For 14 years, 32-year-old Riley Weston was just another struggling actress in Hollywood, going nowhere fast. Tired of waiting for the perfect part, she created it instead: teen writing prodigy on Felicity, The WB's hit about an 18-year-old college freshman. She aced the part, too, delivering an Oscar-worthy performance capable of fooling a powerful studio (Disney), a network, a talent agency (United Talent Agency), and numerous publications, including this one (she appeared on our It List last June).
But reality and fantasy collided on Oct. 15: A former friend snitched, apparently angered at all the attention Weston was getting not to mention her two-year, $300,000 development deal from Disney Touchstone TV. Faster than you can say Milli Vanilli, the phenom was unmasked as a fake.
Age wasn't Weston's only deception: She'd changed her name so many times she could adopt the Prince moniker ''artist formerly known as....'' Her birth name is Kimberlee Seaman, and Weston claims stalker problems instigated the aliases. But who knows if that's true? She's also told people she's divorced from manager Brad Sexton, yet now she says they remain married.
Weston agreed to sit down with EW to set the record straight. And in coming clean (or at least cleaner), she hit all the right notes. Weston says she's sorry: ''I misled a lot of people and that was very wrong.'' She says she's remorseful: ''I didn't feel good about it,'' referring to the 19th-birthday party the Felicity crew threw for her last summer. And she says she's angry: ''It came down to working as an actor. Show me an actor who's never lied about age.''
True enough. And, like a lot of actors, Weston had little trouble faking younger. At 4' 11'' and 93 pounds, with nary a wrinkle, she can easily pass for 19. She dresses the part (baggy jeans, sneakers) and acted it at work: According to Felicity staffers, she kept a Titanic poster on her office wall, brought her mom, Betsy (who Weston says was in on the deception), to work, and even professed to have a crush on Jonathan Taylor Thomas. ''She seemed sweet, charming, a little needy, and searching for approval,'' says a Felicity exec. ''We thought we [had found] a staffer who spoke the language.''
Weston, who contributed to seven Felicity scripts before leaving the show (her option was up this summer), says fellow writers ''treated me like they would any 19-year-old.'' But she hastens to add that ''the person they knew is me. I talk like this, wear these clothes.... I challenge anybody to say I didn't nail something as any teenager would have said it.''
Perhaps a case can be made for arrested development. The Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native bolted to L.A. right after high school in 1984. Babysitting supplemented infrequent acting jobs until 18 months ago, when she began writing ''out of complete frustration [over] the misrepresentating [sic] of young people entirely.'' One of her scripts, about teenage sisters, was shopped around by UTA; Imagine TV bit and hired her for Felicity (coproduced by Touchstone).
Still, the question persists: Why was everyone so easily snookered? The answer likely lies in Hollywood's obsession with youth, and the quest to find the next voice capable of conjuring ratings and box office magic. Sure, the truth might have been discovered by examining her acting credits. While she told people she moved to L.A. after high school two years ago, UTA lists a guest credit on Who's the Boss?, canceled in 1992. On the other hand, Weston told EW in June that she came to L.A. in the early '90s, which jibes with that credit, and we were still fooled.
Disney has yet to determine the fate of Weston's deal. In the meantime, catch her impersonating a teen one last time on the Nov. 17 Felicity. Her character's name? Story.