When The CW rebooted "90210" this fall, few shows received more hype, with much of the attention going to the young actresses who would have to fill the shoes of Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling. So reporters talked about Shenae Grimes, AnnaLynne McCord and Jessica Stroup, their characters, their fashions, their weight.
None of us talked about Jessica Lowndes.
From the first episode, playing a drug-addled aspiring actress, Lowndes' Adrianna had "Scott Scanlon" written all over her, as in "Most Likely to Become Season One's Tragic Fatality." An early episode ended with Adrianna ODing, in one of the most melodramatic scenes in a teen soap since Ryan carried Marissa through a Tijuana alleyway in the first season of "The O.C."
Then a funny thing happened: Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah and the rest of the "90210" creative team decided they liked Lowndes and let Adrianna live. On a show that I mostly watch as a guilty pleasure, she has become the one aspect I enjoy without irony.
I caught up with Lowndes during Monday (Jan. 12) afternoon's Television Critics Association press tour event at the Peach Pit (or Kokomo Cafe at the corner of Beverly and Martel) and chatted about the first season so far...
"When I originally signed on, I was just a guest star," Lowndes explains. "I thought I was just going to be the singer in the school musical and steal a purse. That was it. So when they kept writing for me and the episodes just kept getting more intense, I was ecstatic."
Of course, given her tenuous status, when Lowndes saw the script for the October episode "Hollywood Forever," which saw Adrianna betray her best friend, take refuge in smack and end the hour seemingly DOA, she just figured her time was up.
"That's what's so crazy. I get the script day-of and I didn't know what they were going to do," she laughs. "But at that point, since I was still a guest star, I thought that was it. The day after it aired, I got offered series regular."
So Adrianna went to rehab, started a tentative romance with Michael Steger's Navid and looks like a success story before last week's episode, in which she discovered she was pregnant.
"I love that I've been given a character with so much depth and so many different layers," she says. "It's fun and it keeps it interesting. The bitchy mean-girl stuff was fun and the drug stuff was very challenging. And this is another challenge, the pregnancy issue."
She continues, "We're dealing with it in a real and honest way. It's too later for an abortion, so I'm reaping the consequences. I'm going to go through it. You're going to find out who the baby's father is. You're going to see how the people around me react to it. Some friendships grow stronger, others grow apart. Some people don't know how to deal with it. But, at the end of the day, my character's a really responsible character. I know that sounds weird since she's a drug addict, but she had a drug habit, she kicked it, she stayed in school. She's the lead in the school play, she's now the lead in 'Cleopatra,' the next school play. In a way, this baby is ultimately saving her life, because it's keeping her clean."
As bad as it might be for the character, Lowndes wouldn't necessarily be opposed to another relapse.
"I interviewed real addicts going through it and I watched a lot of drug movies. It was emotionally draining, but when the episode came out, I was very proud of it. I feel like I portrayed it in a very real way."
What movies did she watch?
"Every drug movie ever made, it seems like! I learned a lot from 'Gia,' 'Spun,' 'Requiem for a Dream,' 'Drugstore Cowboy,' 'Trainspotting.'"
And she made friends join her for the whole marathon.
"I'm really annoying," she admits. "I would have to rewind and rewatch things and take notes. It wasn't a great movie experience for everyone else, but I made people watch it with me."
Lowndes is only 20, so her admiration for "90210" and its history is both funny and enough to make this reporter feel rather old.
"At the time when it was really popular, I wasn't allowed to watch it, because I was four," she says, smiling. "It was a little too provocative and a little too intense for a four-year-old. But obviously I've seen it in the reruns and, omigod, I was the hugest fan ever. So every time I'm working with Jennie or Shannen... I just met Jason Priestley for the first time... I pinch myself! It's a dream, still."
The next new episode of "90210" airs Tuesday (Jan. 13) on The CW.