Laura Leighton: The Bitch Is Back
The most notorious resident of Melrose Place from 1993 to 1997, Sydney Andrews was a backstabber, a blackmailer, and a really bad roommate. Laura Leighton scored a Golden Globe nomination for playing the manipulative man-eater, who was hit and presumably killed by a runaway car in the fifth season finale. But for the new Melrose Place reboot premiering tonight on the CW, Sydney’s been resurrected, albeit briefly, as landlord of the apartment complex she once terrorized. Currently topping EW’s “Must List” 15 years after first gracing that magazine’s cover, Leighton — now married to Doug Savant, who played gay Melrose Place resident Matt Fielding — proves that only the strong and scandalous survive.
Advocate.com: Laura, I’m a Melrose Place fanatic and I’ve been watching YouTube clips from the original Melrose all weekend to prep for Tuesday’s big debut. I just came across the scene where Sydney gets beaten up by a bunch of street whores.
Laura Leighton: Oh, my gosh! [Laughs] I would never have remembered that if you hadn’t said anything about it. I’m constantly being reminded about story lines from the show, and I don’t remember them until people mention them. Someone else just reminded me of the time when Jane was in a wheelchair for some reason and Sydney was pushing her around, slamming her into doors, and crashing her into walls. So funny.
Is there one scene from the original series that does stand out in your memory?
When I’m reminded of these scenes I haven’t thought of in a while, I do remember laughing while we were doing them. But what sticks out in my mind most is Jane and Sydney’s "wedding dress in the pool" scene. There was press there for the shooting and everyone was making a huge deal out of it. It was such a big event.
Until the day she was struck down by a car on her wedding day, Sydney never could catch a break. Did she not deserve happiness?
I think she deserved it, but she was constantly sabotaging it. Just when things were looking up for her, she managed to mess it all up. For the most part, she was always driven by her desire to be like her sister, Jane, which was never going to be. She idolized Jane and wanted everything she had, but she couldn’t figure out a way to get it that wouldn’t screw her up.
Speaking of Jane with her cheesy boutique and clothing line, the mid ’90s weren’t always kind to you girls as far as fashion goes.
And I can’t say the guys had it any better. When we first got our season 1 DVD box set a few years back, Doug and I popped it in just to show our kids, who are old enough now to check it out, and they went, “Oh, my God, Dad, what are you wearing?” Doug was in some terrible argyle thing and his hair was all up and over.
Were you aware of your gay following back in the day?
Yeah, and I’m so flattered by it. I had a terrific character that was so fun to watch and talk about, so I was thrilled to have a following — gay, straight, anybody who appreciated the character. I remember back in ’90s people saying they were going to parties dressed as Sydney. It was awesome.
Five years is a normal run of an original contract, and the five years had come up for most of the cast. A lot of us were reaching that point when it just felt like a natural time to move forward and find out what was next, and I fell into that category. I felt like I’d told as many crazy stories as I could with the character at the time, and I didn’t want to resent the character or the stories. Also, it was my very first job, so my life kind of went from zero to 60. I was a bartender and a waitress in Los Angeles in the same year that I suddenly landed on a hit television show and found myself on the cover of Rolling Stone. It was this bizarre, fast-moving train that didn’t stop for years. It was a wonderful ride, but I felt a bit overwhelmed, and I didn’t have a calm perspective. There’s something disorienting and disconcerting about that feeling, so I wanted to slow down, process things, and be normal for a little while. I remember my agents and people around me saying, “You need to go right onto another show because they only want to hire you for other shows if you’re on one right now. It’s going to be much harder to get a job if you take a break.” But I just didn’t feel comfortable jumping right into something else. I really needed a break. I needed to go be myself.
Did you watch the show after you left?
No, I didn’t watch it, but only because I wasn’t ever really a very big TV watcher.
Did you have to fight against being typecast as a crazy bitch?
When I first left Melrose I was really craving normal, smart women — not vixens and bad girls. I remember walking into auditions and feeling that people were puzzled when they met me because they were expecting someone much more obnoxious; I felt like they were disappointed that I wasn’t nearly as interesting as the characters that I’d played. But when you play a lot of lawyers and regular people without much mischief, you start craving the fun again. Sydney was the most fun character I’ve ever had, so to play her again is an unexpected gift. It’s good to play a variety, but bad girls are more fun.
When producers first contacted you about returning for the Melrose update, did you remind them that Sydney was dead?
When I heard they were going to make a new version of Melrose, I never assumed I would be involved in any way. So I was completely surprised when they called and said they wanted to talk to me about an idea for how to bring my character in. I was like, “But I’m dead, aren’t I?” So I was cautious but curious, and that’s the attitude I went in with to hear their pitch.
It was leaked to the media months ago that
most of your scenes would be flashbacks since Syd’s found dead in the
apartment complex pool during the pilot. Why did producers spoil that so early?
