Scenes From the Cast Struggle in Beverly Hills 90210

Mauled in malls by rabid fans, the stars of “Beverly Hills 90210” deal with their teen minutes of fame

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Keep your feet on the ground, even though friends flatter you,” reads the fortune that slips from Luke Perry’s cookie, sage advice for a man whose face adorns the country’s bestselling heart-shaped pillow and whose mobbed personal appearances make Ayatollah Khomeini’s funeral look like a church social. “I had a girl in Denver, she just wasn’t breathing,” he says. “She fainted right in front of me. And I was going, ‘Hey, hey, breathe, hey, hey.’

“I don’t like that,” he says. “I mean, I could understand if I was the King.” He gestures toward a decanter shaped like Elvis Presley. “But I ain’t.” Perry is sitting in the relative calm of a Hollywood Chinese restaurant decorated with celebrity kitsch and photographs of stars both hot and forgotten, household names and Frankie Avalon. He says he doesn’t make public appearances anymore. “They can’t be made secure,” he rasps, typically underplaying the line. “I’m through with the laundry mass-transit system.” Last May he had to be smuggled out of a mall in Seattle in a laundry hamper when throngs of adolescent female fans ran lemminglike into the barricades. In August thousands more worshipful teens rushed a portable stage constructed for Perry’s appearance and squashed each other like grapes. A dozen were rushed to a hospital, and anchormen around the country got to read droll copy like “A teenage crush turned into a crush of teenagers.” “If they hurt each other,” Perry says, “it’s a bitch.”

The cause of all this flattering ferocity is the Fox television show Beverly Hills, 90210, in which Perry portrays Dylan McKay, ultracool high-school loner, AA member and, according to Perry, “staggering intellect.” On the show, Perry and his costars Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty deal with problems ranging from curfews to AIDS. After premièring in the fall of 1990 to wretched ratings and reviews — with a lead-in called Babes and a time slot shared with Cheers — 90210 seemed like a certain candidate for cancellation. But a devoted cult following grew into a national youth movement, and actors who’d originally planned on a few weeks’ work became superstars.

As a result, Perry’s gone from toiling in a doorknob factory (“I cleaned up, scraping up big fucking glops.” he says, knocking an ash from his cigarette, “cleaned the acidic waste off the shit — it was horrendous, man”) to being the subject of books like Luke-Mania! and Loving Luke (his “intensity” is “skyrocketing him into the upper reaches of the ‘most-loved’ hemisphere,” said 16 magazine). He recently got the ultimate stud certification when he was linked in the tabloids with Madonna (“TV heartthrob Luke Perry is the latest hunk to fall into the clutches of man-eating Madonna,” reported The Globe).

Overwhelmed by his new status as a sideburned sex symbol, Perry has sought guidance from someone who’s been there. “Jason and I went out with Tom Jones, had some drinks and dinner,” says Perry. “You know, basically getting advice on ‘Look, Tom, this shit is happening to us really quickly, and how do we deal with it?’ ” Before the evening was done, Perry and Priestley had sung some slightly off-key backup to Jones, warbling “I Want You, I Need You” and “Love Me.” “It was unbelievable, man,” says Jason Priestley. “I mean, what right did we have to be sitting there at a table with Tom Jones?”

Cast of Beverly Hills 90210 , Ian Ziering, Jason Priestley, Mark D Espinoza, Tori Spelling, Gabrielle Carteris, Jennie Garth, Luke Perry, Tiffani-amber Thiessen, Brian Austin Green


His incredulity is understandable: This unlikely star summit conference would not have happened without several crucial twists of fate. For example, if Beverly Hills, 90210 had premièred on any network other than Fox, it would have been canceled before it caught on, and the chances that T.J. — as his new friends Priestley and Perry call him — would hang out with the two young actors would be slim to none. But Fox gave the show a chance to climb its way out of the ratings cellar, partly because the network, which had just expanded to four nights of programming, had no backup show to replace it.

