At approximately 2 a.m. on Aug. 8, Gabe Sachs, executive producer of The CW’s new 90210, stands in the middle of a sleepy street in Venice, Calif., and heaves a sigh of relief, if not the sigh of the century. Then, as the camera is wheeled away and the crew starts to pack up for the night, a smile creeps across his face and he utters two words: ”It happened.”
The ”it,” in this case, is the long-anticipated — and, let’s be honest, somewhat feared — meeting of Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth, best known as Beverly Hills, 90210 friends-turned-rivals Brenda Walsh and Kelly Taylor, who just shot their first scene together in 14 years. Getting these two former teen stars to reprise their roles on The CW’s reboot of the legendary high school show (debuting Sept. 2) was no small feat.
Doherty didn’t have such fond memories of Beverly Hills, 90210, departing in 1994 after a tumultuous run that included sporadic lateness and on-set spats with cast and producers. (Enjoy the London theater scene, Brenda!) Garth was known for clashing with Doherty on camera (one word: Dylan) and off (former costar Tori Spelling claims in her best-seller sTORI Telling that the two once got in a fistfight). But after many e-mails, phone calls, and a long dinner with the 90210 producers, Doherty and Garth decided Brenda and Kelly deserved one more go.
Sorry to disappoint, but no director’s chairs were thrown on this historic eve. No perfectly coiffed hair was pulled. In fact, at times, during the scene in which Brenda is visiting Kelly and — brace yourself — her 4-year-old son Sammy, Doherty, 37, and Garth, 36, are even a little giggly. During one take in which hottie English teacher Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold) meets Brenda at Casa Kelly, Garth trips in the doorway. ”Owwww!” she mock moans. Trying to keep the scene alive, Doherty grins and ad-libs to Eggold, ”She’s a little nervous.”
Sure, now they joke about missteps. A few days after the shoot, Garth and Doherty sat down with EW over breakfast for an exclusive joint interview. In a cordial chat, the once (and future) Kelly and Brenda discussed the new 90210 (Doherty is signed on for four episodes; Garth’s commitment to the show is open-ended), their stormy past, and why their characters will never, ever fight over a boy again. (And don’t miss our exclusive video from their EW photo shoot.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you ever think the two of you would be sitting here talking about playing Brenda Walsh and Kelly Taylor again?
JENNIE GARTH AND SHANNEN DOHERTY: [In unison] No.
GARTH: I thought [Beverly Hills, 90210] had a beginning, middle, and an end. It was very neatly in its coffin and it was done. When they told me they were doing it, I thought: No! Like something sort of sacred was being disrupted. Some part of who I was and a piece of my history was being messed with. It took me a while to settle into that idea.
DOHERTY: Early on, my publicist got a call asking her “Would she do it?” I was kind of like, Why would I play Brenda Walsh again? There was an “I Hate Brenda” newsletter. Why would I possibly get myself back into that? I think it was too scary for me. I didn’t want to go back to people hating me. It just wasn’t something that I considered for a good chunk of time. At some point it hit me that this is what the fans wanted. They put a roof over my head. They allow me to eat and to feed my dogs. The only reason I survive is because of them. If there’s one way to possibly say thank you, it is to go back and play a character that you never even liked yourself.
EW: You didn’t like Brenda?
DOHERTY: There were parts of Brenda I loved. They just took her in a really odd direction that I didn’t necessarily agree with at the time. I still kind of look back and think, Eh, it’s not what I would have done, but I understand. Every show has to have that character full of teenage angst and drama. I think she was driven by insecurity that was at the root of everything.
EW: For the new 90210, you were both involved with determining where Kelly and Brenda were in their lives. Jennie, the producers initially wanted Kelly to be a West Beverly Hills High School board member, right? How did she become a guidance counselor?
GARTH: I didn’t want to be on the show for no reason. I wanted to have some value. When Gabe and [exec producer] Jeff [Judah] told me some of the things they were doing, I was like, “Whoa. That is not 90210, people.” They were trying to educate me [about] how teens are in high school today. It was so shocking to me that I thought I should bring a positive spin somehow. Of course, I have yet to guide or counsel anyone.
DOHERTY: I think they must have told you the same things they told me.
EW: What kinds of things?
DOHERTY: All I know is there’s a girl giving a guy a b— job in the first episode.
GARTH: When they told me that, I thought, Aaron Spelling is rolling over in his grave right now.
EW: Shannen, how did Brenda wind up being the drama teacher for West Beverly’s Spring Awakening production?
DOHERTY: We talked back and forth about Brenda having been in London and now she’s a really successful theater actor. The successful part I thought was nice. I’m glad she’s not a burnout. The most important thing for me was that she evolved — that she didn’t come back as the same person. She has no hang-ups about the past. It was really important to portray her honestly — we all evolve. We all grow up. We all change. Sometimes TV wants to keep people exactly the same, and that’s not always true to real life.
EW: What do you think of your new costars? Does it feel like you’re watching yourselves from 18 years ago?
