Paris Hilton: socialite, reality star, DJ, occasional musician, and, she would like people to know, much more timid than her public persona would have you believe.
“I’m a very naturally shy person so I always get a little bit shy — especially actually being myself and not playing the character and speaking in my normal voice,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in a quiet hotel ballroom. It’s January, and the 39-year-old heiress is promoting her new YouTube documentary This Is Paris. The film was originally scheduled to come out earlier in 2020, but like so many other projects it was delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, it’ll be released nine months later, on Sept. 14. Hilton promises to reveal deep, dark secrets about her childhood trauma, but on a TCA panel that day in January she refuses to go into detail about what, exactly, she’s referring to. (Closer to the release, she divulges that she experienced traumatic abuse at a boarding school in Utah as a teen.) She does promise, however, that she’ll get a little more real than the ditzy blonde persona she’s played since starring in riches-to-rags reality series The Simple Life with then-bestie Nicole Richie in 2003. It’s an act, and we’ve all been played.
“I think if people actually know me, or they get me, that they’ll understand that,” Hilton tells THR. “But then there’s other people that just want to be judgmental and have a lot of misconceptions and assume that’s who I’m so I like when people actually understand [that] obviously I know what I’m doing.”
Hilton is 10 minutes late when she finally makes it to the interview, a cold glass of apple juice waiting for her on the table. She sips it as the cameraman who’s been trailing her attaches a mic to her top and begins filming. It’s for her personal YouTube channel, she says, and sure enough, a day later this reporter (along with many others she spoke with that day) will pop up in a promo video about all the promotion she’s doing for the documentary, which is also being released on her YouTube channel. She also asks to take selfies, picking the filter and snapping the photos herself on this reporter’s phone. It’s all very meta.
On the panel that morning, she tells TV critics that she’s been playing a character for decades now. That tracks with her performance a few minutes later, when she’s brought on stage to participate in a gross-out magic trick David Blaine is performing for some reason. Her reaction to the bizarre spectacle? A deadpan “that’s hot,” her trademark phrase.
But how much of herself is she willing to reveal?
In the documentary, plenty — including her much-talked-about “sex tape” (which, if released in 2020, would’ve been immediately dismissed as revenge porn). In person? Not as much. She’s well-practiced in hitting her talking points, though she does discuss the direct line that can be drawn between present-day influencers and how she and Richie were able to parlay their own fame into a lucrative career. Read on for Hilton’s reflection on her 17 years in the public eye, plus the two most ridiculous rumors she’s ever heard about herself.
Why did you decide that now was the time to show “the real you”?
I just feel that I’ve been portraying and playing this character from the beginning, with Simple Life, and that’s basically who the public got introduced to was that character. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not that way at all. And also, I’ve gotten to know myself so much more. Because when you are on reality TV and having to play this character, you kind lose yourself, almost. So I don’t know. At some point in my life I was just looking back on all of it. It was so much fun and it was part of building my brand and everything, but I also know that there’s a lot of young women and men who look up to me and I don’t want to be remembered as that. I want to be an inspiration and a businesswoman. Back then it was cute and fun to play that character, but now I really want to be an inspiration and be inspiring in a different way.
At the time of the Simple Life, what you were doing didn’t necessarily exist yet. Now becoming an influencer is a legitimate career path, but at that time it wasn’t necessarily the case. Did you recognize that could be something you could turn into a career, or did you just view it as something fun to try?
We were just having fun. Simple Life was the first of its kind. There was nothing like it out. So when Nicole and I started doing this, it wasn’t like we were planning anything. It was just, like, let’s have fun with this. Let’s be as entertaining as possible. We just want to say things — like, “what is Wal-mart?” Obviously, I love Wal-mart. I’ve been there. But I knew that that would be something funny for people to see. So there was a lot of things that I would do. Obviously, I wouldn’t be like that today. I think it was just something that got created and then people then thought that that was really who I was. But I feel like there’s so much more to me and I have a lot more to say. I feel like everything in life happens for a reason and I was put here for a reason. And that reason I want to be is someone who’s an inspiration, a businesswoman, working hard, having a good heart, being kind, being real. And even with my fans, they call themselves my Little Hiltons, we have such a close relationship where I feel that I’m their big sister and they’re all part of this whole family. I just want to finally show people that what they thought of me is not who I am.
Did you reach a point where you were tired of it? What was the turning point?
Playing that character is something that I just got used to because I just do it and I am a very shy person. So doing that made me feel not as shy because I’m like, this isn’t really me. My mom always says, “you guys reminded me of the new I Love Lucy,” just how she was playing a character. It’s hard to describe but over even just the past year of shooting this film, I discovered so many things about myself. I don’t even think that I even knew who I completely was up until this year, which is weird to say. But when you are in this industry and constantly having to be in front of the camera and do all of that you kind of — I don’t know, not forget who you are, but it just becomes a lot. And I’ve come to a point in my life where I have built such a huge business, a huge empire and have worked so hard, and I don’t want to be known as a ditzy blonde because that’s nothing what I’m like. I’m the exact opposite of that. So now, especially at 2020 I feel so excited for a new decade and to show who I truly am.
