90210: Cast member Christine Elise reveals off-set drama was worse than on-screen

They were best friends on-screen but there was no love lost between the cast of Beverly Hills 90210.
They were best friends on-screen but there was no love lost between the cast of Beverly Hills 90210.

Before Shannen Doherty's difficult behaviour made working with her an impossibility, there was another bad girl doing the rounds on Beverly Hills, 90210.

Emily Valentine remains one of the show's most iconic characters more than two decades after the show's heyday.

Introduced into the fold during season two of the show, she was everything the ritzy kids of Beverly Hills were not: she rode a motorcycle, sported a peroxide-shock of blonde hair, slipped the pious Brendan Walsh (Jason Priestley) ecstasy, stalked him, and had a public meltdown which involved matches, lighter fluid, and a homecoming float.

However, as Christine Elise (who played the iconic character) recounts, there was a lot more drama off camera.

On her first day on set, the producer pulled her into his office and gave her some advice.
"He said, 'The guys are really great. I can't make any promises about the girls'."

The producer was right on both counts.

Elise would end up dating Jason Priestley, while Luke Perry made sure she had someone to sit with at lunchtime - a very high school concern which seemingly spilt over into real life.

The female cast-members were hardly lunch buddies, though.

Although Elise claims her oft-reported rivalry with Doherty was overstated, the relationship between the two was nevertheless frosty.

"We did not clash. She just was not friendly," Elise recalled.

"And - as a guest on a show - you always feel awkward and vulnerable, so someone just not going out of their way to be nice feels hostile [...] So, she wasn't warm and fuzzy but that worked for the storyline and did not bother me, per se, because I did not go to work every day to find new besties. I had a good five years on the girls in the cast, and I had a grown-up life off-set, so I spent zero time worrying about what they thought of me."

Part of this grown-up life included a romantic relationship with Jason Priestley, who she met on her first day on set, and dated for five years.

Christine Elise dated her co-star Jason Priestley in real life for five years.
Christine Elise dated her co-star Jason Priestley in real life for five years.

If this added to any tensions between her and the rest of the female cast, she remained unaware.

"I was 26 and completely uninterested in what others thought of my life and choices", she said.

"So, had there been an issue, it would not have fazed me."

Then there were the show's savage fans.

For those who weren't cognisant during the show's initial years, it may be hard to understand just how popular this show was in the 90s.

"Lots of screaming from young girls - even for me", Elise remembered.

"It is a wildly uncomfortable experience. It makes you want to run and hide - like a scared cat."

The show initially stalled on the then-fledgling Fox network and was on the brink of cancellation.

Then, rolling into the summer of 1991, the show's producers made the novel decision to continue making and airing new episodes.

Summer is traditionally a non-ratings period - a dumping ground for re-runs - so to spend money producing new content was unheard of at the time.

They moved the action from the school-halls to the beach, amped up the sex, and quickly captured a young audience home from school and sick of Cheers re-runs.

It was a stroke of genius.

By the show's fourth season, it was attracting 21.7 million American viewers each week.
As the actress behind one of the most divisive characters, who was also dating the show's hunky star in real life, Elise was a target for the more unhinged fanatics.

"Fans hated me," she admitted, "but only in those silly Yahoo fan groups and AOL message boards".

"Remember, the internet was very new back then, and there was no social media, so I had no real experience of the kind of hating that is rampant these days - for which I am very grateful."

Her unusual hairstyle also attracted haters.

"When someone called me a donkey in a Dutch boy wig, I cried. So, I'm very grateful I had less exposure to anonymous cruelty."

Although the internet was in its infancy, Elise still received her share of fan mail, some not so friendly.

A particularly mean letter she suspects was co-written by a number of young Priestley fans remains her favourite - she still has it framed in her house - while a more disturbing missive in the style of a cut-out ransom note also arrived, with an ominous mousetrap included.

She kept the letter as evidence, in case things took a darker turn, but luckily nothing further came of it.

The fandom died down as she left the show and took on various other TV and film roles, including a season-long stint on E.R. But even close to 25 years later - as she balances a career as a writer, an actor, a festival programmer, and a director - she is still recognised in random places as Emily Valentine - a role for which she remains grateful.

This will only increase as the show finds an entirely new audience through repeats and streaming services.

"It was a huge show and really fun to do. I have an iconic TV character on my resume, and I wrote for the show. It was just a massively important experience and one I still reap rewards from."

- news.com.au

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