For the last few months, Jessica Rose only dared leave her house in a huge floppy hat and sunglasses, "pretending I'm Madonna," she said. She was afraid she'd be recognized, her real identity revealed and the lonelygirl15 Web-mystery project ruined.
Fans of the YouTube phenomenon finally did track down the identity of the New Zealand-raised actress, after the project's creators confessed that the story told through brief video blog postings was fictional, not the real-life confessions of "Bree," a sheltered home-schooled girl who is possibly in some kind of danger.
It remains to be seen whether fans will stick around now that they know it's fictional -- a "new art form," as the creators called it. But in the meantime, on Day 1 of her public life as an actress, the 19-year-old Rose was put through an immersion course in being a traditional celebrity.
Thursday morning, she found herself on the fifth floor of a Sunset Boulevard high-rise, doing nine back-to-back TV interviews in the offices of Revver, the Internet company that now hosts the lonelygirl videos. Then she headed next door to CNN. Then it was on to "The Tonight Show," where she "confessed" her real identity to Jay Leno and then danced with Tucker Carlson. Later came a meeting at Hollywood's powerful Creative Artists Agency.
At 7:30 a.m., the sun was just peeking through the dense haze outside. In glass-walled offices across the Revver suite, crews from the morning news shows scrambled to set up their cameras and lights. In a small office apart from the hubbub, the lonelygirl creators, Miles Beckett, Mesh Flinders and Greg Goodfried, huddled around a computer poring through the e-mail arriving by the second from fans.
The night before, they had posted a new video, in which Bree sneaks out to attend a party with her friend Daniel. Already, they have received more than a thousand comments on the new piece, including a handful that insist the recent revelations are themselves a hoax and that lonelygirl is in fact real.
Next door, in a large corner office, Jessica and her costar, Yousef Abu-Taleb, sprawled on a canvas-draped table while a photographer snapped away.
She may not be a shy home-schooled girl, but as the petite Rose waited for instructions in a purple top, jeans and black leather shoes with 2-inch heels, she seemed almost too small and fragile a figure to have provoked such a frenzy.
Emerging from the shoot, she admitted to a case of nerves. "I'm really overwhelmed," Rose said. "It's all wonderful, but I'm just not used to this much attention."
For the previous 48 hours, every friend she ever had back in New Zealand, where, Rose said, "they don't have MySpace, AIM or YouTube," had called, asking, "What is this thing you're in?" Rose was forced to tell them all, "It's really hard to explain. Can I talk to you in a few days?"
Having slept all of an hour before facing the first press interviews of her life, Rose confessed to pangs of fear. "You know all these images of reporters, like really vicious. I'm just praying, don't be mean to me. I'm not even rich!"
Just before 8 a.m., a publicist appeared to march Rose down the hall for her first media interview, a phone call with the Associated Press. Placed in an ergonomic executive chair behind a wide desk, Rose responded politely to each question, battling her nervousness and an abundance of what she calls "goofy energy" by hugging her arms tight to her sides, moving her feet in telltale little circles and dances. A nervous giggle punctuated most of her sentences.
Telling her tale for the first of many times that day, Rose explained how after answering an ambiguous casting call posted on Craigs List, she almost turned down the role when it was explained to her she had won the lead in a series of Internet videos. "I'm not very good at hiding my disappointment. So I was like, oh, OK ... the Internet," she said.
She revealed that she has a boyfriend with whom she lives, that her favorite actress is Nicole Kidman and that she would love to play "funny, goofy roles" like Cameron Diaz does.
In her first TV interview, with local Fox News, she once again told the story of her disappointment on learning the nature of the part, this time adding that her acting teacher told her, "You don't have a career! What do you have to lose!"
After the interview, the camera crew herded Rose, Abu-Taleb and the creators over to the coffee table, instructing them to act naturally while "we shoot some B-roll" of incidental shots to splice into the report. They glanced at each other in exhausted silence. Finally someone broke in with "I have no idea what to say."