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New Girls on the Block

By Fred Topel
September 2009

Melrose Place is set to become a prime time phenomenon all over again. It began as a spin-off of Beverly Hills, 90210 in the 1990s. Since 90210 came back in a new incarnation, Melrose now joins it on The CW’s fall schedule. The premise remains that attractive young characters live together and interact in a Hollywood apartment complex.

The drama of the characters’ entangled lives includes, of course, sexual indiscretion, underhanded manipulation and even murder. Two very different ladies, though both with music in their past, play the female leads: Ashlee Simpson-Wentz and Katie Cassidy.

Ashlee Simpson-Wentz plays Violet Farmer, the new girl to Melrose. When you see the former pop star on the air, she’ll look a lot different than you remember. She’s dyed her hair red and dresses like a small town girl, not a musical diva.

“I’ve had red hair for a long time now,” Simpson-Wentz said. “I just had to take out the brightness of it, which I think I can bring back, eventually. But, she was just moving to Melrose Place from Oregon, so it was fresh for moving out. The other thing is that my clothes are a little bit different on the show. She’s now adapting. She sees all the other girls dressing cool and she’s wanting that, but she comes in wearing reds and yellows.”

Katie Cassidy plays the bad girl of Melrose Place. Ella Simms will do whatever it takes to get ahead, including publicly seducing other, more impressionable girls. The daughter of Partridge family pop star David Cassidy, Katie is relishing her chance to be bad.

“Ella doesn’t want to be vulnerable in front of anyone,” Cassidy said. “I think that deep down, it comes from a place of wanting acceptance and love from other people that she maybe didn’t get growing up. She didn’t come from the streets. She sort of turned into this thing, this strong, independent woman who will go to any extreme to get whatever she wants. But, I also think that she’s damaged underneath it all. She just doesn’t want to let anybody in but I have a feeling that as the show goes on, you are going to see more of her vulnerability come back.”

Both actresses also appeared on 7th Heaven at different times, so they share that on their resumes. Simpson-Wentz became a famous singer and married Fall Out Boy singer Pete Wentz. Now a working mom, she sports a new family name as she returns to television.

“I haven’t done television since 7th Heaven, and that was awhile ago,” Simpson-Wentz said. “Then, I went on to do music. I had [my son] Bronx and I wanted to do something that was a little bit more consistent and good for  my schedule with him. At the same time, [I could] do something that was incredibly creative and a good environment to work in. I’m really thrilled with where I’m at.”

Cassidy’s last gig was the limited series Harper’s Island, in which she played the brushing bride on an island where one cast member was killed off each week. Ella is quite a different role, and it has the potential to continue for many years.

“I think that now I’m more comfortable with who she is and what she wants,” Cassidy said, now that she’s filmed five episodes of Melrose. “It is definitely more fun to play Ella Simms. There’s just a lot more happening with her, I think, internally. It’s a challenge, and wonderful.”

The first episode of Melrose Placefinds a dead body in the pool. This mystery will be one of the many scandals at Melrose. Maybe we’ll find out that Ella or Violet did it.

“I think it involves everyone very equally,” Cassidy teased. “I think at any point, anyone can be a suspect, and we don’t know who did it.”

Just living with other people can be murder. Forget about high drama television characters. Just ask anyone with a roommate. Simpson-Wentz admitted she might not be the best person to live with.

“[I’d] probably [be] the roommate that steals your clothes,” Simpson-Wentz said. As proof, she cited The Ashlee Simpson Show which documented her home life. “When I was 18, which was documented on television, I lived in that apartment and I had a bunch of my friends live there. The two girls that were on the show with me are still my best friend.”

If you lived with the real Katie Cassidy, murder and seduction would not be your issues either. “I’m a neat freak,” Cassidy revealed. “I always think I’m sort of like an OCD female, always cleaning and picking up. I’m not home a lot, so I think I’m probably the perfect roommate. I clean and I’m never there.”

The setting of Melrose Place may be familiar to many who move to Hollywood trying to live their dreams. Hopefully, real people don’t end up with dead bodies in the pool. “I actually used to live in a complex that had a courtyard in it,” Cassidy continued. “It was very much similar to what Melrose Place is, but very different. I had established a very great relationship, actually, with my immediate next door neighbor, but that was it. I really didn’t know many people in the community and they were all a bit older that I was. Again, I was hardly there, so it’s kind of hard to establish relationships.”

Ella Sims has no problem making friends, or friends with benefits, as her sexual conquests can attest. Violet, on the other hand, has a harder time socializing.

“My character is so much fun to play,” Simpson-Wentz said. “She’s the newest character that moves in, and she’s looking for love and acceptance. She’s not very cool or well-educated with Hollywood and fashion and anything like that, and she definitely sees it. I think that she would like to have relationships with certain people, but can’t. You’ll see that.  She has this really innocent side that she plays, but she’s also definitely a lot smarter than she comes off. She has her way around things, and she’s sneaking around, doing things.”

Ella isn’t such a great influence on her friends. She encourages a struggling artist to give a Hollywood big shot a demo at his child’s birthday party. Let Melrose Place teach young hopefuls that harassing families is no way to get ahead.

“Yes, it will probably set an example of that,” Cassidy laughed. “But I don’t think that’s what people will get from seeing the pilot. I think that’s just one of the little things involved. I know, it’s not a very good idea.”

Everyone has a secret on Melrose Place. It may not be murder, but Violet and Ella will keep you guessing.

“I don’t think you’re going to figure Violet out for awhile,” Simpson-Wentz said. “It’s really nice for me because I get to play lots of quirky, interesting moments with her. My character is trying to fit in. She’ll make everybody Rice Krispie treats, and it’s very awkward when she delivers them, so it’s fun to play. It’s so much fun because there is so much development with her. She’s really interesting.”

Melrose Place premieres September 8 on The CW.