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'The City': Olivia Palermo says she's 'disappointed' being the villain

March 10, 2009 |  6:57 am

OliviaNew York socialite, excuse us, social, Olivia Palermo does not like being the bad guy on MTV's "The City."

Whereas "The Hills' " diabolical duo Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag revel in media attention both good and bad -- “MTV should send me a paycheck as their publicist,” Pratt told me back in December -- Palermo insists she’s not as villainous as “The City” has made her out to be.

She’s taking the hits from all sides too: Last month on Jimmy Kimmel, series star Whitney Port said sometimes she wants to slap Palermo. Following last night’s episode, in which Palermo botches an oral presentation on purses at fashion house DVF, MTV.com on its homepage asked viewers: “Is Olivia illiterate?” And, adding insult to injury, 92% of viewers in a poll answered that, yes, they enjoyed watching her squirm.

To hear the 23-year-old tell it, the reality-TV editing room has cut her deep. But can Palermo, said to be the basis for "Gossip Girls' " manipulative posh princess Blair Waldorf, and dubbed New York Magazine’s “It Girl” in 2007, really be all that innocent?

Calling from London, where she and her boyfriend are visiting friends for a birthday, Palermo tries to set the record straight about being cast as Whitney’s frenemy -- a role that’s seen Palermo grimace behind Whitney’s back, steal credit for styling the Elle cover shoot and just may have resulted in the girls coming to physical blows.

How do you feel about how you’ve been portrayed?
It’s a little disappointing. I’m a much nicer person, much more laid back and relaxed, not serious like they show me. They can only use so much footage in 30 minutes so I think that they really narrow it down and sometimes it doesn’t come out exactly how I would like.

You look sad a lot on the show.
I’m not sad at all! Sometimes they catch me at off moments. It’s just me off in my own world.

When did you begin to sense that you had been cast as Whitney's adversary?
You kind of pick up little things here and there, but to be quite honest our relationship in the office is super friendly. There are definitely times when we’re sitting at our desks and we’re silent because we’re working and I feel like they take a lot of those stares or weird looks during times when we’re actually doing our work!

So you feel like the show has misrepresented your relationship with her?
Yeah. It’s really disappointing because at the end of the day I’m really happy for Whitney. I think she’s  adjusting really well to New York and I don’t have any problems with her. Seeing the show is upsetting, but all I can do is try and be myself. I’m sure it takes a lot of effort for the editors to sit there and try to create, like, drama out of me when I really am not a dramatic person.

Talk about the item that appeared in Page Six, which reported that producers asked you and Whitney to fight for the cameras. MTV denied it. Is it true?
You know, honestly, our producers ask us to do things that we don’t want to do. I’m not going to do and say anything that I don’t want to do. I’m at the office to do my work. I’m not at the office for personal reasons and I’m not going to have my personal life interfere with my work environment. It’s completely inappropriate.

Were you surprised to get that kind of request?
Nothing surprises me these days. Are you kidding? Nothing surprises me. You just have to put your foot down.

Palermo’s rep interjects: But just to clarify, I think the Post item did come off in a way that implied a physical fight. There was no physical fight.

They didn’t ask you to get in a physical fight; did they asked you to get into an argument?
Hmmm, yeah, pretty much.

Olivia_2 To anyone who’s watched or read about “The Hills,” hearing that elements of the show are staged is unsurprising.
I think a lot of stuff takes me by surprise, but then again I do not do anything I don’t want to do. It’s a reality show and that’s it. I’m going to be myself. If I was an actress, it’d be a different story.

Palermo’s rep steps in: I just kind of want to take a step back and clarify here for a second. It would be unfair to say MTV asked Olivia and Whitney to get into a fight. I think the thing with these two girls is, especially in a work situation, they tend to sit at their desks and quietly do their work and go about their business, and you really can’t create an entertainment TV show out of that kind of footage. It’s not necessarily that the producers say, "Girls, get on set today and start a fight," it’s that they step in and say, "Hey, it’s obvious you guys are a little tense, we need you to talk about it." It’s not them saying, "Hey, let’s stage a fight. Here’s a script." There is definitely a strong element of production involved, just because they need the girls to verbalize what they’re thinking, otherwise viewers can’t follow what’s going on.

Why do you think that item made it in Page Six then? Especially if the request was as benign as, “Can you guys verbalize your feelings?”
Honestly, I don’t know because I don’t really talk to the Post. I mean, it didn’t come from me at all so I have no idea.

Palermo’s rep: There are so many parties involved in the making of this show, especially when you’re filming scenes at DVF, and a lot of people who are eager to make it appear more dramatic than it is. Where this stuff comes from? God only knows. There’s been a lot of misprinted items about Olivia in the press.

Olivia: Yeah, a lot (laughs). Moreso than I would like to say.

Let’s talk about the episode where you and Whitney styled a cover for Elle. It looked as though you were trying to steal Whitney’s spotlight after she chose the winning look. Can you explain what happened?
The part you didn’t see is when I was actually looking at the clothing rack, I pulled the [winning] jacket aside. So it definitely was a group effort. The two of us pulled it together. And I did, on three different occasions, which they didn’t show, make it clear to my bosses and to Joe Zee [creative director at Elle] that it was a mutual project. I didn’t take full credit for it.

Why then do you think Whitney got so upset about it? They showed her rolling her eyes and talking to her friends about what you did.
See, when I was with her, I never saw that! I was a little surprised to see it myself.

Do you and Whitney hang out when you’re not filming?
Unfortunately, I have so much going on right now that I barely have time to do anything. I’m taking classes, trying to finish undergrad while filming [the show]. I’m trying to balance it all and also make time for my friends ... but we also work together so much that we also need some down time.

Why did you agree to appear on “The City”?
The entertainment industry is really fascinating to me and acting is something I want to do down the line, so I thought being in front of the camera would definitely be a really good experience to get comfortable. Also, working at DVF is quite cool. Diane Von Furstenberg is an amazing woman and she’s so inspiring.

Why do you think you were chosen for the show?
That I don’t know! I’m out and about in New York and I’m a student and I live a normal life. Maybe because I am a true New Yorker, I am actually the only true New Yorker on the show, and that kind of brings a different level to it. I really do know the city. I was actually hoping to be a mentor to Whitney.

We only see bits of you and your cousin Nevan. Do you wish that were different?
Nevan and I are family and we’re super comfortable together and we have this funny banter where we kind of mock each other. We love it. We’re just ourselves. Ninety percent of the funniest things we say to each other you never see, which is unfortunate, but of course I’m hoping they show more. We’re the New Yorkers! Forget about L.A. and Australia! It’s “The City” right?

You guys are usually in your apartment though.
Nevan and I really don’t go out, I don’t go out because I have a boyfriend and we really like to stay in and just relax. Nevan goes out on occasion, and when we do spend time together it’s honestly eating Chinese food, going to the movies and hanging out. It’s nothing too fascinating, but it is fun.    

How has your life changed since being on “The City”?
It hasn’t really changed so much because I’m so consumed with just working and being in school that I don’t really have time for anything else.

It sounds, in general, like you're not too happy with how you're seen on the show. Why continue with the show into Season 2?
Once you start something, you don’t stop in the middle of it, you follow it through and you hope that it gets better and you try to learn from any mistakes. It’s a learning process.

"The City" finale airs March 16 at 10 p.m.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Joe Zee, creative director at Elle magazine.

-- Denise Martin

Photo:  MTV

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