''Dancing With the Stars''' Ian Ziering reflects on his breathless rise to fame on ''90210,'' what it was like working with hotties Brenda and Kelly, and -- ouch! -- his mega-painful '90s hair style
Credit: Carol Kaelson; inset: Everett Collection

Before he donned tight black pants and a spray-on tan for Dancing With the Stars, Ian Ziering sported a curly mullet and tapered jeans on Beverly Hills, 90210, as the wily womanizer Steve Sanders. Here, the actor looks back on the most famous ZIP code in pop-culture history.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your life like right before you got your part on 90210?
I had been working in an aquarium store in New Jersey. Then, for four months, I had been out in California seeking opportunities and it really wasn’t happening. So I went back to New Jersey. The first interview I had when I got back was for The Class of Beverly Hills [90210‘s original title]. Prior to that, I had been working on the soap opera Guiding Light.

Was your first audition with Aaron Spelling?
Well, my first audition was in New York and it was with Tim Hunter, the director. They put me on tape. Then about a week later I got a call saying that wanted to screen-test me, so they flew me out to California and told me that I should pack my bags because if I got it they would start shooting three days later and I wouldn’t be coming back to Jersey.

What’s going through your mind when you find out that you got the role?
Oh my God. I was so excited! To be lucky enough to get an audition in the first place…to be lucky enough to get a call-back…to be lucky enough to get the job…to be lucky enough for that pilot to actually get picked up. There’s so many hurdles. I tried not to get too excited. For me the greatest victory was when I walked out [after] the first audition.

What’d you think when you first heard about the show?
When I read the script for 90210, I thought, boy, this is very superficial, and it was. I mean, the pilot was all about the glitz and the glamour of Beverly Hills, the obnoxious kids, and the fish-out-of-water story of Brenda and Brandon Walsh. I couldn’t discern from that first script that the show would become very issue-oriented.

Weren’t you ever worried about being a part of something you thought was superficial?
I was worried about spending 38 bucks on a pair of jeans at the Gap. I was grateful for the job.

Well, yeah, and you got to drive around in that nice Corvette.
Yeah, the show definitely did have its perks.

What did it feel like that first day on the set?
There was a lot of excitement. There was a lot of camaraderie. The cast hit it off really well. And there was a sense of optimism. Like, ”Wow, let’s hope this works out, because these people are cool, and the crew is great.” You always hope for the best.

How did you get used to playing a high-schooler?
I was 28 years old playing a 16-year-old. I just kept my mouth shut. I never talked about it. And I wasn’t the oldest in the cast either. I just thought, if they’re going to buy, I’m going to sell it.

When the show began airing, did you ever have a moment when you thought, ”Oh my God, this is huge!”
I was driving an Acura Integra when I started, and the license plate said ”IAN” on it. After the show started airing for a little bit, I got followed. And I was like, ”What the …?” And I didn’t put two and two together until people started pulling up next to me and they had their cameras. So that was really the onset of the rocket-ship ride that 90210 turned out to be. If you stepped out of L.A., it became a bit of a freak show. I remember Brian Austin Green and I flew to Spain to do some press, and we touched ground and there were 11,000 people in the airport [waiting for us]!

What did fans usually say when they approached you?
Oh, ”What’s it like working with all those pretty girls?” I heard that a lot. And I’d tell them, ”Oh, they’re great. They’re fantastic.” I would acknowledge their talents first. For me, that was what was really important — they were really amazing actresses.

It seems like the early seasons were all about Brenda, Brandon, Dylan and Kelly. When do you think Steve really came into the spotlight?
I don’t know that he ever was really in the spotlight. Steve was always like the undertow. For me, as an actor, whenever I would read the script, it would always be so entertaining because [playing] Steve was like playing on a jungle gym. I got to live vicariously through his exploits, and that was a lot of fun. At the end of the day Steve could do things that if you did them in real life, you could wind up in jail. It was just a great job.

Did you have any on-set romances?
No, I never really dipped my pen in the company ink. It doesn’t make for good working conditions. After the initial shock and the awe of how pretty the girls were — Jenny, Tori, Shannon, Gabrielle, Tiffani — I would just let that resonate in me for a little bit and get over it and then get to the task at hand. And I got to kiss them on camera, so that satiated my needs.

When 90210 ended, and you came off that 10-year success, were you comparing everything else to it?
No. There’s no comparison. It’s in a class by itself. There’ll be other great shows, hopefully I’ll be a part of them, but there’s no comparing. There were like 10 shows that tried to employ a similar formula and failed.

What do you think when you see episodes of 90210 today?
I get a kick out of them. I’m like, ”Oh my God. What am I wearing? What’s with that hairdo? Didn’t I have a friend? Or a mirror?” I guess I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing. It was the ’90s; it was big hair.