Or can I call you Love? They say that’s your preference, but I find it hard to speak so familiarly to Hollywood’s hottest young thing. Sure, you’re no Leo. (Who is? Sighhhh.) But between last year’s I Know What You Did Last Summer and this past June’s Can’t Hardly Wait, you’ve been a major player in the resurrection of both the blood-and-boobs slasher flick and the zits-and-beer teen comedy. At age nineteen you’ve firmly established yourself as a solid box-office draw while striking a blow for nonblond babes everywhere. Who cares if you share the spotlight with Neve Campbell, your costar on TV’s Party of Five, as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Gellar and at least one of the Dawson’s Creek girls? They weren’t on the cover of both Entertainment Weekly’s Young Hollywood issue and the inaugural issue of Teen People.
And didn’t I see you gazing at me from the cover of YM recently? My, you’re busy. No wonder you couldn’t find the time to talk to Texas Monthly. (Isn’t that, like, a magazine your mom reads? Whatever.) I hear you spent the summer in Mexico working on the sequel to I Know What You Did Last Summer (I Still Know . . .—so clever!). You also did a few weeks’ work on an indie film before returning to the Party of Five set.
But, omigod, that doesn’t even scratch the surface. A big movie studio gave you half a million dollars to executive produce and star in Cupid’s Love, which is based on your very own idea (a wedding planner falls for the groom). You’re rumored to be buying into Planet Hollywood as part of the burger—T-shirt—celebrity chain’s effort to hip up its image. You even wrote an essay for Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. The only drawback to all this “work” (’cause I know you don’t think of it as work; “I’m living my dream,” you told one interviewer) is that you’ve had to abandon your career as a Debbie Gibson—esque pop princess: three CDs, very popular in Japan, one unfortunately titled single called “Let’s Go Bang!” But don’t feel bad. It’s better to focus. Just ask Philip Michael Thomas. (Don’t remember the Miami Vice star’s brief foray into pop music? Consider yourself lucky.)
Still, singing is where you got your start. You were born in Waco and raised in Killeen, and one of your earliest show biz memories is belting out “The Greatest Love of All” at a talent contest held in a Bell County rodeo barn (this must have been back before they built that shiny Expo Center). You talk about Killeen the way Kurt Cobain used to discuss his hometown: You were an outcast, no one understood you, blah, blah, blah. You moved to California when you were ten. Your professional life began with traveling performance groups (the Texas Show Team, an L.A. Gear troupe) and many, many commercials. Your mother, Pat, put aside her career as a speech pathologist to handle your affairs (she and your father, Danny, divorced when you were a baby and your brother, Todd, now an L.A. chiropractor, was eight). Eventually there were roles on TV (The Byrds of Paradise, McKenna) and in the movies (Sister Act 2, House Arrest).
Party of Five was your big break, though. You were initially cast in 1995, during the FOX drama’s second season, as a potential girlfriend of the week, or maybe month, for Scott Wolf’s doe-eyed drunk, Bailey. The show’s creative team thought so much of your talent that you’ve been around ever since. The main reason for your popularity is a regular-gal appeal that you share with your long-suffering alter ego, Sarah Reeves. The youth of America has been there with you as you encountered family troubles, lost your virginity, and worked through the general travails of Sarah’s on-again, off-again thing with Bailey. (Now I get it: Your adolescent devotees identify with you so intimately that it’s easy for them to think of you as Love.)
There is, of course, another reason for your popularity. Two of them, in fact. “If it came down to comparing me to Marilyn Monroe or Gidget, I’d always be Gidget,” you told Movieline. “Sometimes I wish I was just a little more va-va-voom.” But it seems your va-vas voom pretty well. Troll around the America Online bulletin board devoted to you, and you’ll see that for every posting with a subject like “You are my role model,” you’ll find ten along the lines of “I have naked pics” and “Are those boobs for real?” Well? I hate to even dignify such immature nonsense, but most of my female friends are positive you’re just another silicone-based life-form. I think they might be jealous. The story you tell is that you, um, “matured” early but hid behind bulky sweaters until recently. Anyway, you’re cool about it. In that same Movieline interview you joked that the movie should have been called “I Know What Your Breasts Did Last Summer.” Hey, it sells popcorn.
So the question is, What’s next? We don’t yet know if you’re capable of heavy lifting, acting-wise. It’s really too early to tell, though a Meg Ryan—like career seems possible. Here’s the trick: Having earned your stardom with the teen thing, you must abandon it. How many times can your name appear alongside those of Scream scribe Kevin Williamson and Buffy? Instead, imagine a Variety item that reads something like “Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder, and Jennifer Love Hewitt are all interested.”
Which brings us to another difficult subject. Have you noticed that Gwyneth and Winona have cool boyfriends? I mean, they’re out on double dates with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon while you’re hanging out with MTV veejay Carson Daly! And he’s already a step down compared with your last couple of hunks, Will Friedle and Joey Lawrence. At least they were on network TV! I just want to call your attention to the situation. I understand that love—no pun intended—means going to premieres with whomever you want, regardless of their place on the celeb food chain.
There’s one last thing that worries me. You’re playing Audrey Hepburn in a TV movie. You call that a career move? Two words: Julia Ormond.
But you can bet I’ll be watching. And I just renewed my subscription to Teen People, which is probably the closest I’m ever going to come to a conversation with you. But that’s okay. I remain . . .