I think they felt like it would be too difficult to keep it as a secret, and they wanted to confront the cool element that it adds to the show rather than work so hard to conceal it.
Is Syd dead for good this time, or is there hope for another revival?
I think their intentions are that Sydney’s really dead. I serve a purpose to link the past to the present, and I also bring a noir mystery quality to the first season. But they really want focus on the new cast of characters, and I’m sort of a nod to the past.
The last actress to play dead in that pool, Kristin Davis as Brooke Armstrong, went on to star in Sex and the City.
I forgot that someone else died in that pool. What season did that happen… I guess I should ask you, right?
4! Ashlee Simpson-Wentz plays Syd’s long lost daughter Violet in the
new series. Did she and the other younger actresses look to you for any
motherly guidance and wisdom?
Well, girls in their 20s don’t exactly turn to a woman in her 40s for advice. [Laughs] I do have a different perspective and certainly a different life than most of the other cast members; I’m juggling a family, so my mind is on that when I’m not working on set. Right after we shot the pilot we were in New York for the upfront presentations, and it was our first time all together as a cast. We were meeting some magazine editors, going from office to office, and I did find myself turning to the cast in the lobbies of office buildings and going, “OK, does anybody need to go potty? Because now’s the time.” And I’m the one they came to if they needed Chapstick or hand sanitizer.
It’s been very nostalgic for all of us returning cast members, so we want all the old characters back — we’re very biased. Thomas and I were talking the other day about the period of time when Sydney, Michael, and Peter, Jack Wagner’s character, were all working in the doctor’s office together when I was the receptionist. We were remembering how the three of us were always laughing and goofing around when we shot those scenes, so we thought it would be fun to find out what Peter’s doing and if Peter, Michael, and Sydney could mix it up again.
Should producers pay Heather Locklear whatever
outrageous amount she’s currently demanding to get her back on the show
as Amanda Woodward?
[Laughs] You probably know more about all that than me. I’m always the last to hear.
husband Doug Savant’s character, Matt Fielding, technically died during the
original series as well, but we never saw his corpse either. Although he
currently stars on Desperate Housewives, would Doug do a Melrose cameo
if Marc Cherry and ABC allowed it?
Doug’s a great sport and always up for anything, but when I introduced Doug to our producers at our premiere party, they said, “Well, we don’t think we can have more than one character return from the dead.” Doug kind of went, “Oh, OK. So I guess I won’t be coming back.”
Why haven’t you weaseled your way onto Desperate Housewives in the past five seasons?
Funnily enough, I’ve known Marc Cherry since I was about 18 years old. He was involved in a nonprofit song and dance company called the Young Americans that I was a part of, and he wrote an original musical that I was cast in. So when Doug went in to audition for the Desperate Housewives pilot, Marc stood up to introduce himself, held his hand out, and said, “Hi, Doug, I’m Marc Cherry. I wrote the first thing your wife ever did!” But Marc has joked about wanting to write a scene for Doug and Felicity [Huffman] to have dinner with another couple played by [Huffman’s husband] Bill Macy and myself. That’s Marc’s fantasy, so we’ll see if it actually comes true.
Before you dated Doug,
you dated Melrose costar Grant Show. What’s your advice for the new
cast when it comes to dating other people in the series?
Well, Doug and I didn’t really begin dating until we were leaving the show, and we’ve been married going on 12 years now. Before that I had a relationship for three years with Grant, and relationships with somebody you work with don’t normally last that long. It is dangerous and it can be really awkward when you’re not together anymore and still have to work together, but I managed to have a potentially awkward situation work out pretty well. So I guess my advice would be to do what I say, not as I do [laughs].
Doug’s portrayal of Matt, a
gay social worker, gave a lot of positive mainstream exposure to
gay people, but his love life was painfully neutered. I still
remember the camera panning away from Matt as he was about to kiss someone in the
Yeah, it was ridiculous and annoying, and “neutered” is a great way to put it. I remember Doug being really frustrated by it and saying, “Why are we even doing this if we can’t really tell this story?” But things have come a long way since then, and I know Doug feels quite proud that he was a part of that.
In the new series, Katie Cassidy plays bisexual publicist Ella and Victor Webster plays
Ella’s gay boss. Will there be more same-sex action this time around?
I think so. There’s a lot more permission now to show different kinds of relationships, which is completely liberating for storytellers, for actors, and for all humans to finally be able to tell stories as they really are.
I always thought Syd might flirt with bisexuality,
but I lost all hope when she passed up a threesome with Traci Lords,
who played her cult member roommate Rikki. I mean, who turns down Traci
[Laughs] Yeah, maybe that was just a little too frightening. She was chicken. But it would seem like a natural direction for Sydney to take. Maybe there’s still time for another opportunity.