“Staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window, let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find…” With those words — and a black BMW convertible — Lauren Conrad rolled right from Laguna Beach into The Hills on MTV May 31, 2006. Agreeing to the spinoff had been an easy choice for the then-20-year-old. “I really loved Laguna and had such a great experience,” she recalls to Us. “And I had used up all my money. It was time to get a job, so I was like, Yes, this! This is what I want to do.”
“This” turned into a glossy pop-culture phenomenon that transfixed up to 4.8 million viewers each week, launched countless real-or-scripted debates and introduced the world to the likes of Speidi, Justin Bobby and that iconic phrase: “You know what you did!” At the height of Hills hysteria, the stars posed for the cover of Rolling Stone, then–presidential candidate Barack Obama quipped he’d use his power to end the feud between Conrad and Heidi Montag, fans scooped up TEAM LAUREN and TEAM HEIDI tees from hip L.A. boutique Kitson and, recalls Conrad, tour buses would drive past the Spanish-style Hollywood Hills spread she shared with Lauren “Lo” Bosworth and Audrina Patridge, blasting Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten,” the show’s beloved theme song. “It was a very bizarre time,” says the star. To honor the show’s 10th anniversary, she and her castmates chat with Us about mascara-laced tears, sex tape rumors and all those nights at Les Deux.
THE EARLY DAYS
Once Conrad signed on, she recruited her newly minted bestie Heidi Montag. (Recalls Conrad of their brief stint at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, “She just walked up to me in class, said hello and offered to share a cab home. We immediately became friends.”) Producers rounded out the cast with two other attractive twentysomethings: the girls’ neighbor Audrina Patridge, discovered weeks earlier at L.A. complex the Villas, and Conrad’s fellow Teen Vogue intern Whitney Port.
LAUREN CONRAD: Whitney was applying for the internship at the same time as me. The shot of us waiting to go in for our interviews was actually when we met. I thought, Oh, if I had to pick one of us, I would pick her!
WHITNEY PORT: I didn’t know it was Lauren Conrad’s spinoff show until I showed up for my interview and she walked in. I had watched Laguna Beach — I was a fan.
HEIDI MONTAG: Audrina just swam up to us [at the apartment complex], and I was like, “What is this girl doing in our shot?” No one told us we were meeting a new cast member.
AUDRINA PATRIDGE: [Executive producer] Adam DiVello told me I wasn’t allowed to go to the pool for two weeks because they wanted us to meet on camera. I had to keep dodging the pool and lobby!
At the start of each week, producers would put together a filming schedule based on the girls’ plans, “and then every once in a while they’d throw in a dinner,” recalls Conrad. “If we had a night out, we’d almost always want to have a lunch planned the next day so we could recap whatever happened.”
HM: Early on, producers wanted real reactions within scripted moments. [In the first episode] I didn’t know I was “crashing” Lauren’s work party. The producers just told us to show up. After that, Lauren was like, “Sorry you looked like the lame friend.” And I said, “I don’t care! I’m on TV, girl!”
LC: I was famous for saying, “I would never say that. I would never do that.” I think if you’re asking people to come on a journey, you don’t ever want to misrepresent yourself because it just felt so dishonest.
HM: Lauren would argue with producers in season 1 about wanting it to be her real life — screaming matches about us faking the show all the time.
AP: We shot a lot for the first year. I was working full-time, but I had to take time off, and I wasn’t getting paid. I was doing it all just for fun. It got to the point where I was like, I’m borrowing money from my parents to pay my rent. I had to talk to the producers and tell them, “I’m either going to have to stop or you guys have to help me out.” In the beginning, the show was about four girls who were friends. Once we all started bringing guys into the picture, that’s when things got sticky.
The guys included Conrad’s ex Jason Wahler, a notorious ladies’ man. The Laguna Beach couple got back together shortly before filming for The Hills began in 2005 and continued their tumultuous relationship until the end of the first season, when Conrad was faced with a choice: a dream trip to Paris for Teen Vogue or a summer with Wahler at their Malibu beach pad.
LC: Even production didn’t want me to date him! They were like, “You’re in a new city. Go meet a new guy!” Then they were very upset with me for not going to Paris — they were ready to fly a whole crew. I would get daily phone calls from Adam saying, “You have to go!” Honestly, yes, [my decision] did have to do with the relationship, but I was also just at that point where I needed a break from filming.
Jason Wahler: She should have gone. We broke up, like, two weeks after that scene was shot.
Season 2 brought fresh love interests for Conrad (hello, Brody Jenner!) and her roommate, and a new mutual friend, Frankie Delgado. Montag fell hard for L.A. native Spencer Pratt — but his wandering eye (and seeming interest in Patridge) concerned Conrad. As the pals argued over Pratt, their friendship suffered.
