The Light from the TV Shows: Shannen Doherty & Kurt Iswarienko – A Match Made in Reality-Show Heaven

Despite its title and its subject matter, “Shannen Says” – the new WEtv reality series in which Shannen Doherty plans her latest and, God willing, last wedding – isn’t just about Shannen Doherty. It’s also about her husband-to-be, photographer Kurt Iswarienko, who, to hear the couple tell it, earns as much focus on the show as his blushing bride. Granted, they may have been feeding me a bit of what I wanted to hear, since I began our encounter at the TCA Press Tour with the explanation that Bullz-Eye is very much a guy’s site, but they certainly spun their story well, ’cause I bought it. Or maybe I was somewhat swayed by having had a slight crush on Ms. Doherty since we were both in our teens. Either way, the conversation went swimmingly, and in addition to discussing their TV endeavor, I also got a bit of insight into Iswarienko’s photography, and by the end of it all, it was all “Wilford Brimley” this and “Jennie Garth” that, like we were old pals. Good times…

Bullz-Eye: Kurt, most guys have a tendency to view weddings as more of a means to an end rather than something to really get excited about, so I can’t imagine what it took to get you involved in a show that focuses on every single aspect of the wedding process.

Kurt Iswarienko: I agree with you that most guys probably share that sentiment. [Laughs.] The cool thing is that I didn’t have to deal with planning the wedding at all, because my job was to plan the honeymoon. And Shannen did the planning of the wedding. So it wasn’t any kind of hassle or nightmare at all to go into.

BE: Shannen, I’ve read the press release for the show, and this is obviously something that you’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, the definitive dream wedding.

Shannen Doherty: Yeah. Uh… [Long pause.] Yeah. [Laughs.] I’m not quite sure how to… [Another long pause.] Yes, since we’ve been engaged, we’ve sort of talked about, “Okay, we’re doing to do a wedding, we’re going to do it right,” and definitely this is. But I’m also not that girl who, from the time I was six, dreamed about having this fantasy dream wedding, or that I just had had had to get married.

BE: So how early did David Tutera come into the mix? Was he always going to be a part of it?

SD: You know, I think… [Hesitates.] He probably came into the mix pre-production, when, y’know, you’re sort of talking about the show and the wedding, and I had said to my executive at the time, “I think I’m going to hire a wedding coordinator, just because I need one, but also because while I’m working I need someone to take my vision and make it happen.” And then the network said, “Well, how about David?” And I said, “Uh, duh!” [Laughs.] “Great!” So he came on pretty much in pre-production, I guess. Pretty early on.

KI: That, and we spent a whole Sunday watching…

SD: …a “My Fair Wedding” marathon. [Laughs.]

KI: …a “My Fair Wedding” marathon. We both got sucked into it somehow, and we were, like, “Of course he’s the guy!”

BE: How has he been to work with? Does he throw things at you, or does he try to get you to brainstorm?

SD: I think what probably even David would say, because it was something we actually talked about, is that, on his show, the brides come to him and he goes, “No, no, no, your idea is awful, let me change it and make it mine.” And this was very different, because it wasn’t about a show. It was about an actual, real wedding, and I had a definitive vision, and there was no negotiating with me. None. And he didn’t even try, because that wasn’t his job. His job was to actually be a wedding coordinator. And a wedding planner and a wedding consultant. And that means you take the bride’s vision and you make it happen. It doesn’t mean that you look at her and say, “Your idea sucks.”

BE: It makes good TV, but not necessarily a good wedding, at least in the real world.

SD: Right. So he… I mean, maybe he… [Hesitates.] Maybe he hated all the ideas. But I think he liked them. And, you know, like I said, there was never any room for negotiations with what the wedding was going to be, the cover scheme, or anything else. This was always what I was going to do. But the wedding turned out great, and David was super helpful, and…I’m glad we did it.

KI: What, the marriage?

SD: [Laughs.] Yeah

KI: Okay, good.