The trailer mentions that you confront trauma in this film. Is it something you uncovered while doing a lot of therapy, or is it something you just thought about while being introspective and looking into yourself for this documentary?
I’ve been through a lot and I’ve been through a lot of very traumatic experiences that people can’t even imagine. I’ve never discussed it with anyone, like literally no one, not my family, not my friends. Things I talk about in this film are things that nobody knows. People, when they see the film, are going to see and I think understand me and how it shaped the woman that I am today because of those experiences that I went through.
You mention something about being taken. Can you talk about that?
That part people have to watch the movie and they’re going to see. I’ve been through a lot, but that was probably one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve been through in my life. I don’t want to discuss it now, I want people to watch the film and see because it’s hard to even describe so they have to really see it to see what exactly happened. When I look back on it now it seems like it’s a movie. I can’t believe this really happened to me. I can’t believe this is real life. But it actually really did happen to me and doing this film I didn’t realize that going through those experiences shaped how I became. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe, but it was a very, very hard time.
You’re one of the first very public instances of revenge porn and a woman being publicly violated in a way that is a lot more common now, and it’s also treated very differently now. Is that something you touch on in the film? I imagine it’s something that you’ve thought about particularly with #MeToo becoming a movement.
This film, we talked about everything. There was nothing that was off-limits. So, yes, that is discussed and you know, if that would have happened today, it would have been a completely different situation. Back then they almost made [it seem] like I was the villain and I was the bad person when it wasn’t me. I feel like if that happened today it would be such a different situation. Being a young girl and having something like that so private come out and for people to make fun of me for that was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced in my life. And I’m proud now in this time, in this day and age, that there is the Me Too movement and that it is spoken about in a different way. Because I didn’t get the [opportunity] to experience in that way. Like today, it would not be like that. So I’m happy that people are finally realizing that.
The Simple Life was definitely the beginning of a specific type of reality show. Have you thought about the fact that it’s evolved into such a powerful genre that there are entire networks that essentially just air that kind of show?
Yeah, of course. All the time when I see my different friends or influencers or reality stars or anyone who’s in this business, they’ve all said, “I’m obsessed with Simple Life. I grew up watching it, you inspired me to do what I do.” So it makes me feel proud to have started a whole new genre of celebrity, basically. And now it’s amazing with social media. Back then I didn’t have any of that, so for people to make a brand and a business off of doing what I did and developing a formula and blueprint and paving the way — I’ve always loved to be a pioneer. I’ve always felt like I’ve been ahead of my time. Back then, it was so new and no one had ever done it before. So now to see just so many people doing it and following in my footsteps. I just feel like, I don’t know, the O.G. [Laughs.]
Once this film comes out and people can see, you know, the real you or whatever, how do you think that’ll change what you’re doing or how people see you?
I think people are going to finally realize that I’m not this cartoon character or Barbie doll that they thought, but I’m actually a human being who has feelings and depth. I might have always portrayed this perfect, happy life, but I’ve actually been through a lot. Especially coming from the Hilton family, everyone assumes everything was handed to me. And in this film, you can see that that’s not the case at all, that I’ve worked so hard for everything that I’ve achieved in life. I think when you see the film you can really understand just how much goes into it. It’s not all glamour and all that, there’s a lot that goes into it. And it’s also a lonely life sometimes to be traveling 250 days a year and to be away from your family and your friends and always in foreign countries by myself, basically. There’s a lot of times where I really speak about that, so I think people are going to understand me more and see the misconceptions and not be so judgmental and hopefully love me for the girl I am because I have such a huge heart and I really feel that I was put here to spread light and love.
What is the weirdest rumor you’ve heard about yourself?
Oh my goodness. There’s so many rumors, it’s hard to even think. One rumor was that Tinkerbell was not the original Tinkerbell. Everyone thought that it was a different dog every time. I was like no, Tinkerbell was with me for 16 years and when she passed away it was literally like losing my best friend, my sister, my daughter. She was just my everything. So that’s a rumor that annoyed me because everyone thought that it was a different chihuahua. But there it wasn’t. She’s the O.G. chihuahua.
Have you heard about the conspiracy theory online that you restore vintage radios?
I heard that rumor too and I don’t even — like, I’ve never seen a vintage radio. I don’t know who made that up. But I guess people love to make up stories about me. Yeah, it’s just another example. But it’s so random. [Deadpan] “Yeah, I really collect vintage radios.” [Laughs.] That’s another really weird rumor too. I have no idea how they even thought about that because I’ve never seen or touched a vintage radio in my life.