Tori Spelling is no longer daddy's little girl -- The actress is determined to prove herself with daring roles in TV-movie hits ''A Friend to Die For,'' ''Deadly Pursuits,'' and now ''Co-ed Call Girl''

By Dana Kennedy
Updated January 26, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

Tori Spelling has arrived early at Red, a trendy Beverly Boulevard lunch spot in West Hollywood, and is waiting at a back booth, sipping Coke from one of those old-fashioned, green-tinted bottles, as demure as Donna, the perpetual virgin she has played for six seasons on her father Aaron’s show Beverly Hills, 90210. She has a tiny body, a large head, and a meticulously made-up face. She both talks and listens with a blank look that changes only when she occasionally flashes a disconcertingly plastic smile — much like a flight attendant taking a beverage order.

Blank? Plastic? Large head? Flight attendant? Uh-oh. The catty sniping inside your head is starting, and you’ve just met her. In the next hour, you are going to find out that 22-year-old Tori Spelling is actually a person of some backbone. A not unattractive woman. You’ll also learn that she is showing signs of becoming something of a TV-movie queen, with two top-rated movies-of-the-week, in 1994 and 1995, and back-to-back TV flicks this month and next, confounding those who delight in deriding her as a no-talent, poor little rich girl and a spokesmodel for nepotism.

Even so, you can’t deny that while Tori is likable enough, something about her triggers the snarky seventh grader in you. Whatever it is — and the Dynasty-style childhood (including a 100-plus-room Holmby Hills, Calif., mansion, and doting parents Aaron and Candy importing snow to dump on the lawn at Christmas) doesn’t help — the reaction is common. ”I Hate Tori Spelling” is the title of just one of frequent anti-Tori Internet postings, which gleefully dis her looks, her acting, and the plastic surgery she may or may not have had. ”I don’t know what it is. They’re really hard on Tori,” says brother Randy, 17, who’s about to embark on his own nepotism tour when he stars in dad Aaron’s new NBC nighttime soap Malibu Shores this spring. ”I think people are jealous.”

More likely it’s Tori’s annoying habit of succeeding despite her vociferous detractors. ”It got to me at first,” says Spelling of criticism of her acting. ”Especially at the start of 90210, when Donna only had a few lines. But since then I think I’ve proven myself as an actress.”

Her career unexpectedly took off with two NBC-TV movies, including A Friend to Die For, in which she played a vicious cheerleader done in by her friend; it was the fourth-highest-rated TV movie of the 1994-95 season. CBS hopes to strike the same gold on Feb. 6 with Co-ed Call Girl. Spelling has already gone the anti-Donna route this year, as a lap dancer, in Deadly Pursuits, another NBC movie-of-the-week, which aired Jan. 8 and came in second in its time slot. ”She’s a workaholic,” says her multimillionaire father, who was born dirt-poor in south Dallas and knows about drive. ”She did four movies and 30 episodes of 90210 in 14 months. She’s more determined than people realize.”

She may be determined, but that’s despite a lingering lack of confidence in certain areas. Though Spelling is reserved during most of the interview, she crumbles when asked about the attacks on her appearance. ”I’ve always been insecure about my looks,” she says, and that feeling was compounded during her two-year relationship with actor Nick Savalas, Telly’s son. ”It was a nightmare,” says Spelling. ”He was never physically abusive, but he was verbally abusive, telling me 10 times a day how ugly I was. I cried all the time. I’m not very confrontational. I’m afraid to fight. My parents cried for months because they knew how unhappy I was.” Savalas, 22, admits now that ”I wasn’t pleasant to be around — for anyone. It was after my dad died, and she was the closest to me, so she got the worst of it.”