90210's Shenae Grimes: 'People Got Annoyed with Seeing Annie Smiling All the Time!'
"Annie smiles too much!" "She's too much of a goody-goody!" "She always has the least interesting storylines!" When 90210 premiered last year to enormous expectations, actress Shenae Grimes saw her lead character come in for a whole lot of criticism, but there was one thing her detractors didn't know: Secretly, Grimes agreed with them.
In a candid, exclusive interview with Movieline, the 19-year-old Toronto native detailed her frustration with last season's storylines and praised new showrunner Rebecca Sinclair for taking Annie down a dark path at the same time as the show itself gets a necessary infusion of California sunshine. Whether we were talking about screen time, the firing of Dustin Milligan, or the rap ascent of her former Degrassi costar Aubrey Graham, the rejuvenated Grimes had plenty to say.
They sure are giving you some juicy shit this year!
Finally! It's about time. [Laughs] You know, it was a little frustrating last year to be put through the wringer as a teenage girl -- I know teenage girls, and I know they don't put up with crap like that. It was frustrating to never see Annie emote anything other than smiles and "being the bigger person." Everyone reaches a boiling point, and Annie's might be higher than everyone else's, but it's meant for a bigger explosion, I think.
I keep expecting Annie to go Goth for some reason. She's suffered through a hit-and-run, her friends have abandoned her, a naked picture of her was sent to the entire student body...the girl's gotta break out some black lipstick!
I know, right? But that's the great thing...Frank [Helmer, costume designer] and Rebecca have put together this look for her that is really the fresh girl next door, which is a great juxtaposition for where my character's at internally. She's in a dark place and they don't want to play that up on the outside because they want me to try to fight against what I'm feeling inside.
It's no secret that 90210 went through a lot of retooling last season. How much input did you have in that?
Last year, I was really nervous as to where my character was going because it didn't feel like she was going very far. Like I said, a character that's one-note is the most boring character to play, and it was very frustrating for me -- I think Rebecca could sense that and could see it in my eyes. My instincts were to play up the emotion, and oftentimes we would get notes like, "OK, we have to do it more network," or "We have to be more smiley," or "Don't get too upset, because that's not what people want to see from Annie." People got annoyed with seeing Annie smiling all the time!
So Rebecca picked up on that and I picked up on it, and I think both of us were dying for a change. Everything seemed a little one-note until that [season one] finale, which kind of kicked me in the ass. I was like, "All right, here we go!" Like, I've been asking for it, so how do I deal with this huge challenge? How do I make the audience buy it? Rebecca's big thing is subtlety, realism, character development. Annie's not been falling 24/7, she's not always devastated and distraught, it's something she's processing and going through internally. Her behavior's demonstrating what she's going through on the inside, but it's not thrown in your face like the drama was last year, because that's not realistic. Nobody is that upfront with their shit. [Laughs]
Was the network OK with Annie's transformation this year?
I think so. You know, when I say "network," I don't really know who that is -- I'm hearing it through the director's voice. Old producers, new writers, old writers...I think everyone's opinions got a little bit muddy, you know? This year, Rebecca came in with a clear vision of what she wanted, and she made sure she had a team together that was ready to make this vision come to fruition. The network, I think, was really excited about it, and once they saw that material cut together, I think they really appreciated what Rebecca did.
What's interesting is that although you're still the lead, you're getting to engage in the darker storylines that usually only go to the supporting characters.
Absolutely! You know, what all six of us kept saying last year was, "They can't make us unlikable yet." They've got to make sure that the audience likes us and wants to tune in every week -- they can't give us anything too dramatic or change our characters too much because they don't feel like the audience is invested in us yet. Now that we have a more solid fanbase, [the writers] have really found a way to allow each of us to go through those darker times.
Still, for as happy as you sound about the new direction, it's got to be have been jarring when they let Dustin Milligan go. You spent almost all of the first season acting opposite him.
Well, tell me about it, I can't keep my mouth shut about that. Dustin is an amazing human being and an amazing actor, and I think he slapped everybody in the face when he got nominated for Teen Choice and none of us girls did. [Laughs] It's a sad thing for all of us that we don't get to work with him anymore, but he's going to go on to bigger and better things, I'm sure.
The pilot episode last year was all about you. Was it strange to get the script for the second season premiere and you're not even in it until several minutes in?
Yeah. Tell me about it. Shocking, I guess, but at the same time, a little bit relieving. I was working like a dog last year. It took a toll on me, so as long as the material's there, I'm not complaining. I'd be nervous if my character was standing out and I didn't see her involved anymore, but to be honest, I feel like I've got some of the best material on the show this year.
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