The casting of the show was equally fluky. “There were four teen shows going on that first season,” says 90210‘s creator, thirty-year-old Darren Star, “and we were the last ones to cast, and I really thought we were getting, like, the dregs.”

Star was a screenwriter in 1990 when he came to Fox with the idea of doing a teensomething. Fox chief Barry Diller already had the idea of doing a series set at Beverly Hills High School. Shazam! The show was shopped to Aaron Spelling, who has produced enough prime-time TV footage to strangle an army, including such shows as The Love Boat and Dynasty. Spelling was at first reluctant. “My first reaction was ‘Why me?’ ” says the silver-haired producer. “I hadn’t done a young show since Mod Squad, for God’s sake.”

But Spelling quickly warmed up to the project, and it became a family affair when his eighteen-year-old daughter, Tori, joined the cast. (The story goes that Tori auditioned under the name Toria Mitchell for the director of the pilot, who had “no idea” who she was.) Today, Aaron Spelling, creator of Nightingales and Charlie’s Angels, finds himself shifting in his seat whenever his daughter appears onscreen in a skimpy outfit. “They always put her in the smallest bikinis in the world,” he says. “As a producer, I don’t mind, but as a father, well … the mermaid outfit really freaked me out.”

In the pilot the Walshes, a wholesome family from Minnesota, have just moved to Beverly Hills because of the father’s job transfer. The culture of this Southern California Gomorrah is exciting and alien to their kids, twins Brenda and Brandon (played by Doherty and Priestley). After their first day at the fictional West Beverly High, they attend a debauched but well-catered high-school party in a mansion; Brandon and a rich, spoiled brunette nearly have sex in a Jacuzzi before his Midwestern values win out; Brenda nearly gets down with an attractive yet smarmy lawyer. The parents stand by, befuddled. “You didn’t wear this much makeup in Minnesota,” Ma Walsh says.

“A ZIP code for stereotypes and stock characters,” wrote Los Angeles Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg. It was hard to believe that this was a show that in the next year would address AIDS, date rape, condoms, cancer, teen pregnancy, the disabled and even the Holocaust and gain a massive, jihadlike following in the process. “Would you burn that for me?” actress Jennie Garth says when the pilot is mentioned. Garth plays the rich, spoiled, blond Kelly Taylor, who makes her entrance bragging about her recent nose job and warns Brenda that “someone around here’s always throwing a pool party, so you never get a chance to pig out.” “I hated my character,” says Garth. “She was just so one-dimensional. The show has since evolved so much.”

After the pilot, Charles Rosin, who actually graduated from Beverly Hills High in the class of ’70, came over from CBS’s Northern Exposure to become 90210‘s executive producer. He thought he could help make the show “a little more sympathetic to the human condition.” The scripts immediately began to broaden their focus: The Walshes’ fish-out-o’-water story offered only limited possibilities (especially since shows from The Beverly Hillbillies to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air had used every swimming-pool joke at least three times), and there were plenty of story-ready issues that no teen show was dealing with. “We never used the word issues,” says Aaron Spelling, “but we thought that instead of just showing the fun, fun, fun of being a teenager that the other teen shows were doing, we would show exactly what their problems are.”

Thus 90210‘s plots vary dramatically, from Brenda’s stalking a date rapist or finding a lump in her breast or an equally dire crisis of the week (a tendency that led Mad magazine to title its parody Beverly Hills 911) to the wacky high jinks that ensue when Brenda takes her driving test. Yet the show’s writing consistently transcends the melodrama with an unpatronizing tone, thanks to a small, cohesive group of writers: Many of the scripts are written by Rosin, his wife, Karen, and Star.

It was Karen Rosin who wrote “Isn’t It Romantic?,” the first episode broadcast in 1991. “It was an important episode,” says Charles Rosin, “because it crystallized the way we dealt with sexual issues.” It was also the first episode that prominently featured future star Luke Perry.

