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Tori Enters, Stage Left

Tori Spelling, she of TV's most famous ZIP Code, moves to the stage and welcomes the challenge. 'I was like, wow, how could any actor pass this up?'

January 26, 2002|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tori Spelling is making her professional stage debut.

Quit waiting for the punch line. The actress best known for spending a decade in high school on "Beverly Hills 90210," produced by her dad, Aaron Spelling, is starring in "Maybe Baby, It's You" at the Coronet Theatre.

"Maybe Baby, It's You," about the agony and the ecstasy of searching for a soul mate, was written by Charlie Shanian and Shari Simpson, for themselves. The two-character show, comprising 11 skits, opened in New York in 1999 and at the Coronet in November, starring Shanian and Simpson. But Simpson, recently married, decided to move back to New York to be with her husband.

Enter Victoria Davey Spelling.

This television actress, Hollywood royalty by birth, has the audacity to attempt theat-ah, albeit in a show that makes no pretense of being Shakespeare. And while this would seem to demand an apology of some kind to the Serious Acting Community, here is Spelling, friendly as a new puppy, breathlessly relating how much fun it is to do this show, to get to play all those characters, to dance and sing and run up and down the aisles.

"I was like, wow, how could any actor pass this up?" Spelling bubbles. "There were a few other actresses that came to see it before it was offered, who said, wow, it's wonderful, but it's just too intimidating to get up there and do all those characters. I thought, God, that's what you strive for as an actor, to be challenged. Who cares if you fail? Take that on; do yourself a favor. See what you can do with it."

Spelling can't understand why anyone should want to stop her from having such a good time. If Daddy got her her first gig, so what? "I say thank you; it's a blessing," she says happily. "I'm so lucky--I mean I am, to have him as a father, everything he's done for my career. People should be happy for me. They should say: 'You're lucky.'"

And she seems genuinely surprised that they don't, always. "They want to hear bad before they want to hear good. I don't know what it is, but it's something," she says, wide-eyed. Then she laughs. "Well

Dressed in blue jeans and gray sweater, Spelling appears impossibly slender, as if there's no one inside her clothes. Sitting in a chair in the empty theater, she's thin enough to be able to cross her legs, at the knee, then cross them again, at the ankle. Arms get the same twisty, nervous treatment. At times during the conversation, she appears to have braided herself.

The interview begins with a sad little story.

In the first grade, Tori Spelling was cast as Becky Thatcher in a school production of "Tom Sawyer." In the second grade, she again won a lead role: Gretel, in "Hansel and Gretel." But the fact that Tori got the lead again caused such an uproar among the parents that the school canceled the show.

"I thought I was so good, to have gotten the lead two years in a row, but all the mothers complained so much that they canceled the play, and there were no more plays for the rest of my elementary school," recalls Spelling, 28. (She's quick to tell her age, but that's because some people think the "90210" cast must be 40 by now.) "I don't remember knowing what it was about, then. At the time, I remember just thinking they were probably just jealous because I was so good." She laughs. "But--yeah. It was probably ... that."

During a conversation with Spelling at the Coronet, there's a lot of talk about that--or it, depending on the sentence: the monster known best by its ZIP Code. But the fact that she's perfectly aware of it renders this monster almost harmless. She laughs in its face, just as she laughs at losing the breakout role of Gretel, Witch Hunter. "It's something that's never going to go away, basically," she observes. "So I've learned to accept it."

Spelling has appeared in movies: "The House of Yes," "Scary Movie 2" and 1999's "trick", in which she portrayed a talentless actress. That film was a surprise hit at Sundance. And, even though Spelling received mixed reviews ("Surprisingly good"--Toronto Star; "alternately effective and excessive"--Los Angeles Times), there was a lot of press speculation that a major role in a classy independent film could launch Spelling to a new level in her career.

But even with her recent film credits, she acknowledges the first thing anyone sees at an audition is Tori Spelling, 90210. "I have to really impress them to get them to like me; it has to really be something out of the ordinary," she says, still smiling.

"Because if it's me, they're going to say it's just another Hollywood daughter. It's tough out there. You don't want to be cynical, but I've been dealing with it for 28 years now, and it's pretty much the truth.

"But it's just given me a stronger backbone, and I just say, 'I'm doing it, I'm not going to let bad reviews stop me from doing what I want to do.'"

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