve tried so hard. I’ve always tried so hard.”
Despite all Spelling’s efforts to grow up, get grounded and be treated with respect, petty rumors swirl around her relentlessly. Like the one about how she supposedly paid several thousand dollars’ worth of fines for taking her beloved pooch on the people elevator instead of the freight elevator in her ultraluxe condo high-rise.
When I ask Spelling about this, she whips out a wallet photo of pet Grade, an abandoned dog she rescued, rehabilitated and adopted while filming The House of Yes. “I won’t take her in the freight elevator,” she admits. “But,” she adds, “that’s become kind of an exaggerated bullshit story in the tabloids. There was a rule in the building that you couldn’t take animals on the regular elevator, so I got together with other people in the building who have dogs and we were like, ‘Look, we pay to live in this nice building, why should we go down a separate elevator?’ Now they’ve compromised. What bothers me, though, is that whoever leaked that had to be somebody who works in the building.”
OK. What about the story that her pet parrot bit her, which resulted in a suspicious nose wound? That one’s true, too. “Birds get really nervous if you don’t give them all your attention, and they attack you,” explains Spelling. “I used to come home and kiss her, going, ‘Hi, Charlie bird,’ and I guess I was a little late. She bit me, and there was blood running everywhere. I called my mom and said, ‘I think I have to go to the hospital.’ I gave Charlie to my makeup artist and she’s fine now. She never bites.”
For a finale I need to check out the more flamboyant rumor that Spelling got so merry at the landmark Beverly Hills restaurant Trader Vic’s that she didn’t make it to the powder room. “You heard a rumor that I couldn’t make it to the bathroom at Trader Vic’s to throw up?” she says, clasping her hands to her mouth and giggling. No, I explain. Not to throw up… “That I peed at Trader Vic’s? Ohhh, sick! I’ve peed in some great places, but Trader Vic’s is not one of them. I’m queen of the sidewalk and parking lot, though.”
What does Spelling want out of life that makes an existence full of rumors like these worth it? Stardom? “Everyone on 90210 got to be as big a celebrity as you can get,” she observes. “Having been where people take notice of you, I can tell you it’s a tough road. I’d rather take great parts and not be a huge thing where you can’t walk down the street without someone saying, ‘Who’s she with?’ If people notice me, great, but if they don’t, it’s even better. Once I was sitting somewhere and two girls were staring at me. One said, ‘That’s her,’ and the bitchy one said, ‘No, she just wishes she were Tori Spelling. Look at her trying to copy Tori’s style.'”
Speaking of style, what’s with the buzz that Spelling emulates everything Drew Barrymore does–the hair, the clothes, the career moves? “Why did you bring that up?” she asks, eyes hyperalert. “Is that a rumor? Drew is one of the only people I’m friends with, but I also think of her as one of my idols. I love how free she is, how she says whatever she wants, goes wherever she wants. Actually, after Boys on the Side I did my hair like hers with the curls, but it looked way better on her.”
I ask Spelling about another relationship in her life, the prolonged romantic, psychodramatic relationship with Nick Savalas that ended five years ago. For a while, her quarrels with Savalas were tabloid gold. I personally witnessed one of their spats years ago in a Santa Monica restaurant. Spelling was taking Savalas’s boorish abuse while everyone in the place wanted to deck the little punk. The whole incident screamed Damaged Self-Esteem. How could she stand it?
“I was a young, naive girl. ‘Codependent’ is probably the best word,” Spelling begins. “It was my first adult relationship. I was out there on my own for the first time, in my own apartment, and I was like ‘I’m going to prove everyone wrong about this guy. I’m going to change him.’ I would sit at home and cry all the time.” Shaking her head in disbelief at who she was back then, she adds, “I’m not one of those women who are man-haters. I have no bitterness toward men, even though I’ve had some not-so-great relationships. There are some good ones out there, I’m sure.” Does she still have a problem staying away from the bad ones? “Oh, yeah, but the degree of badness is lessening as I get older. They all have to have an edge, but now they don’t have to be horrible guys. When you’re in a relationship where you feel bad about yourself, you start to feel that no one else would want you.”
