Reality show? Soap opera? Who cares? The Hills - and Kristin Cavallari - is back.
Kristin Cavallari doesn’t seem like a bitch. Sitting at a French café in West Hollywood, gracefully sipping an iced tea, she fails to conjure the villainous, backstabbing drama queen her reputation suggests. She smiles sweetly. Laughs frequently. She even politely offers to pay for our drinks. Nonetheless, MTV has trumpeted Cavallari’s presence on the upcoming season of the absurdly popular cultural phenomenon The Hills with the slogan: “The Bitch Is Back.” Could it be that-much like the contrived conflicts of the so-called “reality show” itself- Cavallari’s persona is just…an act?
This story was published on August 31, 2009.
The 22-year-old freely admits she’s just playing a part-happily flaunting her nasty little title like a pair of $1,000 Louboutins. “Nobody remember the nice girl, you know?” she says. “So it’s fun to play the bad girl. Like Heather Locklear on Melrose Place- she was awesome.” She has a point: Courtney Thorne-Smith, anyone?
Back in 2003, when MTV was casting for Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County - the show from which The Hills spun-off - Cavallari, then just a sophomore at Laguna Beach High, already had an innate sense of what producers and audiences craved. Her Locklear-ean potential was impossible to miss. “One of the questions was, ‘Who do you think’s going to be prom queen?” she recalls of the audition form. “And I said, ‘I don’t know, and I don’t care as long as it’s not Lauren Conrad.’ So it’s like, I know what I’m doing, and obviously they’re not going to put on some boring person that doesn’t make good TV.”
What makes The Hills so infuriatingly captivating is that we’re never quite sure if these brats we love to hate are real or fake. Do these rich and beautiful, shallow and insipid people truly exist? Do the “characters” on the show cleverly dream up their vacuous personalities, or are they simply the producer’s hand puppets?
It seems pretty clear that Cavallari, herself a devotee of such guilty pleasures as The Girls Next Door and Rock of Love With Bret Michaels (“all of those train-wreck shows”), understands the genre implicity and what’s more, knows how to manipulate her assumed facade to her advantage.
After a four-year hiatus from reality TV to pursue her thespian dream garnered mixed results (her most recent film role was in the straight-to-DVD Van Wilder: Freshman Year), Cavallari is coming home to the role that made her famous in the first place: herself.
Cavallari will be replacing her sworn frenemy since time immemorial (or at least sophomore year), the notoriously bland Conrad. Naturally, the blogs have been all ablaze with Team Lauren versus Team Kristin, each weighing in on the show’s future. But one thing Cavallari’s haters and supporters can agree upon is that her presence on The Hills will inject some much-needed drama into a show on which, as most everyone who watches it acknowledges, nothing much happens.
Of the little that does happen (jealous infighting, mostly), do the show’s fans suspect of even care if it’s not real? “Maybe some do,” Cavallari speculates. “Maybe some really want to believe that these really are our lives. It’s like any other TV show- obviously these people are playing characters, nobody really cares if it’s their real life.”
Fictional or not, the glamorati who populate The Hills must exert some kind of influence on its millions of viewers’ tastes and styles. What flyover-state-dwelling teenager isn’t vaguely curious about what it would be like to live this alluring lifestyle? Curious to hear Cavallari’s reaction, I tell her that when I interviewed self-proclaimed reality-TV junkie Diablo Cody (see page 150), Cody told me, “It’s kind of creepy that there could be a 17-year-old in Miami who is acting like Spencer Pratt because he saw it on television.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Cavallari says. “The thing is, people believe everything they see on TV: That’s what’s cool, and that’s what I need to be in order to be cool. It goes back to the pressure for girls to be skinny and everyone having an eating disorder in Colorado or wherever. It’s sad; it’s really sad.”
Still, Cavallari insists that the show isn’t her reality.
“It’s a soap opera about 20-year-olds living in L.A. with lots of money. If it was a reality show,” she says her eyes darting self-consciously down to my digital recorder on the table, “they would focus on me being an actress. You know what I mean?”