“After the pilot, we felt there should be someone who is a little dangerous, a little on the edge, and we came up with the Dylan character,” says Aaron Spelling. “When Luke walked into the audition,” says Star, “it was like ‘Wow, that’s the person.’ He seems exactly like James Dean to me, but it isn’t a conscious imitation — he’s really being himself.”

The 90210 audition was a hard-earned break for Perry, who grew up in Fredericktown, Ohio, a small town that he has alternately described as a redneck backwater and a rural paradise. “Both are true,” Perry says. “I could not wait to get out of there, but I’ve learned a lot there, a lot of things that apply here. I’ve never learned anything here that applies there.” At the age of twelve, Perry realized he wanted to be an actor, but he waited until after high school to move to L.A. and start taking lessons. He continued his training in New York, where he got his first acting work, on daytime soaps — as Ned Bates in Loving and Kenny on Another World.

Dylan and Brenda’s first kiss — after a shouting match — was Perry’s baptism by fire. “It was very hard for me,” he says. “I was in some fucking frustration. It was my first really big show. I was very nervous. I felt under the gun. Finally, I just … I was wearing a long coat, and I just sat down on the sidewalk and threw that coat over my head until I was ready to go. I was screaming at Shannen like a fucking crazy man off camera before I came on to get the emotion. I was screaming and sobbing, and I’d step onto my mark and try to maintain it.”

After the big kiss, Brenda asks Kelly, “What’s the next step? Do I get pinned or something?” “Yes,” replies Kelly. “Preferably to the mattress.” Later, Kelly schools Brenda on carrying a condom: “Rule 1: Never rely on the guy.” And Brenda schools her dad: “Do you want me to sneak around, or are you going to trust me to know what I’m doing?” In the end, a female heterosexual guest lecturer comes to West Beverly and talks about what it’s like to have AIDS, and Dylan, having had condomless sex before, tells a fearful Brenda that he’ll get tested.

Brenda and Dylan postponed sex until the infamous “Spring Dance” show, last May. “I was a little wary at first,” says Doherty. “But they reassured me that we wouldn’t be condoning it [sex] in the show. We represent situations to our audience, and I don’t think we take a side. It’s something that brings families together. I mean, after a character loses her virginity, how can a parent not turn to their kid and say, ‘What did you think of that?’ ” The flood of angry viewer reaction to the suggestion that Dylan and Brenda did horizontal push-ups in a hotel room caused the show’s creative team to reconsider its course.

“I was really surprised by the outcry,” says Star. “I think what they were most upset about was that she was, you know, happy afterwards. So I had to write the first episode coming back in the summer where she thought she was pregnant, and she had to break up with Dylan, and it was really tough. I thought, ‘How am I going to make this story work, in which a girl has sex with Luke Perry and decides to break up with him because of that?’ But I think it sort of rounded it out more and responded to the network, you know, and advertisers, and I guess that’s part of television.” Since then, the Dylan-Brenda romance has remained on the back burner. Nonetheless, Perry says: “They’re still having sex. Don’t kid yourself. We just ain’t talking about it. Because in high school, once you start, there’s no going back. There is just not.”

Yet it was before the Bang Heard Round the World that Fox realized it had something special on its hands. As one Fox executive puts it, “It wasn’t the ratings, it was the riots.” In that spring of mall maulings, the network’s programmers looked for a way to build on the cult enthusiasm. When summer rolled around, they boldly decided to continue pumping out new episodes, ordering thirty new shows of 90210. This unprecedented order (twenty-two shows per season is standard for an hour drama) paid off: While the competition aired reruns, 90210 moved into the Nielsen Top Twenty.

The new summer episodes continued to explore teen angst — though more carefully, as a result of the “Spring Dance” experience. As Jennie Garth puts it: “I’ve tried to get them to let Kelly get laid or shoplift, but they wouldn’t go for it. It seems like we can never do anything bad. Bad things happen to us.”

