Excerpts From Jason Priestley's Memoirs
The former Beverly Hills 90210 star is writing an autobiography. We think we have an idea of what that'll be like.
I'd been honing my craft, plugging along in bit parts that probably wouldn't amount to anything, but just trying to get my face in front of cameras and earn a reputation for being reliably professional -- a good representative of my generation so that casting directors would shuffle me up to the top of their lists. And here it was: my big break! When I booked "College Student" on The New Adventures Of Beans Baxter, I knew I'd made it.
What really surprised me about working with Johnny Depp on Jump Street was what I didn't learn from him. He was good-looking and talented, sure -- but so was I. In my private moments, I still think that if I'd just made one or two different decisions, I could have had his career.
When I was offered the role of Brandon on Beverly Hills 90210, I really had to do some soul-searching as I considered whether I would take it. As a British Columbia native and a proud Canadian, could I in good conscience lend my gifts to a show that was going to do so much to glorify empty materialism? Were the characters my fellow actors were going to bring to life the sort that I would ever want to spend any time with if they were real? The key moment, and the reason I ultimately agreed to take the role, was when I realized that Brandon would have a unique position as an insider/outsider: arriving on the scene from Minneapolis, Brandon could be part of the action and its critic at the same time. And that insight into the character informed my performance the whole way through.
Over the years, fans have come up to me wanting to talk about a supposed "double standard" in terms of the portrayal of Brandon's loss of his virginity as opposed to Brenda's. Brandon has had sex, with a semi-ex-girlfriend who's essentially run away to California, in Jim's house, and when Jim learns all of this, he's proud of his son and barely remembers to ask if they were careful about it. By contrast, when the fact of Brenda's having become sexually active comes out when she has a pregnancy scare, Jim is horrified and sad and disappointed in her. Well, what do these fans want me to say? Brandon wasn't Jim's little girl! And maybe she shouldn't have been sleeping with Dylan. He was a millionaire and he still had a futon for a couch.
To be honest, I don't know why they would have written a plotline in which Brandon tried out for the basketball team. It's not like I don't know I'm average height -- and, you'll note, later episodes had Brandon on rollerblades or actual skates, since I did actually know how to skate and play hockey. But that basketball episode -- Did I want the writer fired? I can't say no. But I didn't have the clout. Not yet.
It was obvious for the first several seasons that producers hoped to get Brandon together with Andrea eventually, and I might as well admit the truth: I did keep that from happening. Don't get me wrong, Gabrielle is a great girl and I always had fun working with her whenever our characters didn't have to kiss. But she's older than the President now, and she kind of seemed older than the President then. (It was the '90s! Slick Willie could get down!) Gabrielle, if you're reading this: I'm sorry, but you know it's true. You could have told them to stop putting you in the high-waisted short jorts.
I've always been proud of the work I did portraying Brandon's gambling addiction: it's a storyline I pushed for, and one that I think was way ahead of its time. (I see you, Amanda Rollins on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit!) In some ways, Brian Austin Green's meth addiction was showier, in terms of the physicality he had to bring to it, but when you're addicted to sports betting, your turmoil is internal. Watch those episodes again. I think you'll be impressed by the subtlety of how I played it -- almost like you're watching nothing much at all.
It's not an optical illusion: Brandon's watches did keep getting bigger over the course of the show. I haven't opened up about this before, but I was suffering from a severe case of body dysmorphic disorder and I felt that large watches would make my wrists look daintier. Since then, after years of therapy, I've been able to accept the size of my wrists as just another part of what makes me me, and I embrace them.
Though I can't take credit for the concept of The Priestley donut, I will take credit for any part I had in making it a reality. If The Priestley and the Old Navy commercial are my true legacy...well, I guess I'll ask whether everyone forgot about the way Brandon romanced Lucinda Nicholson a good decade before anyone had even thought of the term "cougar." But I won't really be that mad.