After taking us on a not-exactly-sanctioned behind-the-scenes tour of Saved By the Bell and Full House, Lifetime will stroll down memory lane once again — located on this occasion just off Rodeo Drive — for an insidery look at Beverly Hills, 90210, the ’90s teen drama that launched a million Dylan-or-Brandon?, Kelly-or-Brenda?, and Dylan/Brenda-or-Dylan/Kelly? debates. Airing Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story will focus on the highs, lows, and sideburns of the show’s first seasons. EW phoned Abbie Cobb — who plays Jennie Garth/Kelly Taylor (and guest-starred on the CW’s 90210 reboot) — to find out more about this return visit to TV’s trendiest ZIP code.
How would you sum up this unauthorized movie? Part tribute, part tell-all?
I would say it’s more of a tribute and it tips its hat to the lighter side of the show and the actors who everybody knows and loves. Of course, there’s a little bit of drama but it mixes in a lot of fun and humor too. There’s a lot more funny moments than I expected. I learned a lot about the show, actually.
Could you give us an example or two of those funny moments? The hairstyles and fashion alone are good fodder …
We all had a laugh at the jeans and the shoes and the ridiculous floral and flannel. It was so fun to go through the wardrobe fittings and see what everybody showed up on set with. But there’s a lot of funny moments with the actors and [90210 creator] Darren Star trying to figure out how to have a show about teenagers and sex and still make it past the censors. That provides a lot of church giggles — certainly for us as we were filming it and also in the script. There’s a lot of kissing and making out and drama that comes with a teenage show like that, and to fight what they’re allowed to show fans back in the ’90s — it’s really fun watching them try to push the envelope.
What range of drama can we expect from this movie?
It’s a good mix of drama behind what it takes to put a show like this on. It almost didn’t even make it on the air and we have the Persian Gulf War to thank for that, which I didn’t know was a true thing. People might enjoy seeing the behind-the-scenes of Aaron Spelling and his creations and Darren Star and the work he’s done for it. Along with that, the drama of what it takes to work with different personalities, the Shannens of the world, and the Jennies of the world, and how you say, “Action!” and everybody puts on their game face and you say “Cut!” and it doesn’t mean that your favorite actors are best friends but they do know how to tell a good story. There are so many moments of fun and lighthearted laughter that I think people will love seeing these characters that they’ve fallen in love come to life again.
What were your first thoughts when you heard about this project?
I had a friend call me and say, “You’re going to die! Are you ready?” and I said, “Why?” And she said, “Are you ready to play Jennie Garth?” and I said, “Oh my god. What? What? Tell me.” And she said, “They’re doing a 90210 movie.” And I said, “Show me where to show up. Tell me when to be on set.” Every day of my life I’ve heard that I look like her, to the point where it’s annoying — it’s always fun — but I’m stopped on the street. Starbucks baristas write “Jennie” on the cup. It’s something that’s happened probably every day for the last 10 years.
Did they at least give you the coffee for free?
I wish! Right? I should have just said I was her and they would have. At least they spelled it right, though. They got the i-e, which is all that matters.
Sounds like you give good Garth. You guest-starred in seven episodes of the reboot, which Jennie was on too. Have you had any interaction with her?
She was in the first two seasons and I came in on season 3 and I walked in and the showrunner went, “Oh my god.” They all went, “She looks so much like Jennie!” but I never got to work with her. I never got to meet her. I tested a couple times to play her daughter in various projects but we have yet to meet. So maybe this project will bring us together. Who knows?
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Did you think about seeking her out for advice after you took the role? And do you know if you have her blessing?
I want to stay respectful. I think all the actors feel the same way. We wanted to be respectful for where all these people that we love are in their lives and the different projects they’re on now. And we knew that if they wanted to, the door would be open for them to reach out. And honestly I think that everyone comes off in a really flattering way. I think Jennie will appreciate it if she watches the show, as will the other actors who may see it. And I feel like although Shannen [Doherty, who played Brenda] may be the villain in the story, or have the conflict in the story, to see her perspective and why she feels the way she feels and get her take on what happened. And all the things in the movie actually happened — we did a lot of research and read about it in all the magazines and interviews and books, so I feel like the story’s really fair. I don’t imagine anyone will have hurt feelings when they see the final product. I think it’s going to be fun and something everybody can enjoy.
Was it harder to pull off Jennie or Kelly?
I wanted to get Jennie right. She’s a real person. I wanted to be fair to her and true to her but I know the fans are going to be the hardest on us for the scenes with these characters that they know and love like the back of their hand. So if I don’t get Kelly right I’m going to hear about it. I can’t go on just because I have bangs and look like her. That’s not going to fly.
The movie addresses the friction between Jennie and Shannen. What was it like to film those catfight scenes with Samantha [Munroe, who plays Doherty/Brenda Walsh]?
That was a blast. It’s a treat as an actor to get some action and drama braided into one lovely scene. We had a stunt coordinator that choreographed a fight. It’s like a dance where it’s really specific and you want to make sure you’re respectful to the facts of what actually happened, so that you’re not exaggerating it for television. We want it to be true to life and real, based on the events of what we know was documented between the two of them. Samantha and I got along famously. We fell in love with each other from day 1 of shooting. And it always really fun to stare another person in the eyes and say horrible things [laughs] and knowing that you can break into laugher as soon as they call “Cut!” We had a lot of fun getting to scream at each other and decide, “Who’s going to pull whose hair? And who’s going to shove who, when? Girl fights are the most fun — especially if you don’t mean them [laughs].
So, how intense does the fighting get? You mentioned hair-pulling. Is there slapping?
We wanted to be careful because we don’t want to exaggerate anything that didn’t happen, so our legal team worked really closely with our writers and our director and we did a lot of research. I don‘t want to spoil anything. Threw was a scene that we showed online, and I think in the trailer there might be a little bit of a sneak peek but you’re going to see an altercation. You’re going to see stuff go down.You’re going to see some throwing down. Yeah, it gets intense.
People on the Internet are fast to react to these unauthorized biopic castings — and they aren’t kind. Did you steel yourselves for that criticism? Is that something you all joked about?
Oh yeah, we knew all along what we were getting ourselves into. And, of course, we saw the Saved By the Bell movie and the Full House movie. We’re wildly aware of what it is we’re making but at the same time it’s just so much fun, we’re happy to be a part of it. And to be honest, I think that the casting is really close physically on this one. When you’re emulating real people and those people are still alive— they’re very fresh in our mind — you can only get so close. And I have a really great picture up on my Instagram that’s a side-by-side of everyone. I’ll tell you what: the photos are so close! I feel like they did a really good job, and of course there’s going to be haters online. And there was an article that came out that said, “She never wore a floral dresses! I can’t believe they put this girl in floral dress!” and I’m like, “Um, I can show you about 19,000 scenes where Jennie Garth wore floral dresses on the show.” People love to poke fun at the project, but at the same time there’s so much support on line and so many fans that are really excited, and we’re happy to get excited alongside them.
What is the scene that you think that fans will be talking about and debating the most after the movie airs?
There’s a big group scene where Shannen and Jennie have it out, and I think people may choose sides as to: Did that really happen? Who was at fault? And did everybody do the right thing in that situation? And how it all went down with Shannen. I feel like we’re really fair with her side about being misunderstood, so I think it’s going to force people to decide whose side they’re on. And they may understand Shannen in a different way after seeing that film and decide that she was right and did the right thing and made the right choice. I’m interested to see how it turns out.