By Sara Bibel
Kristin Cavallari burst into the spotlight at 15, when she was cast as the bad girl on MTV’s high school reality series, “Laguna Beach.” She hoped to use her celebrity to jumpstart an acting career. After a few years of small roles in small movies, she resumed her reality stardom when the producers of “The Hills” asked Cavallari to replace her “Laguna Beach” nemesis Lauren Conrad on the final season of the reality soap. Now Cavallari is attempting to prove she is more than just a tabloid darling, guest starring on ABC’s hit comedy “The Middle” (Wednesday, 8/7c) and venturing into producing. Cavallari spoke candidly about how MTV’s producers manipulated the casts of its reality shows and how she has learned to take control of her reputation and her career.
Tell me about your character on “The Middle.”
I play Mrs. Devereaux, who is Axl’s (Charlie McDermott) biology teacher. Axl’s Patricia Heaton’s son on the show. He’s in a band. They want to film a music video and they need a hot girl for it so they decide to ask their biology teacher. But when they approach me, I think that women in music videos are just put in a terrible light and say no. So they go about it a different way. They try filming me during class on their flip phones without me knowing.
Were there any funny moments when you were shooting the episode?
One scene I had to do jumping jacks because I’m the biology teacher and I’m explaining about heart rates. So I’m doing jumping jacks and the boys are filming me on their flip phone. Doing something like that in front of a whole camera crew was kind of embarrassing.
Did you audition for this part, or did the show approach you for the role?
I actually read for the casting director about a year ago for a different pilot. Then I met with all the executives at ABC. So between the casting director and the executives, they came up with this role for me.
Are you aggressively pursuing acting right now?
I’m not pursuing it aggressively. I haven’t gone out on a lot of auditions because I’m focusing on producing reality TV shows. There’s one show in particular I’m working on, but we’re about to do the press release, so I can’t tell you about it quite yet.
What inspired you to move into producing?
Well, being on a reality show for a few years, I think I know a thing or two about reality. I like being able to be in charge of everything and putting everything together. I’m working with someone I worked with before. We went out and shot a sizzle reel. We put some girls on tape for it. Then we brought it into this production company we just signed with. Now we’re developing the whole thing. I really enjoyed having a say in what happened and being behind the camera and helping out in that way. It will be nice to be out of the spotlight a little bit too, to be honest.
Now that it’s over, can you reveal how much of the final season of “The Hills” was scripted?
Almost all of it. I think I can say that by now. I guess no one can get mad at me anymore.
You were not always portrayed in the most positive light on “The Hills.” You were supposedly partying too hard and using drugs. Are you concerned that damaged your reputation?
They told me they weren’t going to do any of that stuff. Basically, all that was to get ratings. I was on the cover of Us Weekly saying I need to go to rehab and that my parents wanted me to go to rehab. Both of my parents were like, “Oh, really? Why don’t they call me.” It said that I wasn’t showering. It was so unbelievable. It came and went because obviously I didn’t have a problem whatsoever. But that really pissed me off because MTV did that and there was one producer in particular who was behind all that. So that was really, really hard actually. That was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through. I’m so over it by now. But everything else, I was a willing participant. I didn’t hang out with those people. I had all my friends that were never filmed. It was work three days a week. We’d go to work, do three scenes a day, change, do another scene, and then you leave and you have your other life, your private life.
Had you even been in touch with any of your old “Laguna Beach” castmates before the producers asked you to come spice up “The Hills”?
The only person that was still on from “Laguna Beach” was Lo [Bosworth]. But no, I hadn’t been talking to Lo. Brody [Jenner] and Frankie [Delgado] were the only ones I kept in contact with. I didn’t even know Stacie [Hall] or Stephanie [Pratt] or half the people when I joined the cast.
What do you think about Lauren Conrad’s new reality show being shelved for being too high brow or dull for MTV?
I didn’t know that was the reason why. I think right now MTV has “Jersey Shore” and “Skins” which are very controversial. Lauren’s a very nice girl. She’s very sweet, but that’s not always entertaining.
It seems like almost everyone who was on “Laguna Beach” had the course of their life altered. You, L.C. and Lo are reality stars. Some others have unfortunately struggled with substance abuse problems. Do you think it was, on the whole, worth it for all you to grow up in front of America?
I don’t regret anything I’ve done. It’s been hard. I was fifteen years old when “Laguna Beach” came in. I think it was really unfair how they messed with our lives like that. We were so young. We didn’t know exactly what they were doing. Watching the show really broke my heart. [When] the first episode of “Laguna Beach” [aired], I locked myself in the bathroom and was crying for hours because I was so upset about how they were portraying me. But that’s why going into “The Hills,” I knew exactly what I was getting into. I wasn’t going to let them mess with me. That’s why I went into it saying, “Whatever you guys want me to do, I’ll do. Don’t mess with me. I’ll be a participant.” They’re very shady with you. And that’s what they did when we were doing “Laguna Beach” and we were so young to be doing that. So it’s just how my life has gone. It’s the path that I’ve chosen. It’s all been worth it.
Can you give me an example of the producers being shady?
The first season of “The Hills” they had Justin and I dating on the show. Justin wouldn’t want to come film sometimes because he didn’t think that I really liked him. So the producers would have me text him, “No Justin, I really want you to come.” But I was game for it. Stephen [Coletti] was my boyfriend on “Laguna Beach.” They would be, like [to him], “We just want to get you coming up to Lauren’s house, but we’re not going to make it seem like you guys are dating.” They’d have him bring her flowers. All that stuff.
You recently tweeted that there was a phony rumor that you were engaged. How does it make you feel when you’re the subject of false gossip?
It’s just so stupid. I mean, I’ve heard that Jay [Cutler] and I have been engaged I think five times now. It’s one thing after another. You don’t let it get to you. If you do, you’ll drive yourself crazy. I don’t read the magazines or gossip sites. But you always hear about it from friends. Someone is always telling you stuff. We were just in Bora Bora and I landed to five different text messages from my friends [saying] “Are you engaged?” It’s kind of funny at this point.
Where do you think you would be today if MTV hadn’t decided to film a reality series at your high school?
Gosh. I really wanted to go to Emerson in Boston and study broadcast journalism. I wanted to become a news anchor or an entertainment host and work my way in that way. So, I don’t know. Hopefully I would be doing something like that.
What advice would you give to people who are auditioning for a reality show? What about someone who was just cast?
For someone auditioning, I would have to say you’ve got to be yourself because if you’re trying to be someone fake just to get attention it will come out eventually. So be yourself, but be the most dramatic self you can be. For “Laguna Beach” we had to fill out a twenty page packet. The questions were like “List your five best friends and what you hate about them.” One of the questions was, “Who do you think is going to be prom queen?’ My answer was, “I don’t know and I don’t care as long as it’s not Lauren Conrad.” Doing stuff like that gets attention. Be dramatic and play it up a little bit, but not over the top where it’s obvious you’re not being yourself whatsoever. If someone’s going to be on one, you’re going to have to get a thick skin really quickly. Don’t go on the Internet. Don’t read the gossip sites or the tabloids, because no matter what you do not everyone will like you.