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'The Bling Ring' comes full circle for Alexis Neiers

As the Sofia Coppola film starts getting buzz at Cannes and elsewhere, a real-life protagonist ponders her former chaotic life.

May 24, 2013|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

"Can you give mommy a cue? Are you hungry?" 21-year-old Alexis Neiers cooed to her crying newborn in the middle of a faux-upscale Calabasas restaurant last week. "When she puts her hands in her mouth, she's hungry. Right now, she's just tired. Maybe a little constipated."

None of the other diners paid much attention to Neiers — former reality TV star, recovering addict and convicted felon — as she pulled her daughter, Harper, to her breast and began to feed the 3-week-old.

It was a moment of utter normalcy for Neiers, who shot to notoriety in 2009 when she was arrested and charged with being a part of a group of celebrity-obsessed young burglary suspects that came to be known as the "Bling Ring." She and six acquaintances were accused of stealing millions of dollars worth of clothing, art and jewelry from the homes of stars including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom. For years, paparazzi trailed Neiers nearly everywhere she went, giving her more than 15 minutes of not entirely unwelcome fame.

"I definitely got carried away," she said, rocking Harper. "It was like, 'I'm crazy and I'm OK with it. I'm going to walk out of this club, be trashed, TMZ's gonna be there and I'm not gonna give a ...'"

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Four years on, the cycle of media intrigue spawned by the crime spree may finally be leaving Neiers behind, even as it grows and morphs in new directions. "The Bling Ring," a movie about the burglars written and directed by Sofia Coppola, premiered to much ado at the Cannes Film Festival last week and arrives in U.S. theaters June 14.

Rarely has there been such a heady, almost Mobius strip-like intersection between real life and celebrity culture, TV and film as there has been over the Bling Ring. The real-life protagonists and an ever-growing circle of Hollywood types who have sought to capture or capitalize on their escapades have intermingled in strange, sometimes disturbing, ways.

Obsessed with celebrity and fashion, the seven young burglary suspects — Neiers along with Nicholas Prugo, now 22; Rachel Lee, 23; Courtney Ames, 22; Roy Lopez Jr., 31; Diana Tamayo, 21; and Jonathan Ajar — became famous themselves after the robberies. A book was written about them. E! made a reality show, "Pretty Wild," about Neiers and her BFF, Tess Taylor.

And then Coppola, a member of a famous family herself, decided to turn her lens on their story. She hired an L.A. cop who was involved in the case to consult on the film, and gave him a cameo in it. Cameras rolled even before the prosecutions were finished.

Eventually four of the defendants were sent to prison, while three others received probation. All are now free.

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While the stars of "The Bling Ring" were decked out in designer wares on the Croisette last week, many of the members of the actual group are trying to piece their lives back together.

Hollywood's pull

Growing up in Ventura County's Oak Park neighborhood, Neiers recalls feeling proximate to yet removed from the world of Hollywood. "I wasn't this rich girl that grew up in suburbia. I wasn't poor by any means, but we shopped at Marshalls and TJ Maxx," she said.

Her father, Mikael, worked as a director of photography on "Friends" while her mother, Andrea, is a former actress and model who posed for Playboy in the 1980s. After they divorced, Andrea wed a production designer. Home-schooled by her mother — who has a strong interest in Chinese herbs, flower essences and religious science — Neiers said that as a teen she wasn't desperate to get close to Hollywood types, though she routinely encountered them when she went out with friends including Taylor.

"Tess and I would run into celebrities at clubs, and the club promoter would shove us at their table because we were hot and cute, and that's what club promoters do in order to make the celebrities buy more bottles," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

In 2009, Neiers and Taylor were on the set of a low-budget indie film called "Frat Party" when they met Dan Levy, a comedian and writer.

"Tess told me her dream was to be on 'The Girls Next Door,'" Levy recalled, referring to the late E! reality show documenting Hugh Hefner's romantic life. "They were such characters that I thought their life would be great for a reality show. They were super into the idea of being famous, but I had no idea how serious it was."

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Levy hatched an idea for "Pretty Wild," a comic reality show centering on Neiers, her oddball mother and Taylor. While the pilot was being filmed though, police investigating the celebrity burglaries descended upon Neiers' home, and the show's focus quickly shifted. Neiers' legal drama unfolded as the show aired, and she admits getting swept up in the attention.

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