“VERONICA MARS”: Kristen Bell plays the title character in the new UPN drama.
Photo: SCOTT GARFIELD, WARNER BROS.
Clash of cultures drives 'Veronica Mars'
The young investigator is no Nancy Drew, and that's by design.
When Rob Thomas, creator and executive producer of the new UPN series "Veronica Mars," first dreamed up the teen detective series, the main character was male.
He can't quite remember the moment he thought, "This would be better if it was a girl," as he developed the script. But he knows why.
"I think a noir piece told from a female point of view is more interesting and unique," Thomas said.
The series premieres at 9 tonight before moving to its regular 9 p.m. Tuesday timeslot next week.
Veronica Mars is a smart, bold high school student on a mission to undercover the truth about the dark side of the wealthy California seaside community of Neptune.
When her father, Keith, was the local sheriff, she was part of the popular crowd and dated a wealthy boy. Then came murder and scandal, and the Mars family became outsiders.
Dad now runs a struggling private investigation agency, where Veronica helps out after school. Her alcoholic mother has left. She's been the victim of date rape. She's definitely no Nancy Drew.
"Nancy Drew is about finding the hidden jewels in the haunted cave. We want our episodes to feel real," Thomas said.
Veronica Mars doesn't go looking for action-packed adventure like the teenage heroine from those detective novels first published in the 1930s. Rather, she helps solve the problems of her community that arise from a clash of cultures and conflicting moral values.
On a recent evening in La Jolla, the "Veronica Mars" cast and crew occupied the lobby of a luxury hotel.
Several guests, not immediately aware that cameras were rolling, seemed startled by the hubbub Mars (Kristen Bell) and her dad (Enrico Colantoni) were causing at the reception desk as they tried to obtain billing information that might solve a crime.
Bell said she's thrilled to play "a female character with grit, not just a sappy ingenue ... The root of her is such strength of character."
The 24-year-old Bell's credits include the lead role as the daughter of a drug addict in the Lifetime movie "Gracie's Choice" and the young girl in the Los Angeles Opera production of "A Little Night Music."
"Kristen is legitimately a smart girl, and it really comes across," Thomas said. "Veronica has to play dead-smart. She's not a big girl, and you are never going to see scenes of her literally kicking ass like on 'Alias,' so it's all about being wily and clever and sharp."
Earlier this day, a seaside neighborhood of expensive homes was the location for an action sequence featuring guest star Paris Hilton.
As local kids watched with fascination, a posse of motorcycles roared around a corner, headed up by series regular Weevil (Francis Capra) - an unlikely Mars ally.
Revving their engines, the leather-clad bikers faced off with a red Jeep full of rich kids who were apparently connected to a crime. A scuffle ensued, reflecting that constant clash of cultures and values that surrounds "Veronica Mars."
"Veronica stands for what's true and good, and integrity," said Jason Dohring, who plays Logan Echolls, the most seemingly self-satisfied of the rich kids.
Thomas emphasizes that this drama of "haves and have-nots" needed a cast that was differentfrom the cute, non-threatening young actors traditionally found in TV teen series.
"Generally what I feel you get told by networks is, 'We need dreamboats,' " Thomas said. "Jason, while he's a handsome guy, is a real actor. He has an intensity that almost can make you uncomfortable ... I'm just riveted by him."
Dohring, who originally auditioned for one of the good-guy roles, said he's glad he got cast as the "edgy, off-tilt" character. "Each of the cast members - there's no two alike - we all come from totally different backgrounds, and we kind of clash beautifully," said the 22-year-old actor, who, like Bell, looks young enough to pass for a high school student.
"The wild card is our cast," agreed the heavily tattooed Capra, 21. "It's the biggest thing that separates us from everybody else."