'The Hills': New star Kristin Cavallari is ready to put on a show
For the last four years, Kristin Cavallari has been a struggling actress living in Los Angeles. She hosted a show on the now-defunct UPN about party planning that was canceled after two episodes. Earlier this year, she played alongside Rob Schneider in a high school comedy that went straight to DVD.
Now, Cavallari has landed a role where she knows all eyes will be on her. She'll take over for Lauren Conrad as the star of MTV's most watched series, "The Hills," which continues to follow impossibly beautiful, thin and rich twentysomethings as they galavant about L.A. The fifth season premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m.
Despite billing itself as a reality show, "The Hills" has only become less realistic over its first four seasons, and its increasingly weary star, Conrad, allowed the drama of her friends to take center stage.
But Cavallari says she is ready and willing to step into the role the show's producers have crafted for her.
"I pretty much do anything they have me do because I don't care," she said. "I mean, we're filming a TV show. Let's make it interesting. Let's have a good time with it."
There's a lot riding on her shoulders. Last season's ratings signal what could be flagging interest in the show itself. But "The Hills" will almost certainly benefit from Cavallari's familiarity with viewers who came to know her as the star of "Laguna Beach," a reality show that documented life at her high school in an affluent, seaside California town. She knew Conrad back then; on "Laguna" they fought for the affections of Cavallari's then-boyfriend, Stephen Colletti.
Being a part of that reality show in 2004 was a more pure experience than is "The Hills," Cavallari said. She sobbed for hours after the debut of "Laguna Beach." She hated the way the producers made her seem like the villain when it was really Conrad who was trying to steal her boyfriend. Friendships were ruined. She and Colletti eventually split.
"I almost felt like it was unfair for [MTV] to come into our lives at such a young age and sort of mess with things," she said. "I don't regret it, but I was 17 -- of course I wanted to be on TV. I felt like they should have been a little bit more careful with us."
She's grown a thick skin since. In the commercials MTV has been airing for "The Hills," the pint-sized blond stands in front of a row of glittering, oversized letters that read "The Bitch is Back." Towering in high stilettos, tossing back her hair and pouting in bright red lipstick.
But that's not who she really is, Cavallari says. The producers write to her with the storylines they have in mind. She shows up to the pre-selected locations for the episodes, which are shot Wednesday through Friday each week. And then she improvises, often going for the jugular on hot-button issues she knows will stir up controversy.
"They tell us what to talk about," she said, shrugging. "Listen, I have fun with it. They film 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' the same way."
She treats "The Hills" like work, she said.
"What else would I see it as? Hanging out with my friends? That's not it. It's a job. It's pretty easy," she said in an interview last week at a Hollywood restaurant. Cavallari giggled self-consciously throughout. Asked why she was laughing, she replied: "Because I don't think I'm supposed to be saying this."
"The thing is, if this was a reality show about my life, they would follow me going to auditions and studying with acting coaches, but they didn't want to show that because it's not glamorous," she said. "They make it seem like we have perfect lives and like we have all this money."
Not that anyone still buys "The Hills" as real, a point she understands. "Maybe people in Kansas. In Middle America they think it's real. Living in L.A., it's hard to tell what people really do believe."
The show's creator, Adam DiVello, thinks viewers are interested in watching the show to see a story unfold and aren't as "concerned about exactly what's happening in these kids' lives and how accurate it is."
"This is a sliver of Kristin's life and it's not every person she knows in her life. She has an idea of where we're going with the show," he said. "I think she's walking through and knows this is all going to be a drama."
For whatever reason, Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, the show's press-obsessed newlyweds, still insist "The Hills" is real.
"The Hills could not be more real, that's what I keep laughing at," Pratt said. "It's a dream role for these girls to get so out of hand and so out of line on TV and then when the tabloids ask them what's going on they say, 'I'm just filling out the story line.' That's an easy way out."
But Cavallari insists the opposite. The question is, will casting agents bite? To hear her tell it, she's put on quite a show: "Everyone is trying to get story lines and create drama in their lives. It's just so...fake. There's no truth to it. At all."
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: Kristin Cavallari. Credit: Stefano Paltera/For The Times