SPENCER PRATT: Brody and I found out they were filming at Area, and we got the table next to them. The thing with Audrina was a complete fabrication. Producers just had us walk in together. I had picked up that she and Heidi weren’t on the best terms, and Heidi and I had already gotten together and broken up the summer before that. So I was like, OK, I’ll roll up over there.
AP: The producers were using me to try to start drama with Heidi and Spencer. Heidi really egged it on. It made me lose respect. I remember that birthday at Les Deux, like, wow, I thought she was a nice person and now I see her true colors.
HM: Lauren always loved Spencer. When she and Brody stopped dating, she started giving me a hard time for not being around for her every night. She wanted her world back, and I was falling in love.
LC: Brody and I were always more friends than anything. It was one of those things where producers really wanted us to be together, and we both knew we didn’t have that kind of chemistry. The magic of editing always created a little more than there was.
Any chance of a Montag-Conrad reconciliation was shattered in April 2007 when rumors surfaced that Conrad had filmed a sex tape with ex Wahler. She believed Pratt and Montag were behind the attack on her reputation, leading her to confront her ex-BFF outside L.A. club Les Deux and utter those five words: “You know what you did.”
LC: To me, those were the best scenes — the really real ones. We’re not, you know, sitting in a cute café discussing who said what the night before. They were always the hardest to shoot, but I felt like that was when people could really relate to us.
JW: [The sex tape story] really came out of left field. Lauren and I talked, even though we were separated. I was like, “Did you put a camera in the bedroom that I didn’t know about?”
AP: The fact that Spencer and Heidi attacked her like that was really messed up. At that point, Lauren hated Spencer anyways.
SP: I didn’t start [the rumors]. But it wasn’t a rumor, because a rumor implies that something is not true.
HM: I was upset because I was unjustly portrayed as something I wasn’t. She was my best friend and she wouldn’t give me more of a conversation.
As Conrad dealt with the sex tape fallout, Patridge reconnected with an old pal, Harley-loving hairstylist Justin “Bobby” Brescia. Explains Patridge of his infamous double moniker: “I was like, ‘His name is Justin, but if he’s going to film, he wants to be known as Bobby.’ Lauren and Lo were like, ‘What, Justin Bobby?’ and the name stuck forever.”
AP: I knew Justin before I started the show. The producers asked if I would film with the guy I was dating, and I asked him, “Why don’t we just do a scene at my apartment where you’re doing my hair or something?” That was in the very beginning, but it never made it to air.
JUSTIN BRESCIA: They called me afterward and asked if I’d like to shoot again. At the time I was a hairdresser for Maroon 5. It came down to them going, “Whatever you make, we’ll triple it.” Audrina and I were friends. [The relationship] was more for the show. The people they were making her go on dates with weren’t really up to her speed, and she hadn’t been feeling it.
AP: [Filming] was really weird for him at first, and our relationship was off and on. It got to the point where it was like, “OK, so what are we? Are we together? Are we not together?” It was confusing, but we were there for each other no matter what.
JB: We’d do these scenes and some of them would be intense and somewhat passionate. And then we’d stop filming and go back to our own lives.
LIZ GATELEY, EXEC PRODUCER: You cannot manufacture that kind of reaction of Audrina crying about Justin Bobby or Lauren getting in a fight with Heidi, because something had really gone down. All of the dynamics were real.
Patridge’s romance with the fickle Brescia drove a wedge between her and Conrad — as did the reappearance of Conrad’s straight-talking high school pal Bosworth. (Pratt’s sister, Stephanie, and, later, Heidi’s sister, Holly, would join the series as well.) The trio moved into a three-bedroom Hollywood Hills mansion, with Patridge bunking in the guesthouse. “The first night, I remember we were running around with socks on and sliding down the halls!” recalls Conrad. But soon enough Patridge was ready to break free. In a classic 2008 scene, she said she was moving on, and a single, perfect tear fell from Conrad’s mascara-covered lashes. (Her pick: Mark by Avon, non-waterproof.)
LC: It was just a typical relationship between two girls who were starting to grow apart, so that was a really honest conversation. I was sad because I felt like she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I just put on too much mascara, and it became a thing. They slowed it down for dramatic effect!
AP: Lo and I were completely fine off camera. It was really me and Lauren not getting along. I just wanted my own house, my own freedom. I didn’t even notice the mascara until the episode aired!
LO BOSWORTH: Audrina wasn’t friends with us in real life, ever. She just never had much interest in forming a genuine relationship. So there was an awkwardness that was apparent, and they played into that. But I would not say that there was ever a real-life feud or animosity.