“Everybody is really keyed into the fact that ‘God, if we show Brandon taking drugs, and he is everybody’s role model, what is that saying?’ ” says Star.

As a result, good boy Brandon twice has been slipped mood-altering substances. The second time, the evil drug was the fictional “U4EA” (the producers made up a drug, fearful that if any real drug had been mentioned, viewers would have been tempted to try it), which was dissolved into a glass of soda water by Brandon’s scary blond girlfriend, Emily. In a Reefer Madness homage, U4EA causes Brandon to “feel really good, really alive,” ask cosmic questions like “Hey, what are those little bumps on your tongue called?,” unbutton his shirt and lethargically make out on the hood of his car. But just because he took the drug inadvertently doesn’t mean he escapes fearsome retribution: The next day, he has a real bad headache (you know — an acid hangover) and is really embarrassed about the way he acted. And his car, when he finally finds it, has been stripped. The moral: Don’t take drugs. Or soda water from scary blondes.

But the spiking fun began back in January, when Brandon’s virgin daiquiri was violated with rum, leading him into days of tequila and roses and, ultimately, a drunk-driving accident. He ends up in jail, where his hair still looks great. “That was a fun episode,” says Jason Priestley. “It was the first time we saw Brandon just, you know, go off, and I loved the hell out of that.” In a West Hollywood bar, he’s downing his second pint of English beer, which on 90210 would probably make him a crazed alcoholic.

Priestley is acknowledged as the guy who can instantly lighten the mood on a tense set by cracking a joke or dropping his pants. “Hey, I just thank God I get to work with such great guys,” Priestley says. “It would be a drag if any of us were just huge pricks, you know.” You get the idea that he would find a way to enjoy himself anywhere. On a recent appearance on Late Night, host David Letterman made fun of Priestley (surprise, surprise), and Priestley took it smiling. “It was great fun,” he says. “I had to go onstage and just go, ‘Hey, babe, go ahead and kill me now.’ I thought if I turned and ran, it would be okay, everybody would understand.”

A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Priestley has been acting since he was four. At that tender age, he had to talk his mom, a former actress, into taking him to see her agent. Most of the early jobs were commercials (if you want to bug him, ask him about the ad for pressed meat in which he sang the words “and ham!”), but he got a break in 1989, when he was chosen for the cast of Sister Kate, a sitcom about orphans raised by a nun (Stephanie Beacham), which was canceled faster than you can say, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.”

Priestley seems unaffected by his sudden stardom, maybe because he doesn’t do personal appearances for 90210 and never has. “I don’t do what I do because I have the need to have thousands of girls screaming at me,” he says, “and neither does Luke.” The show, he claims, has been equally impervious to its success. “I’m glad our creative forces haven’t said, ‘Oh, well, people are watching now, we should back off doing things, make the show a little less controversial.’ “

Last November, 90210 dealt with the teen issue to end all teen issues — death. In one of the highest-rated episodes to date, a recurring character named Scott (played by Doug Emerson) pulls a handgun out of his dad’s desk and twirls it playfully on one finger. “Check this out,” he says to friend David Silver. A shot rings out. David looks horrified. Cut to angelic voices singing “There’s a Place for Us” at a school assembly.

Now, wherever Doug Emerson goes, he gets condolences. “It’s always ‘You’re dead, you’re dead, why’d you die? What happened?’ ” says the boyish blond actor. His death has definitely left Emerson with mixed emotions. “The hardest thing is to believe for myself that it was nothing I did to get killed,” he says. When 90210 started catching on back in March, Emerson felt certain enough about the show’s future — and his — to buy a cool new car, a Saab. That was before the production office called him in for a meeting on “future character development.” The news came as a shock, which is understandable: Imagine being Pete Best. And being dropped from the Beatles after Sgt. Pepper.

Through the summer, Emerson, like any terminal case, kept hoping for a reprieve, but the ratings reaper waits for no actor, especially once it’s established that his character likes to play with guns. “I hope that episode will save some lives,” says Priestley, “because, you know, guns don’t kill people.” Right. Producers do.

“We planned this episode back in March, when we knew we would be picked up,” says Rosin. “I wanted it to be not a suicide, not an illness, but an accident. It seemed a handgun accident was one that made the most sense.”

According to Spelling, Fox was responsible for the lurid publicity campaign — “Tonight, they will lose one of their own,” read the copy above a photo of the regular cast members, with Emerson stuck in among them.

Yet despite the success of life-and-death themes, there are certain issues you won’t see on 90210. For example, you will not see an episode soon about the sorry state of public schools in California. “It’s an entertainment media,” Rosin says. “The prime goal that we have is to entertain an audience. We’re not going to do an episode about the teachers’ strikes at Beverly Hills High.

“We hope that we can have some impact (a) to entertain, and (b) when it’s over, to get them to think about what they have seen, for maybe about five seconds. That was always our goal, just five seconds. And the fact is, it seems that our impact is a little longer than that.”

“It seems the main response I’ve been getting is how realistic the show is,” says Brian Austin Green, who plays David Silver. “People think the story lines are so realistic,” says Tori Spelling. A high school with a hallway DJ booth, kids driving BMWs and wearing designer fashions, high schoolers looking like Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty — this is realism? But then, reality on TV is a relative concept. As Aaron Spelling puts it, “A broken date or not to have a date — that’s the tragedy.”

“Everything is life and death to these kids,” Perry says. And the parents just don’t understand — not because they’re too uptight but because they’re too loaded. Unless you’re from the Midwest, it seems, your family is destined to burst like a poodle in a microwave. Almost every family function stars a dysfunctional family: moms that are coked or spaced out (Kelly’s and Dylan’s), or very scary and castrating (Scott’s), or self-obsessed and unable to love (Steve’s); dads that are absent or running from the law (Dylan’s, Kelly’s, Steve’s).

By making teens the centers of good in their dramas — as opposed to blank moral slates waiting to be filled with Mom and Dad’s latest lesson — 90210 receives an intense loyalty from its fans. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the stars are cute, wear nice clothes, drive cool cars and live in Beverly Hills.

“It’s between the image and the inner life — that’s the gap where all the drama and comedy come,” says Rosin. “Beverly Hills is such an image-conscious town. Hopefully, we don’t promote the stereotype; we try to bust it.”

They’ve succeeded as far as hair color goes. “This receptionist told me, ‘What you have done for brunettes is amazing,’ ” says Shannen Doherty. ” ‘It’s always the blondes that get the guy, who have the wonderful life, who are perceived as the most beautiful one. And you have totally turned it around.’ “

Doherty, in all her stigma-stymieing, dark-haired splendor, sits in the tearoom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel sipping a Coke. She looks notably un-Brenda-like in a clingy black bodysuit and tight jeans. “I dress more for my figure than Brenda does,” she says. “She’d probably put a dress over this bodysuit to hide herself. Brenda’s more apple pie, girl next door, America’s sweetheart.” (And a far cry from Doherty’s most memorable previous role, as one of the title-character high-school bitch goddesses in the movie Heathers.)

Beyond showing a brunette with a life, Doherty, 20, is very conscientious about the responsibilities entailed in being America’s sweetheart. “In one episode,” she says, “they had my character wanting to lose weight, like eight pounds or something. I’m fairly thin, and with bulimia and anorexia such big problems, I was concerned that these girls who look up to me might take it the wrong way. I conveyed that to Chuck Rosin, and it was gone.”

She sips again from her drink, and a large, pear-shaped diamond glints from her left hand. The ring was given to her recently by her fiancé, a businessman named Chris Foufas (she’s keeping her name), and inquiring minds quickly found out. “My fiancé opens up the Enquirer, and he goes, ‘What? I bought you a six-and-a-half-carat ring, and they said it was three carats!’ And I get on the phone to Mike [her manager, Mike Gursey] and say, ‘Have them print a retraction. That fucking ring is not three carats.’ I’m like going nuts on the phone, and Mike starts to laugh hysterically.”

Besides the issue of ring size, Doherty would like to dispel the notion “that I’m a huge bitch.” She’s been called that and “spoiled brat” but mostly just “difficult.” (A 90210 press release diplomatically labels her “hardworking and determined.”)

“If you consider ‘difficult’ being a strong woman who sticks up for herself, yeah, I admit to it,” she says. “I’m open to different ideas, but if you get on my bad side and don’t listen to me and you don’t treat me with as much respect as you treat a man, you’ve got a problem.”

Doherty grew up in Southern California. Like Priestley, she says she had to persuade her parents to take her to her first audition. Her first TV appearance was in a two-part episode of Father Murphy, which was followed by a starring role in the series Little House: A New Beginning when she was eleven. She credits Little House‘s Michael Landon with giving her a fighting spirit. “He told me, ‘Go with your instinct, and never let anybody walk over you, and always stick up for what you believe in.’ “

“Shannen is a pro,” says Rosin. “She’s been doing this since she was ten years old. We all go through phases where we are angry about things in our own personal life.” The difference is Doherty and her costars go through these phases on a set.

For much of the last year, home has been a run-down studio — a cross between a crumbling college dorm and a decrepit airplane hangar — in the unglamorous San Fernando Valley, the place the cool characters on 90210 would rather die than call home. One of the crew members wears a button that sums up the show’s workaday attitude: It’s just television. When cast members exit through the back to the makeup trailer, they pass a dingy alley where used washing machines are sold.

“I feel like they don’t pay me to do the work,” says Priestley, “because the work is the fun part. They pay me to sit around.” During the long waits between shots, the actors smoke, goof off and play music really loud in their small, boxlike dressing rooms. There’s plenty of time to get really close or really irritated. “I’m not going to lie and say that everybody is buddy-buddy,” says Doherty. “You argue about things, and yeah, we make up in the end. It’s kind of like a brother-sister deal.”

Within this “family” is a pocket of male bonding. “The three boys — Jason, Luke and Ian [Ziering] — are really close,” says Doherty.

“The girls, they’ve all got boyfriends and some other life going on,” says Perry, “and we kind of have each other, you know. We’re all going through it together.”

“We get together and have reality checks,” says Ian Ziering, who plays movie-star adoptee Steve Sanders. “We talk about what’s happening to us and how we can’t believe it.” And the stars that hang together shoot together: Despite losing “one of their own” to a rogue pistol, all the young male stars in the cast are absorbed with guns. Perry, Ziering and Priestley recently shot in the Charlton Heston Skeet Shoot to benefit the U.S. Olympic shooting teams. “Moses was there, and that’s heavy, man,” says Perry. “Moses with a gauge. I was teamed with Chuck Norris and Robert Stack.” Unfortunately, because of scheduling problems, Ziering had to decline an invitation to the General Norman Schwarzkopf Shoot down in Florida.

When not shooting guns or the show, the actors have little free time — they’re busy chatting with Arsenio, hosting Saturday Night Live or walking the high wire on Circus of the Stars. “The pressures on these kids are overbearing,” says James Eckhouse, who plays Mr. Walsh. “When you’re on a hit series,” says Ziering, “everybody wants a piece of you.”

Despite the myriad 90210 T-shirts, posters and beach towels, the merchandising has only begun. Soon, Mattel will release a line of Barbie-size dolls modeled on the show’s stars, when most of them already find it hard to walk to the corner store without being tugged and pulled like a living Gumby. “We get accosted in malls,” says Doherty. “Basically, it takes over your life.”

“People come up to me all the time on the street and say, ‘Brandon’s stupid for not wanting you,’ ” says Gabrielle Carteris, who plays brainy Andrea Zuckerman and who, at thirty, is the oldest teen cast member who gives her age. “Then the other night I was at the airport, and Brooke Shields came up to me and said, ‘I love your show. It makes me cry. And he’s a jerk for not getting together with you.'”

“The fans of this show are not just fans,” Priestley says. “It’s heavy, man. They really relate to us all.” That’s an understatement. Brian Austin Green, 18, recalls public appearances where hundreds of teens shouted out the answers to trivia questions about his life. “They know my brother’s name, my sister’s name, their ages, my dog’s name, what color car I have, how big the bumpers are, how big the tires are.”

At one appearance last May, Green had to be removed from a mall in an armored car. Didn’t they have a laundry hamper handy? “See, Luke pulled that off, but they wrote about it in all the magazines, so there was no way we could try it again,” he says.

Since last summer, you’d be hard pressed to find a teen magazine without extensive coverage of Green and the rest of the cast. On the cover, invariably, are smiling or brooding photos of Perry and Priestley and a cover line like Jason reveals secret love-life confessions! (The two are often credited with saving the teen-fanzine industry from post-New Kids on the Block depression.) Every aspect of Priestley’s and Perry’s lives has been picked over, while Perry’s attraction to women well past adolescence — like Linda Hamilton, Jane Pauley and Stephanie Beacham — has been conveniently played down. Beacham, who played Dylan’s spacey mom in one 90210 episode, especially spins the L-man’s beanie: “Man, I had to fight that Oedipal thing all week,” he says.

The media have pursued the unavailable facts like the Grail: How old are Perry and Priestley? (Both reply “midtwenties,” though Perry is probably in the upper reaches of that grouping.) Who had the cool sideburns first? (“This whole sideburn thing, it’s turned into such an issue, and it’s so stupid,” says Priestley. “But I had them first.”) How about that rivalry between Perry and Priestley? (“I want to dispel that,” says Perry. “I hang out with that fucker four or five days a week. I mean, what do I have to do, get up there and kiss him on the mouth so people will know we’re good friends?”) Who are Perry and Priestley sleeping with? (“Well, you can definitely say that Luke sleeps with a pig,” says Doherty. The porker in question is a pet Chinese potbellied pig named Jerry Lee, whom Perry has managed to shield from the media glare. “Jerry Lee’s the Yoda force in my life,” Perry says. “Luke’s house really has a good pig odor to it, which I appreciate,” adds Priestley.)

“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Do I even have to be here anymore?’ ” says Darren Star. “I mean, yesterday I was directing a scene with Jason, and he didn’t want to say a certain word or something. I said, ‘Jason, I wonder if it matters what you say anymore.’ “

“We all work extra hard,” says Perry, “because we know people are out there saying we’re just fucking pansies that look good.” He stubs out his cigarette. “I know that a lot of people are casting a very cynical eye my way, in terms of what happens in the future. I’m not worried about being a big star. But it makes me nervous when people talk about it like it’s already happened.” The nervousness is understandable: The cast of 90210 is quite aware that every generation creates its own Frankie Avalons, that every Chinese restaurant in Hollywood has head shots you can’t recognize.

“I’m putting a lot of emphasis on my personal life right now,” says Doherty, “because when it all goes downhill and you lose all your popularity, there’s got to be somebody else there.”

“We need to be grounded,” says Carteris. “We need not to get lost in this make-believe world. I mean, as popular as the show is now, if tomorrow it dies, we still have to live with our lives.”

As Doug Emerson has discovered. “It’s a hard thing to explain to people that I’m not mad at anyone for being killed,” he says. “The business fluctuates so much, you’re in one moment and out the next.” Whether you’re a victim of a mob hit or a TV hit, that’s just the way the fortune cookie crumbles.

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