BE: So it has to be asked: what do you think guys will get out of this show? Because surely they’ll be dragged kicking and screaming into watching it by their wives or significant others, but what do you think they’ll get out of it once they’re there?

SD: You know, I think it’s… [Hesitates.] Here’s what I’ve got to say about our show versus a lot of other shows that I think men will like: I realize we’re on a women’s network, but it’s definitely not a heavily female-slanted show. It is very evenly matched between the two of us, and it definitely shows a guy’s standpoint versus a woman’s standpoint, and…it’s honest. I think most women kind of don’t love these shows because they sit there rolling their eyes going, “Yeah, right, like that’s honest. Like that’s true. Like the guy really does that all the time.” I know I do that. So I’m assuming most people do that. [Laughs.] And with this show, you don’t roll your eyes. You never have that moment, because we made a deal with each other going in that, no matter what anybody else said or anybody else wanted, we were going to stay honest and truthful and authentic to who we are as individuals and in a relationship. So there’s not one fake moment in the show. [To Kurt.] But what do you think?

KI: Um, I think… You know, the extent of most guys’ opinion about women when it comes to these things is that water-cooler thing of, “They’re all the same, dude.” And then women say the same thing about men, and then nothing gets resolved. Why would a guy want to watch this show? Because they’ll see the two of us going through every problem that everyone else has, but there’s actual collaboration and resolution instead of problems, so there’s somewhere to go at the end of the day, as opposed to just throwing your hands up and saying, “Women are all crazy,” or, “Guys are all stupid,” or whatever.

SD: I mean, it’s not like we don’t have those moments. I mean, we both have those moments where we’re, like…well, you know.

KI: Yeah. And they’re going to see someone that’s significantly interesting, such as her, going through all the same shit that everyone goes through, and then me, who no one knows anything about, and I’m kind of like every guy in this occasion. And we’re working it out. We’re fighting sometimes, and we’re not fighting other times…it’s just relatable problems. It’s kind of a bit of a road map of what you could do to maybe not just walk away angry at the end of the day.

BE: Kurt, I know you said that Shannen handled all of the wedding plans, but given your line of work, surely you at least got to pick the photographer.

KI: For the wedding? Uh, no, I did not.

BE: Really? I would’ve figured that you’d have some pretty specific ideas about what kind of shots you’d want to have taken.

KI: I did not get to choose. In fact, there was someone else that I wanted, but…

SD: [Talking over Kurt.] You have to remember…

KI: It’s true! [Laughs.]

SD: …that the only reason why Kurt and I actually know each other is because I’ve been doing this for a really, really long time, and I have always handpicked my photographers who work with me. So I like to say that I have a very good eye… [Looks at Kurt and smiles.] …and the magazine that we met on, I had photographer approval. And I picked him. So, naturally, when it comes to a wedding…first off, the wedding is the woman’s event. It’s not the man’s. And it was, like, “Well, if I picked you for that shoot and made the right decision, not only in how beautiful the pictures turned out, not only in how talented you are as a photographer, but you became my husband…” I think I can pick the photographer for the wedding.

BE: That seems fair.

SD: Yeah! [Laughs.]

KI: Although I ended up in a relationship with you, so…we wouldn’t want that to happen with the wedding photographer, now, would we?

SD: [Incredulous.] It wouldn’t… [Starts laughing.] Where did you even…

KI: Well, you’re drawing comparisons between photographers and how great you are at picking them, so… [Looks at her face.] I’m joking.

SD: [Stares at him.] You’re weird.

KI: So are you.

SD: You are so strange… [Laughs.]

BE: Okay, well, as long as I’ve turned the conversation to photography, I’m curious, Kurt, who some of your influences are. Because, I mean, I looked at some of your stuff online and…well, don’t let this go to your head, but it seemed like maybe there was some Anton Corbijn there.