GARTH: They are savvy. They know what they signed up for. They have all this knowledge about the business.
DOHERTY: They’re far more prepared than we ever could have been. And they’re amazing.
GARTH: It’s risky what they’re doing, but the payoff is so much bigger. The fans have expectations, but I keep telling them, “Let us take care of the old fans. Just do your own show.”
EW: The other day you had your first scene together in 14 years. When did you last see each other before the scene and what was it like shooting together again?
DOHERTY: [Laughs] Oh, God. When was it? Ten years ago? I don’t know. A long time. I can only speak for myself, but being with someone I knew made it easier for me my first day on set. At least for me there was an appreciation that we’d been through the first 90210 together and now we’re going through it again, but in such a different way because we’re both adults now. The only weird thing was while we were trying to catch up everyone was watching us. Every single eyeball was on us. I don’t know what they were expecting. I was more interested in talking to her about Dancing With the Stars. I thought she did an amazing job.
EW: But did you vote for her?
DOHERTY: Of course I voted.
GARTH: [Laughs] Oh, my God! No, you didn’t!
DOHERTY: I did! I voted for her and for Ian [Ziering] when he did it. They were really good. So for me it was nice. The only thing that wasn’t nice was the expectation everyone else had of us being together.
GARTH: There had been so much buildup. Everyone was asking me before what it was going to be like. I was like, “I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her in 10 or 15 years.” I had that tension and I started to let it get to me. Is she going to be nice? Is it going to be a bad environment? But when I saw her everything was fine. [To Shannen] I was going to call you and tell you this — I got your number from Gabe but I never called. I felt a certain comfort too in having you there and I did not think I would feel that way. It was at some point around 2 a.m., and I felt like it’s so nice to have someone here who is a partner, someone who knew where we’d been and what it was like with the real show.
DOHERTY: I think when you’re 18, your personalities conflict, and then you meet up 10 or 15 years later and the playing ground is totally different and you’re fine. Like Jennie said, of course there were nerves going in. But half of it was the buildup everyone else put on it. When I was driving to the set I was getting phone calls, and I finally turned my phone off because I thought, I have to go in there with a completely fresh attitude and start over and give everybody a chance and everybody has to give me a chance. Once I was able to turn all of that off, the first moment I saw her it was like, Okay, this is going to be good. It was like, “Hey.” Then a hug. It’s like going to a war together. You’ve already been in the trenches together. You learned so much from that first war. That second war, you know what you need to do to make the set the most peaceful environment you can possibly have.
EW: Shannen, do you think people expected more tension because you had a reputation for causing problems on set?
DOHERTY: Only people who bring up things from when I was 19 years old. The best thing that ever could have happened to me was I got off 90210 when I did. It let me find a little bit of peace and discover who I was as a person. Not the person who the press made me out to be because I’d had a few bad experiences in my personal life, and I was struggling to figure out a bad husband or a bad boyfriend and I was doing it under the spotlight, so I wasn’t reacting well to any of it. I really wasn’t. And I know that.
EW: In Tori Spelling’s book sTORI Telling, she tells some pretty harsh stories about you, Shannen. Did you read the book?
DOHERTY: I will censor myself out of respect for Jennie because she’s friends with Tori. I got passages sent to me and a vast majority of it is incredibly exaggerated. Maybe it’s a difference of how I was raised. I just don’t believe you write personal on-set experiences in a book. For me, when you work it’s almost a sacred experience whether you get along with everyone or not. In 27 years of acting I’ve never sold out one of my cast members. Ever. And I will stick to that.
EW: In the book it says you two got into a fistfight. That sounds very badass. But is it true?
GARTH: A fistfight? That makes us sound so tough.
DOHERTY: I know. Like we were serious gangsters.
GARTH: I didn’t read the book either.
EW: You’re thanked in it.
GARTH: For what? I wonder what I did. I asked Tori if I needed to read it and she said no, I shouldn’t bother.
EW: Okay, but back to the fistfight: fact or fiction?
GARTH: I don’t think we ever hit each other.
DOHERTY: We had our moments.
GARTH: I just remember being outside and the boys having to try to settle us down.
DOHERTY: No, we never punched each other.
GARTH: Scratching? I’m not going to deny that.
EW: There is a rumor that in this new 90210, Kelly and Brenda will be fighting over the slightly Dylan-esque bad-boy English teacher, Ryan Matthews. Are we really going to see Kelly and Brenda fight over another guy?
DOHERTY: I would not do that.
GARTH: People want that. They want that love triangle because that’s what they’re comfortable with with us. But it’s not happening.
DOHERTY: That was one of the things I was adamant about: Brenda Walsh would not fight for a guy anymore. There are bigger, more important things in her life. Besides, I encourage [Kelly] to date Ryan. I offer to babysit.
GARTH: All those people who wrote the “I Hate Brenda” newsletter are going to get mad at me now, like “Why are you leaving your child with Brenda?”
DOHERTY: Hopefully those people have grown up.
GARTH: I doubt it.