Unbelievable but true, according to Audrina Patridge, who vividly recalls all the turmoil involved with co-starring on MTV's watershed reality show. "They did! You don't even know... There's so much more that no one really knows about," she says. (Of course, Patridge told reporters at the time that she came around, that she really believed nothing happened between her friend and boyfriend — after all, there was a hit series to continue.)
With those days behind her, she's a lot less censored. "They really did! I wouldn't have overreacted," she says, pausing for lunch in the middle of a whirwind media tour to promote her new VH1 series Audrina. "I'm not going to get into it now because it's old news and I really don't care. But that was the biggest 'friend' drama I'd ever went through." Such was life on The Hills, the reality phenomenon that she says became more manipulated as it went along. While capturing the mostly real heartache and heartbreak of Laguna Beach girl Lauren Conrad, it simultaneously spawned the fame-hungry, storyline-conjuring Speidi and made Brody Jenner seem like Hollywood's most eligible bachelor.
It also sent Patridge through the wringer. The Downey, Calif.-native was plucked from obscurity by a Hills producer while lounging by a pool back in 2005, and was subsequently embroiled in Lauren's ongoing friendship angst, used and abused by Justin "Justin Bobby" Brescia, and suckered into sticking with the show well past its heyday.
It wasn't all fun but Patridge, who turns 26 next month, has gained perspective. Since The Hills premiered, she's worked consistently as a model, shot two movies (the horror film Sorority Row and Into the Blue 2) and competed on ABC's massively popular Dancing With the Stars — all of which she says would never have come along without the show. Patridge also cites Jessica Simpson, who also became famous after she starred in MTV's Newlyweds, as a self-branded, businesswoman role model. What's more, there seems to be demand from viewers who watched The Hills, fans Patridge says who continue to ask about her life. (Look no further than her 1.4 million followers on Twitter, or the flow of stories about her love life that continue to be winning fodder for the big tabloids.)
"Why not?" she says, "thanks to The Hills, I have much thicker skin." But for her own series Patridge set some ground rules: Everything would be fair game.
"I really wanted the show to be whatever was going on in my life at that moment. I don't want the show to be something I need to make up or make interesting. I didn't want to create scenes," she says. "I wanted it to work like, 'Here's what's going on, let's bring the cameras and film and see what happens' — and that's what it was."
In many ways, Patridge is just grateful Audrina will make it to air. Before landing at VH1, the project was developed for sister network MTV two years ago, while the Hills was still important to the network (aka pre-Jersey Shore.) "It was fifth season, and I was done. I was out of my contract! But the producers were like, 'Please Audrina, we need you to do one more," Patridge says. "I just thought there was nothing left to film. Nothing real was going on. No one wanted to fight anymore. Everyone had dated everyone else. But I did it, and I thought that meant we were picked up, but I guess they changed their minds." Patridge is the only original cast member to have stuck with the Hills until the very end.
Her new show, which was executive produced by reailty TV kingpin Mark Burnett and shot earlier this year, follows both Patridge and her family — the second most famous member of which is her mother, Lynn, who delivered a curse-filled, pro-Audrina, anti-Hills tirade to the paparazzi in October when her daughter was cut from Dancing With the Stars.
VH1 President of Programming Jeff Olde said the network got on board before Lynn had made her unofficial YouTube debut. He says they were already sold on the pilot's mix of Patridge's glamorous work life (the first episode begins with her posing for a bikini and lingerie calendar) and her larger-than-life family. No one batted an eye when the video of Lynn surfaced online.
"That's just Lynn," Olde says. "She's an authentic character and that's what we look for. She's unapologetic, unfiltered and has strong opinions. I mean, she's loud, but also winning because she's fiercely protective of her kids. That part is universally relatable." The post-Dancing With the Stars incident is also addressed immediately in the first episode and, oh yes, tears are shed.
"It was something my mom was very embarrassed about," Patridge says. "But look at it from her point of view — there were all these paparazzi standing there, asking her questions, egging her on, cameras in her face. She was just like, 'Fine, what do you want to know!' My mom's very passionate, so she really got into it! But, whatever. She got into it, that's how she felt in the moment, she moved on. She's still my mom. I still love her to death."
Burnett says there's more to the family than Lynn's mouth. "One thing you've got to realize about Audrina's family is that they're a family of faith," he says. "They eat together, they go to church together. They have their rifts like any family, and in the end they support each other. That's very America, I think... But there's a lot of drama, yeah. It's like a family sitcom slash drama."
Much of the family conflict on the show will, in fact, revolve around Lynn butting heads with Audrina's semi-estranged younger sister Casey, 24, an equally outspoken married mom of two. (She also has another younger sister, Sammy, 16, and a younger brother, Marky, 22. Their dad is Mark, CEO of Patridge Motors.) Patridge says part of the allure of doing the series was more family time (a reason also often cited by the Kardashians), and hopefully exposing her mom and sister to an objective look at themselves. "I learned about all my bad habits from watching The Hills," Patridge says. "I'm hoping my mom and sister will see how they sound and act toward each other from watching this.")
But given her own ups and downs on The Hills, Patridge says she was initially hesitant to include her family. "I never let this part of my life on The Hills because I never knew how the show would 'work its magic' on them. I just agreed to do what they wanted. Because of what I went through, the press, the gossip, the rumors, everyone picking you apart... I told my family it would be hard. I didn't want them to go through it. At the same time, I know they're just as strong as I am and they can handle it. At the end of the day, they wanted to support me."
Her real love life — at the time of filming, she was involved with BMX biker Corey Bohan, who she calls "the love of my life" in the show — also makes it to the screen. The couple will break up on during the season, and Bohan still seems pretty bitter about the whole thing. "Dating on TV is hard, it really is" Patridge says.
Watching the first two episodes "was a lot to process," she admits, just days before the show will debut. "But ultimately, it's pretty great because it's what I went through. There wasn't anything produced, and there's never a dull moment. It's all there."
Check out a preview of Audrina: