THE POWER OF one
LANDING ON HER FEET ONCE AGAIN, FORMER CHARMED STAR SHANNEN DOHERTY STRIKES OUT ON HER OWN WITH NO REGRETS. (WELL, MAYBE JUST A FEW)
Bad press does not deter Shannen Doherty. Other actors, when they are the subject of unflattering news, appear frightened and defensive. But Doherty always hangs tough. Not one for mea culpas or public tears, she operates under the assumption that what happens to her off-screen is none of our business. She still shows up for interviews but makes it perfectly clear that she's so over seeing her past rehashed in print. Especially after the past six months, when a drunk-driving charge and her mysterious departure from the hit series Charmed have kept her constantly in the news.
On the back patio of the Beverly Hills Hotel's famous Polo Lounge, Doherty orders lunch then gives a sample of a motivational lecture that she's fantasized about delivering to celebrity journalists from around the globe: "Jesus, don't you want to be that one reporter who is original?" is how her speech would begin. "Don't you want to be that one writer who doesn't start the story, 'This is the girl who has been arrested for this and she's done that and she's done this!'" Friend and former Charmed costar Holly Marie Combs takes a more blunt approach to her defense of Doherty. "I don't know why it's acceptable to pick on her," says Combs. "If you haven't spent a day with her, and I know you haven't spent eight years with her, I don't want to hear your opinion."
But aren't Doherty's real-life adventures part of the bad-girl image that makes her who she is? Would her steely gaze, clipped delivery and sneering sexuality be so alluring to watch if we didn't know Doherty once had a restraining order filed against her by a former fiance or that she ended a parking-lot argument with a stranger by smashing a beer bottle against his windshield? And what about two summers ago when she gave the finger, albeit jokingly to a reporter? The finger! This, after the reporter had flown from New York City to the Montreal-based set of a TV-movie called Satan's School for Girls and spent a day and a half waiting stoically for Doherty to deign to an interview that never happened?
OK, that reporter was me. I did my job and wrote about the experience. She did her job and cried foul. Then she did something unexpected: She sought a make-up chat. "That was a weird situation," Doherty says, pinning part of the blame on an ulcer and an unspecified stomach problem that kept her in her trailer, doubled over in pain. The rest, she says, was caused by a miscommunication. "No one told me you'd be there. And suddenly [I'm] made to look like this really horrible person who doesn't do interviews. And I do, obviously. I'm here, aren't I?"
Indeed, she is, and not just to promote a cameo in which she sends up her diva reputation in Kevin Smith's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" or her role as star and coexecutive producer of the USA Network TV-movie Another Day. She's also open to discussing her arrest at 3 A.M. on December 28, 2000, after her pickup truck was spotted by the California Highway Patrol drifting across lanes on the freeway. At the time, she was heading home to her 25-acre Ventura County ranch from a girls' night out. How many drinks did she have? "How many doesn't matter," says Doherty. "Everybody thought I was fine, including me."
A nonconsensual blood test revealed that Doherty's blood alcohol levelwas 0.13 percent, over the state's legal limit of 0.08. By then, she was already in the middle of what she calls "literally my worst nightmare." She admits she could have conduced herself more peaceably. "I don't really like being touched... to be shuffled around, with somebody grabbing your arm," says Doherty, who spent roughly 10 hours in a sheriff's department holding cell. "I'm claustrophobic, and I have really bad anxiety. There were moments when I was very dramatic and thought, 'I'm going to hyperventilate and just die.'"
Doherty was sentenced to give a series of talks for teens on the evils of drunk driving, a $l,5OO fine and a three-year probation, during which she is not to drive with even a droplet of booze in her system.
Doherty smiles and fires up a cigarette. Despite her "Who cares?" facade, the past several months couldn't have been easy. Charmed marks the second Aaron Spelling series she's left in a swirl of finger-pointing and animosity. (Doherty's 1994 exit from Beverly Hills, 90210 reportedly was due to her perpetual lateness and squabbles with her costars.) It was last December, Doherty says, when she asked to be released from her Charmed contract. "I was exhausted—and I didn't think it was a situation that I wanted to be in anymore." She doesn't mention the silences that had grown between herself and costar Alyssa Milano. But she doesn't deny anything, either. "The fact is, none of us were paid to be buddy-buddy," Doherty says tersely. "We're paid to show each other respect as actors, be courteous, do our jobs. All I can say is that I never had an outright confrontation with Alyssa."
Or, from what it sounds like, with Aaron Spelling himself. Her "wish was granted," as she puts it, this past May, without so much as a goodbye phone call from either the TV titan or anyone else at his company (She found out the news from her lawyer.) "I think they handled it badly," says Doherty with a shrug. "But I don't know how I've handled it either. Maybe I should have called them." As for WB network, the home of Charmed, and its issuance of a press release supporting Spelling for his decision to let her go, Doherty is less philosophical. "To be honest, I I don't give a s--- whether WB supports me or not. After 90210, who'd ever think I'd work for Spelling again? Everything comes around eventually."
The big picture is that she and the folks at Charmed will stay in business (sort of) long after her character, Prue, departs. "I own a small percentage of the show," says Doherty. "They [the cast and crew[ get to go to work every single day and I'll collect the money. It's great!"
The truth is that Doherty can be a television presence for as long as she wants. "She's a survivor, and people are drawn to that," says indie director Gregg Araki, who featured Doherty and, coincidentally, her Charmed replacement, Rose McGowan, in "Nowhere," his 1997 cult hit about disaffected teens.
Judging from a recent tabloid photo spread, Doherty hasn't spent her post-Charmed days moping. In it, a bikini-clad Doherty and her new boyfriend, Julian McMahon, frolicked on the sand dunes in St. Barts. "He's unbelievably kindhearted, and I feel blessed he came into my life," says Doherty of McMahon, who's a regular on Charmed. He also plays pal David to her time-travelling kate in Another Day, which will air October 6.
If Doherty could alter her past, what three things would she change? "I probably never would have gotten married," Doherty says, about her short-lived union with actor Ashley Hamilton. "And I would have changed my fatal mistake of thinking I was sober when the cops thought I wasn't." She decides, however, to save the third. "Who knows" she says. "Maybe I'll need it tomorrow." •
Margy Rochlin wrote about Judy Davis in the February 24 issue of TV GUIDE.