By 2009, Port was starring on her own reality show in New York, The City, and Conrad had grown tired of documenting her life (“I never loved the attention”). She would split halfway through season 5 — making her final appearance at Pratt and Montag’s over-the-top April vows. (They hired a skywriter!) Conrad wasn’t aware the show’s new leading lady — her former Laguna Beach nemesis, Kristin Cavallari — would be there too.
KRISTIN CAVALLARI: Producers kept me locked away in this little room downstairs. I think everyone was really, truly surprised, and that was fun. [The side eye they showed me giving Conrad] was all editing. I had no ill will.
LC: I needed to leave by a certain time because my boyfriend at the time [actor Kyle Howard] was premiering an indie film. And the power and generator went out in the church. The producers literally locked me in the basement with two security guards and wouldn’t let me leave! I was throwing a fit!
ADAM DIVELLO: We had Lauren in one room, Kristin in another. We didn’t want Lauren to see Kristin until we were on camera. She might have felt locked in, but she was not.
LC: I think it was two hours later when the wedding actually took place. When Kristin showed up, I thought, Oh, this makes sense. This is sort of the passing of the baton. I sat through the wedding and then I walked out the side doors. That’s why in the final scene I’m not leaving with everyone else.
Ads trumpeted, “The bitch is back.” And Cavallari dived into her new role. The MTV vet shook things up by embarking on showmances with both Brescia and ex-boyfriend Jenner.
KC: The money was the reason I did it. Producers gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’m glad I went back to [reality TV] because this time I looked at it strictly as a job, and I knew the character they wanted me to play.
FRANKIE DELGADO: She was a little firecracker! She would speak her mind and was just very fun.
AP: Producers had a bunch of different story lines for her. She was supposed to be the crazy, wild drama-starter. When she and Justin started fake-dating, the producers kept wanting me to fight with her over him, and I was like, “I’m not even with him!”
KC: I never saw Justin when we weren’t filming. He’s a really nice guy, but he’s not necessarily my type. I dated Brody when I was 18, right after Laguna Beach, but on The Hills, we didn’t actually date.
AD: We tried to tell the truest story we could. In our world [the romances] were organic. I can’t tell you what was going on with the kids outside of what they were telling us.
For all her willingness to play along, Cavallari bristled when the show aired an episode suggesting she had a problem with drugs.
KC: One of the producers bribed Lo, Audrina and Stephanie and promised them he would buy them presents if they called me out on camera for doing drugs. Then Lo said, “Can I have a Birkin bag?” And he said yes. She never ended up getting the Birkin. You need to get that s–t in writing! It ended with all of the girls and I, our managers, agents, producers and lawyers in a room. I was told it wasn’t going to be a story line, and sure enough, it was the first episode [of season 6]. Listen, I definitely had fun in my early twenties; I was never out of control.
Meanwhile, Montag’s new developments had viewers talking as well. Before season 6 started shooting, she had 10 plastic surgeries — including liposuction, a brow lift and a breast augmentation revision (to become a DDD).
LG: We found out after the fact. She did it without us knowing.
LB: We were horrified. In many ways we wanted to give her a huge hug.
KC: I thought it was sad. I think it’s one thing to create a story line and do stuff to a certain degree for attention, but I think that was really crossing the line. That being said, she 100 percent looked better in person. At the end of the day, to each their own.
Though Montag’s procedures were real, Pratt insists his increasingly erratic behavior was not. He picked fights with both Stephanie and Holly, and even told Holly that Montag mom Darlene Egelhoff “didn’t make Heidi. She’s just a vagina!”
HM: From season 3 on, everything with Spencer was completely scripted.
SP: We never lived in that fake apartment — Holly did! All those times you saw me complaining about how she was there all the time, she was! [I was worried] the show was getting canceled. Jersey Shore was coming up and they were peeing in bushes. The producers would tell me to do crazy stuff and I’d do it. It was a bummer thinking I wouldn’t be making millions eating lunch on camera. I’d say five percent reflected reality. We were good actors.
HM: Who were badly edited!
FACT OR FICTION?
On July 13, 2010, the series wrapped its sixth and final season with a wink at the is-it-real-or-scripted speculation: Cameras pulled back on Jenner, just after he’d said goodbye to a Europe-bound Cavallari, to show he was standing in a Hollywood backlot.
AD: The ending was something about the storytelling that I loved, just turning it on its ear and blowing people away.
KC: I could not have been happier. I thought it was really smart and also really validating for all of us.
AP: It’s tongue in cheek. There was so much speculation, and we weren’t allowed to say what was real and fake. It makes fun of the fact that no one will ever really, truly know.