How did the doting parents deal with seeing their only daughter heartbroken? “They were heartbroken,” she recalls. “I’m glad my dad never had [Savalas] shot or anything like that.”
Is there truth to the rumor that she actually shoots down tons of guys who ask for her phone number? Including every parent’s worst nightmare, Charlie Sheen? “I’m sorry to disappoint people since it’s kind of a nice story–‘Charlie Sheen asked for my number and I didn’t give it to him,’–but it wasn’t like that. There are a million girls who would probably like to go out with him. He lives in my building, we’ve talked a couple of times and he’s always like, ‘Hey, we live in the same building and there’s not a lot of young people who live here. Nice to meet you.’ It wasn’t like he left his phone number and I didn’t call him back.” She cracks up. “Yeah, that’s me–every guy wants my number. I guess that’s not a bad perception for people to have.”
But what about all those other, nonfamous guys she’s shooed away? “That’s really flattering,” she says, blushing. “That actually gives me hope. But it’s so not true–not true. I mean, if you and I met six months ago I would have been like, ‘I haven’t had a date in forever.'”
Lately, though, Spelling has been dating someone. The rumor is, it’s Trevor Edmond, the 27-year-old actor who stars on her dad’s TV series Pacific Palisades, but she won’t cop to it. “I genuinely believe that he likes me for me,” says Spelling, “and he’s the first person I’ve gone out with in a long time that doesn’t want anything out of me.”
How much does she fear opportunists and bloodsuckers disguised as suitors? She looks ashen and dead serious as she tells me, “You totally hit it on the head. That’s my one biggest fear in life–will I ever find someone who likes me for me? And how will I ever know? It’s difficult because I can’t meet someone who doesn’t know who I am. I’ll be out with my friends and one of them will go, ‘Oh, that guy is looking at you,’ and I’ll look over and I’m like, ‘Oh, he’s cute.’ Then he comes over and says, ‘So, you’re on 90210,‘ with that kind of starstruck thing. They can’t talk to you on a personal level.”
As long as we’re talking about Spelling’s love life, I decide to pose to her a question her character is asked in The House of Yes: “Where’s the wildest place you’ve ever made love?” She laughs heartily, and answers, “An airplane. Which means I’ve reached the mile high club. I’m terrified of flying–I can’t go on private planes. I have to go on the biggest plane and even then I have two glasses of wine. On this particular flight I had two glasses of wine so I got less self-conscious, I guess. The weird thing was that nobody even turned their head when we went into the bathroom. Maybe they were all drunk or something.”
If Spelling had to choose between food or sex, which would it be? “I’d give up sex,” she says, unhesitatingly. “See, lasagna and goat cheese are my favorite foods. I’d have those, [and] just masturbate.”
On that note, I ask Spelling how she feels these days about her much-discussed looks?
She stares off a moment, as if mired in some private mind-space. “When I was younger,” she says, “I was insecure about everything. Having that relationship with [Savalas] made me even more insecure. But getting out of it made me real secure. This is a hard business to be secure in, though. You’re constantly in the makeup trailer with three other beautiful women and you’re like, ‘Do I look OK?’ Insecurity about your looks will rule your life and that sucks, so you have to come to terms with it. I have moments where I see someone really beautiful and I go, “Kill.” But as I get older, I get more secure. I tend to like my looks better and better as I grow into them. I look at pictures of myself at 16 and go, ‘Maybe I did have some things to be insecure about.’ At 17, 18 things changed. I got better looking.”
So what does Spelling hope for careerwise with her seasoned sense of security? She’s already proven she can play the wide-eyed naive girl, the virgin and the nervy hooker. “My raw talent, what I really think I’ll shine at, is physical comedy,” she says. “Every single director I’ve worked with asks, ‘Why aren’t you doing comedy?'” Whatever form of comedy she does, you will not ignore her–if she has anything to say about it. And she will be laughing right along with you. “The first agent I had when I was 15 told my mother, ‘She’s not hungry enough. She’s not like 20 million other girls who want the same part so badly they’ll do anything to get it.’ Now, I’m hungry for it. Now, I know what I’m capable of doing. And I want it.”
Stephen Rebello interviewed Kevin Reynolds for the August issue of Movieline.