Luke Perry’s definitely got the look. He’s also got the hair.
He’s even got a sizable lock on the daydreamy affections of millions of swooning adolescent girls who tune in to Beverly Hills, 90210 every week. They’re tuning in, bubbling with giddy hormonal bliss, to see Perry play soulful teenage rebel Dylan McKay.
“He’s hot,” says Elizabeth Video, a teenage Dylanophile of my acquaintance.
So what’s the secret?
That’s easy, says Darren Star, “90210’s” 30-year-old creator-producer: “I always thought Luke Perry was James Dean.”
That’s a comparison the twenty-something Perry has heard quite often the past few months. And he’s not exactly wild about it.
“I’m not James Dean. And no one else is, either,” Perry said during a phone interview from the set of 90210. “There’s always someone being called the next James Dean. But there was only one. And he’s dead.”
Perry grew up in Fredericktown, Ohio, a small rural community far, far away from the exotic Beverly Hills background of his prime-time character. But he knew from age 12 that he wanted to be an actor. And he moved to Los Angeles after high school, where he landed work in the daytime soap operas Another World and Loving. He calls the soap opera experience “the best training in the world.”
On Loving, he played a character named Ned Bates. “Ned was a dirt-poor mechanic from Tennessee who always got taken advantage of,” Perry said. “He was nothing like Dylan. Dylan’s nobody’s fool.”
In the fast-paced, hyper-affluent 90210 world of West Beverly High School, Dylan McKay is the true non-conformist. He’s from a filthy-rich background. But he’s no superficial teen king. “He’s a complex character,” said Perry. “He’s fun to play.”
Dylan likes music and art and classical literature. And he always goes his own way. But there’s also a touch of sadness and heartache.
After he waltzed off with Brenda Walsh’s virginity, Dylan and his 16-year-old true love broke up last season. Plus, Dylan’s family life is a mess. His dad’s in big legal trouble. Short on cash, Dylan recently split for Hawaii to see the moneyed mom he never got along with.
Which is one big reason teenage girls are going bonkers. They want to help mend his bruised spirit.
When Perry made a personal appearance in Bellvue, Washington, in May, several thousand Dylan-crazed teeny-boppers went wild. Several young girls were injured. Perry had to be stashed in a laundry hamper and hustled out. (The scene was repeated in Florida Saturday; 21 were injured then.)
“I’m very sad about the whole thing,” Perry said. “They were just coming to see an ordinary guy from a television show. People getting hurt? It’s not worth it.”
As for the controversy sparked by the episode in which Brenda lost her virginity to Dylan, Perry says 90210 responsibly dealt with the issue of teen sexuality and that parents who complained to Fox are off the mark.
“No parent wants to think their child is having sex until the night they get married,” Perry said. “But we’re not doing fantasy programming here. We’re doing reality. And the reality is that teenagers are more sexually active today than ever before.”
Beverly Hills, 90210 theme song & opening credits
Perry, like 90210 costar Jason Priestley, rapidly ascended to the status of teen heartthrob. And he says he’s uncomfortable about it.
“I realize what my job is about. They didn’t hire me to get fan mail. They hired me to act.”
Yes, but both Perry and Priestley, the guys with the neo-hepcat haircuts, are being inundated with hundreds of fan letters each week. They are official teen idols. But Perry says he and Priestley won’t let it go to their heads.
Besides, the success of 90210 hasn’t surprised the young actor.
“Originally, people thought we were a flighty, superficial show,” he said. ‘But I think we’ve proven that we have some real substance. Other shows about teenagers are either preachy or put on a candy-coated view of life. We’re not preachy, and we’re certainly not candy-coated.