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The Good Witch of Beverly Hills

September 20, 1998|MARC WEINGARTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In order for a fallen celebrity to successfully mount a comeback in Hollywood, a public mea culpa is usually necessary: Apologize for your past transgressions and the world will beat a path to your door. That's how it works for most celebrities, but Shannen Doherty's having none of it.

For a while there, it seemed as if the gravel-throated brunette had cornered the market on tawdry scandal. First, there was talk of titanic, script-tossing ego clashes on the set of "Beverly Hills, 90210," the Aaron Spelling teen soap that made her a star; then there were those three ill-fated marital engagements, to say nothing of her notorious club-crawling exploits with "90210" co-star Tori Spelling.

Was Doherty heedless? A tad out of control? Maybe, but don't expect the actress to renounce her wild youth any time soon.

"I just did all those things that everyone does when they're between the ages of 18 and 23," the 27-year-old Doherty says while lounging in her trailer on the set of her new series for the WB network, "Charmed." "I just don't have the urge to do those things anymore like I used to. I mean, it sold before, and if the media thinks it's gonna sell again, they're wrong. The public's sick of it."

By Doherty's standards, the last few years have been relatively uneventful, and that's a good thing. After she left "90210" in 1994 amid rumors of a nasty feud with executive producer Spelling, Doherty laid low for a while, taking the occasional TV movie gig and generally keeping out of harm's way. Now, after a four-year hiatus, she is returning to series work with "Charmed," and while her character (she plays a witch, albeit a benevolent one) may not take too many people by surprise, the fact that she's working with Spelling again might. Has there been a rapproachment?

"It's funny," Doherty says in between hasty drags on a Marlboro Light. "When you're the two people involved in a relationship, and you hear what people are saying about it, you're like, 'Well, isn't this interesting?' There's never been a great hatred between us. We parted for very good reasons, and now we're back together. We both knew it would happen at some point. It was just a matter of waiting for the right project to come along."

"I tell ya the truth, all those stories about Shannen were so overblown," Spelling says in a separate interview. "Was she late on the set a couple of times? Sure, but who isn't? Shannen was not fired from '90210.' She had received some TV movie offers, and we sat down and talked about it and she made the decision. If I had a problem with her, why would I hire her for 'Charmed'? The show was sold before she was cast."

According to Spelling, Doherty's been a model of professionalism on the set of 'Charmed.' "Everything's going just fine," he says. "Shannen's her own person, of course, but that's a strength, and it works for the show."

"Charmed's" premise, which centers around the exploits of three sexy sisters (Doherty, Alyssa Milano and "Picket Fence's" Holly Marie Combs) who discover they have the power to become witches, is perfectly in tune with the prevailing phantasmagoric zeitgeist, and will, WB hopes, lure some of the same viewers who have made otherworldly, special-effects-heavy shows like "The X-Files" and "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" left-field hits.

"Certainly, shows like 'Buffy' have opened the door for us," says Doherty. "But we're not going to be like the 'Warlock of the Week' show. There will be something new happening every week."

The frenetic pace of series television has taken some getting used to for Doherty, who hasn't appeared on TV regularly since her "90210" tenure. "Initially, there was a bit of anxiety about the whole working-every-day thing, and playing the same character every day," she says.

After falling into what she claims was a serious acting rut on "90210" ("I got bored, so I started reverting to all these bad actor habits, like tossing my hair or knitting my eyebrows"), Doherty was eager to take on a character with some substance and emotional depth.

"At this stage in my career, I'm looking for challenges," says Doherty. "With [the role of] Prue, I feel I've been give a lot of freedom to find the different layers of my character."

Naturally, there have been the predictable barbs from media wags about Doherty taking on a role she was born to play, but the actress is confident that she's shed her old witchy persona for good.

"If anyone has preconceived notions about me, they find out soon enough that all of that stuff just isn't true once they start working with me," she says. "I think of myself as a nice person."

Indeed, while Doherty is hardly Miss America material, she admits to enjoying a somewhat more subdued, settled lifestyle these days. An avid horse rider and self-professed interior design freak, she's not ashamed to admit she's become a bit of a homebody in her late 20s.

"I have three dogs, and they're like my kids," the actress says. "I mean, I'm pretty domesticated. I'll come home after work, clean my dogs and watch TV a lot of the time."

So the old party girl is gone for good? "I'm completely over that. Now my focus is on my work. Eventually, you have to grow up and evolve."

"Charmed" will air Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on WB, beginning Oct. 7.

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