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Priestley's New Take

April 25, 1993|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Between planes and pranks, it would seem that Jason Priestley isn't having a good day at Magic Mountain.

Squatting behind the camera, in white T-shirt, jeans and wire-rimmed shades, Priestley still looks like the star of "Beverly Hills, 90210," which he is. But this time around, he's calling the shots.

For his first crack at directing--a "BH, 90210" episode called "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," which airs Wednesday--Priestley looks the picture of affability.

So far a low-flying plane has disrupted the sound, casting a shadow over co-star Shannen Doherty's face, no doubt to the delight of "I Hate Brenda" newsletter readers, and Jennie Garth has put ink in the earpieces of Priestley's headset and makeup around the eyepiece of his camera.

But Priestley, 23, is not easily daunted. Leaning in close, as Doherty and Garth finish delivering their lines, he shouts, "God! I Love that!"

As the camera crew regroups for yet another shot, the set is awhirl. Though it's a rather balmy day, wardrobe mistresses race to put long, down coats on Doherty, Garth, Tori Spelling and Gabrielle Carteris, who are wedged together on a park bench.

"Next time you direct, pick a warmer day," Carteris deadpans to Priestley.

Hair stylists rush to adjust the stars' hair.

"Jennie's hair was behind her ears," someone shouts.

While Carteris chats animatedly to Spelling, Doherty intently reads a Judith Krantz novel. Garth flipping her hair, leans her head back, eyes closed, trying to nap. Brian Austin Green, also in the scene, takes a smoke break.

Priestley looks at a monitor, studying the last shot. Squinting, he asks those around him what they think.

It's time to do it again.

They try the scene again, and take another break.

"The first time he called action," Austin Green says, puffing on a cigarette, "I'm sitting there looking at him, going, what is he doing, we're usually playing Sega in my dressing room around this time. He looks all professional and he's got that whole director look to him now, he's all scruffy." (Priestley later says that one of the best things about directing is not having to shave or go to makeup.)

Priestley's cast mates have found working with him easy, and some are surprised at his technical expertise. Austin Green called the experience "cool."

"It's great to see someone you love do so well," Carteris says excitedly. "I'm so happy for him."

Spelling says, "It's a lot easier working with him than other directors, because he's on our level, it's more fun, we all joke around."

Garth, perpetrator of jokes, says she prefers Priestley to other directors, who try to "overdirect us."

But that doesn't mean his co-stars will let him just step right up to the megaphone and yell, "Action."

"I just felt he needed to be broken in properly," Garth says giggling. "And I'd want someone to do that to me, I think."

Doherty's impressed by his self-confidence and leadership.

"He kinda takes charge either way, whether he's acting or directing," she says. "He's not pushy, he's understanding. He's quite wonderful to work with, actually."

A show insider says of Priestley: "He's one of the two cast members who are easiest to deal with."

And, indeed, Priestley consistently proves to be a positive and supportive influence on the set. When everyone breaks for lunch, Priestley readily consents to an on-camera interview, where he is as self-conscious as any non-actor director.

Several days later, after he's turned in his director's cut, he's calmer and pleased with the results.

"It turned out pretty well," he says enthusiastically. "It's very funny. I was pretty nervous at first. The most difficult scenes were the ones I was acting in as well," noting that he has a tremendous amount of respect for actors such as Clint Eastwood, who "do that on a much larger scale than I have."

"It's a big responsibility, especially being the first cast member of an ensemble who gets to direct a show," he says. "It was a lot of pressure, but a good kind of pressure. I worked very hard on it and really was prepared for it."

The next step, he says, is for executive producer Aaron Spelling "to go through the show."

The Priestley-directed episode focuses on senior ditch day, where the girls and Austin-Green's character, David, take off to the amusement park. Brandon (Priestley), Dylan (Luke Perry) and Steve (Ian Ziering) are left behind to deal with a Burt Reynolds Fan Club at the Peach Pit.

"It's definitely a lighter episode, with a lot of humor," Priestley says.

The ditch-day show is the first of four episodes marking the "90210"-ers high school graduation. Upcoming shows will deal with the prom (May 9); Donna's suspension (May 12); and the two-hour commencement ceremony episode (May 19). Fox expects all cast members back for the postgraduate fall season.

Next up for Priestley is the summer release of "Calendar Girl," a feature film in which he stars.

And there are a couple more movie deals in the works that he says he can't talk about just yet. He's also looking forward to directing more "90210" episodes, and hopes there'll be more offers.

But he's not about to give up acting for directing.

"They are two very different things and I enjoy doing them both, so that's what I think I'll do," he says.

But on Wednesday night, he'll have a few people over and open a bottle of wine in honor of the episode's airing.

"My cast mates now have either a newfound respect or disrespect for me," he says laughing.

"Beverly Hills, 90210" airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox.

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