TOO CRUEL FOR SCHOOL
AnnaLynne McCord rules the halls of West Beverly High
By Margarita Hirapetian
I’m standing on the steps of Urth Caffé in Santa Monica when I see AnnaLynne McCord coming down the walkway. I immediately recognize her despite her oversized sunglasses covering half her face and her trademark blonde curls pulled back into a low ponytail. I suddenly feel like I’m back in high school, finally getting to hang with the cool crowd.
AnnaLynne has mastered the role of the schoolgirl tease on two of the hottest shows in primetime. She plays the deliciously deceptive, Eden Lord, on the controversial, Nip/Tuck, and she takes the lead as crazy popular teen queen, Naomi Clark, on The CW’s highly anticipated new 90210. In person, the 21-year-old is refreshingly low-key in skinny jeans and a trendy jacket. Her stunning features are free of any makeup and, as I soon come to find out, her inner self is free of any pretense. The girl is extremely generous and almost too honest. She shares her thoughts freely, and it’s evident she’s yet to be tainted by the soul-crushing Hollywood PR machine. Waiting in line at the counter, AnnaLynne settles on a Greek salad and a slice of cake to take home. I ask her if she feels pressure to fit the Hollywood ideal of pretty, perfect and thin. “I’m very lucky. My mom is a tiny little size two and eats whatever she wants,” she says. “If anything I try to work my booty out because sometimes I feel like I’m too thin. I’m just a petite person.”
As soon as we get comfortable at a table overlooking the busy thoroughfare, the topic naturally turns to AnnaLynne’s juicy new role as the resident bad girl of West Beverly High. “It’s so much fun playing Naomi. It’s the opposite of how I grew up. I was home-schooled my whole life,” she says. “So now I’m going to high school for the first time, and apparently I’m rich as hell.”
With the monstrous success of the original Beverly Hills, 90210 still fresh on everyone’s minds, there’s a lot for AnnaLynne and her cast mates to live up to. “There’s a certain amount of pressure, but you just have to do the best you can,” she says. Though she was only about three years old when the show debuted, life in the world’s most famous zip code had already been ingrained in her mind. “God, it’s like you’re almost born knowing about 90210,” she says of the original. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it at first, but when I saw how much notoriety the new show was getting prior to even being cast, I started thinking about what that could do for things I’m more passionate about.”
At this point in the conversation, it becomes clear this young woman is deeply dedicated to affecting change and helping others, more so than becoming a mega star. “Acting was a dream of mine since I was nine,” she recalls. “But it’s funny how you dream about something and when you start to do it, it’s not exactly what you planned it to be. I quickly started to see attitudes and egos I wasn’t okay with. I realized I needed something else to be passionate about because acting alone wasn’t fulfilling anymore.”
She works very closely with The Blind Project, an organization that raises awareness and funds for victims of sex trafficking. “Atlanta, where I’m from, is the number one city for sex trafficking in the United States,” she admits. “It’s just horrible, but the stories are squelched and we don’t want to hear it. I mean, our biggest problem as a society is if we didn’t get our dry cleaning on time, and I’m tired of that.” With so many of her tabloid-targeted peers constantly being photographed cavorting about town minus key pieces of clothing and serving time for various offenses, it’s truly refreshing to hear someone so young speak so ardently about making a difference. “I want young Hollywood to clean up their act. I want them to stand for something and be on the cover of a magazine because they’re fighting for someone, not because they’re “coked” out of their minds,” she says. “Actors are so lucky. We have so much power and it’s wrong to me, criminal even, to have that kind of power and not use it.” Whenever we broach a particularly sensitive issue, AnnaLynne’s body language changes dramatically. She leans forward and pulls off her sunglasses, revealing pale green eyes sparkling with intensity. “At a certain point when you have the power that certain starlets have, then you have to think about what you’re doing, and think about your siblings,” she says.
Life in Hollywood is a lot like high school — it’s all about who you know, what parties you’re invited to, how good you look and how well you dress. It’s no wonder the home-schooled Atlanta native has been having some trouble adjusting. “LA in itself has had such a negative effect on me. Sometimes I would just cry because I felt so lonely,” she recalls. “I think I had in mind that LA was full of actors who love acting, who care about their craft, but it’s really just everyone looking for five minutes of fame.”
When I ask her if she thinks people in LA are fake, she breaks into a knowing smile, “They’re as fake as their silicon boobs,” she says with a laugh. Judging from her good-humored nature, it seems she doesn’t take all the negativity too seriously. Instead, she’s utterly focused on her work, and turns to the gossip rags only for the comic relief. “My favorite tabloid section is ‘Stars! They’re just like us! They get coffee!’” she laughs. “Like we’re aliens or something. We swoop down from outer space.” She rolls her eyes at the memory of some of the more ludicrous headlines. “I actually just met Perez Hilton last night,” she recalls. “I was like ‘are you gonna talk crap about me?’ and he was like ‘oh, I don’t know.’ He was really quiet and not exactly what I thought he would be. I think it’s just a character that he plays on his blog.”
With the aggressive media scaling the walls of their private homes for a peek into their lives, Hollywood’s stars have grown resigned to the perpetually churning rumor mill, coming to accept that it’ll always be there, and there’s not much they can do about it. “You’re gonna have people talking about you and some days they might love you, and tomorrow they might hate you,” she says. “If you’re trying to be validated by their love, then one day you’re going to be validated by their hate, so it’s pointless. I can’t make 6.6 billion people happy.”
As we get up to leave, a young man standing in front of the café approaches us. He asks us if we would like to donate some money to a children’s charity, except he asks for $150 up front. Red flags immediately go up in my head, but AnnaLynne is the consummate professional. She says she’d like to find out more before getting involved and hands him some cash. Smart girl. When I look back, the man has mysteriously disappeared. These LA people, you just can’t trust them.