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32-Year-Old Actress-Writer Admits Lying About Being 19

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October 16, 1998|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 32-year-old actress who passed herself off as a teenager to get hired in the youth-obsessed entertainment industry acknowledged Thursday that she deceived her agents, attorneys and the producers of the series on which she served as a staff writer.

Riley Weston, touted in recent media accounts as a 19-year-old writing phenom employed on the critically acclaimed new WB network drama "Felicity," said "desperation to find work," her youthful appearance and a paucity of quality roles for actresses her real age prompted her to say she was in her teens.

Weston called it "an accepted practice for actresses to lie about their age," saying she did so never anticipating she would become a writer. After making that transition, she said, she continued the ruse because she could not claim to be one age for acting and another for writing.

Weston maintained that the strength of her writing, and no other factors, led to her involvement with "Felicity."

"I'm the same person I [was], except with a few years added on," she said in an interview. "Any actor that I've ever spoken to is afraid to tell their age to their agents."

The producers of "Felicity," however, were clearly interested in Weston at least in part because of her perceived youth, given that the program is a coming-of-age saga about an 18-year-old college freshman.

Imagine Television, which produces the series with Walt Disney Co.'s Touchstone Television, indicated in a statement that in addition to her writing, Weston was hired because of "the unique perspective we felt her age and life experience would bring to her creative role on the show. . . . We trusted her as a colleague and are saddened by her dishonesty."

The producers had opted not to extend Weston's contract before the story surfaced, but two weeks ago she entered into a separate deal with Touchstone to develop TV programs, worth an estimated $500,000 over two years.

Disney declined comment Thursday, but sources say the studio may reevaluate that relationship because of the misrepresentation.

Weston retained a publicist to deal with the story's fallout. She apologized on TV on "Entertainment Tonight" to those she had misled, which include her agents at United Talent Agency and at William Morris Agency, which represented her before she switched to United in July.

As an actress, she said, "you're going to do whatever you have to do and say whatever you have to say to get them to see you." She said it would be sad if the recent revelations jeopardized her agreement with Disney.

Several media outlets have featured Weston as a teenage sensation, among them Entertainment Weekly magazine, which dubbed her one of the 100 most creative people in entertainment. In that issue, she described her work ethic as doing things "the old-fashioned way" and said, "In many ways, I am Felicity."

Weston co-wrote and acted in the "Felicity" episode shot this week, which WB will broadcast in November. In it, she played a high school junior, a role younger than even her previously understood age. She also played a teenager in the 1993 movie "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit."

"I'm not old enough looking to play" my real age, she said. "I've been in a kind of Catch-22."

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