By now, reboots are old hat and mostly lame. But you got to give credit to Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth, who came up with a novel way to resuscitate the iconic drama they helped make famous in the '90s, Beverly Hills, 90210. The co-creators of BH90210 doesn't just plop the shiny-haired characters back in the wealthy L.A. enclave, pretending they all still hang out and sip coffee at The Peach Pit. Instead, this iteration — following an 'Aughts reboot of the show that focused on a new crop of teens — depicts slightly fictionalized takes on the stars of Beverly Hills, 90210. Spelling plays a version of Spelling, Garth plays a version of Garth, and so on. While lots of sex and backstabbing are depicted on BH90210, there is plenty of self-effacing comedy thrown in too, with the characters making fun of the fact that they're desperate for a steady gig.
The characters are brought together when Spelling pitches a reboot of the show and works to enlist her former co-stars, including the elusive Shannen Doherty. There's a lot to appreciate about this summer trifle, one being that BH90210 offers more diversity than its predeccesor did. This is no Pose, but People of Color do exist on the show, like LaLa Anthony, who potrays a pop star married to Brian Austin Green. While Beverly Hills, 90210 had a few special episodes with gay characters, this version features Gabrielle Carteris exploring her attraction to women. On top of that is the character of Christine Elise — who memorably played rebellious bad girl Emily Valentine in Beverly Hills, 90210's early seasons. Elise now plays a Fox executive in charge of Spelling's reboot; the character is a powerful lesbian not to be messed with. We connected with Elise to discuss how different she is from "Christine Elise," whether Christine and Gabrielle may hook-up, and the legacy of Emily Valentine.
The Advocate: How does BH90210's Christine Elise differ from the real Christine? Did the producers take liberties?
Christine Elise: They took enormous liberties; a lot of creative license. I'd be lucky to be an executive producer at Fox, which I am not. [The character] is also a lesbian, which I am not.
Will the storylines of "Christine" and "Gabrielle Carteris," who is exploring her sexuality, intersect?
Yes. I don't want to give too much away. She comes to me with her desire to have her character on the show (within the show) explore her sexuality. It's not just storytelling for her, she wants to explore that in real life (well, in the real life of BH90210).
How did you get involved in the show?
When it was announced in February who was coming back for the show, and hearing the theme song, I got goosebumps. I realized immediately how nostalgic I was for that show and that time in my life. It was a visceral thing; I thought I had to get involved. So I googled who the producers were and friended them on Facebook and had drinks with [them] and the creators of the show, Jennie [Garth] and Tori [Spelling]. And they pitched me the show. They said, this is what we're doing, all the actors are pitching their own storylines. They said, "Would you like to do an episode?" And I said, "I'd like to do them all!"
They asked what I wanted to do. I didn't think that question would be asked. So I had to come up with what I want [my character] to do. Jason [Priestley] and I were a couple in real-life for five years, back in the day. Jason and I are still really close; he's one of my best friends. I do all my holidays with him and his family. And when I thought they would tie my story to Jason, I wasn't interested. The one rule I had for this was not having a romantic thing with Jason, because it's creepy and gross — he's like my brother! It'd be like kissing my dad. I also didn't want the storyline to be that limiting; to be relegated to girlfriend. Or even worse, being in competition with his wife. I didn't want any of that toxic girl-on-girl drama that dominates so much television.
So at the end of the lunch, I came up with the idea that I have a vendetta against the whole cast, over slights real and perceived, and I really want to take them down.
So, she's the villain?
Yes, yes. I initially thought she should be a drinker. Some of the funniest characters on television are the drunk ones — Megan Mullally on Will & Grace, the mom on Two and a Half Men, the mom on Arrested Development. Alcohol allows a little bit more freedom to behave in a way that isn't totally believable because alcohol is involved; people tend to say things to others more bluntly or get themselves in positions they might not. That was part of my pitch; she's written really funny. I haven't gotten to do comedy ever in my life. But I wrote a dirty comedy novel, Bathing and the Single Girl, and it's the proudest achievement of my life.
Other than Jason, had you maintained contact with the cast or was this the first time you saw them in decades?
I've seen Gabby here and there, I saw everybody when Luke [Perry] died. We saw each other at the various get-togethers that were held in his memory. Until then, I hadn't seen Ian or Brian or Tori or Jennie in easily 20 years. I've seen Tiffani [Thiessen] sometimes because she and her husband and the Priestleys are close.
Is "Christine" going to interact with "Shannen Doherty"?
Yes! Everybody is. The Shannen thing is the bane of my existence in that every single photo that gets released that she's not in, people ask, "Where's Shannen?" I'm gonna make a t-shirt that says, "Where's Shannen?" and I might have it on my epitaph. People want to read so much into why she's not there; they want drama. I heard someone tell Jennie she's rude because she was in a picture without Shannen, like it was a slight against Shannen, which it's not. This time around everybody's older and wiser and everybody feels a great deal of gratitude to be back. It was the most positive work experience I ever had. It was incredibly supportive and everybody had everybody's back. Everybody wants the show to be great.
How does that compare to the original show?
Well, Emily wasn't a regular, I only did 12 episodes over the course of four years, but with Jason I had more access than I would otherwise. When I came on, the producer called me into the office and said, 'Welcome to the show. You're gonna have a great time.' My description of how the cast behaved has evolved over time. I was the new kid in school and that's exactly what it feels like when you're a guest star on an established show. You're coming into a family that already exists. You don't know who the crazy people are, you don't know who the nice people are, you don't know where craft services is. So when people don't go out of their way to be extraordinarily friendly it feels like hostility because you're so vulnerable and so insecure. So they weren't actively mean to me ever, they were completely indifferent. It was very intimidating; the first episode I had to sing and I'm a horrible singer. And eight of the coolest people in America are staring at you. Literally I cried between takes.
Then when Jason and I got together all the girls were very protective of Jason, they all assumed I was a gold-digger or something; a bad girl. It's not like that anymore at all.
The conceit of the show is novel; it's not just a standard reboot. Were you impressed when you read the script?
Extremely so. And I've always thought Tori was an unrecognized comedienne. Her best work back in the old days was comedy stuff; she's almost like a Lucille Ball-type with physical comedy. That's really her strong suit. Jason is very funny in real life. I like to think I'm funny in real life.
I think going back to David and Donna and Kelly and Brandon would be unbelievably pathetic; they're not 25 anymore, if they never met another person in the intervening years it'd be incredibly lame. That would also really highlight the absence of Luke Perry in a way that would be awkward and bad. This is such a fresher way to go that is funny and not desperate.
What's the legacy of Emily Valentine?
I, personally, was an outsider, I was very punk rock and I was misconceived; everyone thought I was a drug addict or troubled. Punk rock to me is a chosen outsider status, it's not being an outsider because people rejected me, it's me rejecting them. That's super empowering and it informed my entire adult life. People who didn't feel spoken for by the main cast of that show, whether they were punk rock kids, or gay kids, or a different religion or financial level, or race, just different, other than, felt represented by her on that show. I think that's an incredibly noble thing and I loved being the hero of the underdogs. I'm really proud of that legacy, which is why I'm really happy with what they're doing with the character on the reboot. It honors that really well.
It's my tribe; people who love Emily are my tribe, they're people I'd hang out with in real life. Occasionally, it stings when people say mean things, like I look hideous in a photo, but mainly I know they're Trump supporters and people I wouldn't hang out with in real life anyway. It's not people who I admire.
I know you host a vegan cooking show. Currently, there is a big debate about what chicken sandwiches to eat other than homophobic Chick-fil-A. What are your favorite vegan substitutes for chicken?
At home, I have many, many "chicken" dishes; not sandwiches, because who's eating all those carbs. Beyond meat chicken is my go-to for making chicken things at home. They make incredible cold chicken salad and chicken tacos.
BH90210 airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Fox.