KI: Oh, for sure. I’ll openly admit that. I grew up first listening to U2 records, so I discovered Anton Corbijn through that, and, y’know, when you start looking at a lot of other photography, you realize that guys like Anton Corbijn are completely unique and talented beyond any comprehension. So I for sure am heavily inspired by him. And others like him.

BE: How do you go about deciding on the setting or theme of the photo you’re taking?

KI: I…I dunno. Photos, I think, they just kind of end up creeping in on you when you’re with the person you’re photographing. You know, you just try to set up an environment that’s honest and conducive and free of any kind of pretense, and then if you’re lucky enough to get a good moment, then you can lock yourself in a dark room for a week and photo-shop and give it whatever else you want to give it. But if you don’t have the moment to begin with, you don’t have anything.

BE: Has there been any photo that you’ve taken where you thought, “This is one I want to be remembered for”?

KI: Well, I don’t know about that, but the ones that are great, the ones that end up having “legs,” if you like, it’s very obvious when you see it. You just kind of… Shannen’s actually an amazing editor of my photos, and I’m sure of anyone else’s photos, but some of my best stuff, she’s actually put the story together. I shoot a lot, and I’m not good at editing my own stuff, but she’s very good. She’s got a very sharp eye. She’s a good photographer, too.

SD: [Sweetly.] Thanks.

KI: Well, what do you do badly? [Laughs.]

BE: Shannen, I’ve got a standard question that I ask every actor: what’s your favorite project you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

KI: Oh, that’s a good question…

SD: That’s a very good question. Hmmmmm. That didn’t get the kind of love it deserved… I don’t really know, ‘cause I think many of my favorite projects, like “Heathers” and “Charmed” and “Mallrats” probably got a lot of love. I think… [Long pause.] You know, I did a miniseries called “Gone in the Night” for CBS, and although it did excellent excellent excellent in the ratings, I don’t necessarily know that it got the recognition that it deserved. It was Dixie Carter and Ed Asner, and, you know, when you’re working with those two, you kind of can’t go wrong. You know, they’re sort of at the top of their game. They’re truly talented…or “were,” in Dixie’s case…people. I mean, Ed Asner? It’s, like, gimme a break.

KI: He’s a legend.

SD: Seriously. I mean, he’s Ed Asner. Every second you’re in his presence, you’re, like, “What can I learn from you? What can I soak up from you?” And he’s just so nice, and so giving as an actor. And Dixie…she was an amazing Southern woman, and I’m from the South, and she was also fantastic. And really thorough, I think, as an actor. She really thought out what she was doing. And for me, who’s a little bit more spontaneous, it was interesting to watch that. I learned a lot from it and took some of what she did, and I’ve ingrained it in my process now a little bit. So that for me was an amazing project to work on, and I’m not sure it got quite the love that it should’ve.

BE: I don’t know if it’s underrated or overrated, but I have very fond memories of watching “Our House.”

SD: Oh, yeah!

BE: Our whole family used to watch it together, in fact.

SD: That’s so funny. I got a phone call from Wilford (Brimley). Actually, it was when we were filming the show. And he was seeing if I would want to do, like, a…I don’t even know what, really. I don’t if they’re talking about having the family come back in sort of a new, updated special where it’s, like, “What did Chris Witherspoon do?” [Laughs.] Or if it’s just for a sit-down talk for the cast. It’s something, but I’m not quite sure what. But I was, like, “If you’re involved, I’m there.”

BE: Did you see him on Craig Ferguson’s show?

SD: No!

BE: Oh, he was fantastic.

SD: When was he on?

KI: We’re gonna have to go YouTube it.

BE: He was clearly there solely because Craig Ferguson just wanted to talk to him. He had nothing to promote whatsoever, and he seemed utterly confused as to why Craig Ferguson would want to talk to him, but they chatted for maybe ten minutes, and I don’t know that anything he said was more than a sentence or two in length, and they were never very lengthy.

SD: Yeah, that’s Wilford. [Laughs.]

BE: But he was still awesome. And I don’t know if you watch the show, but at the end of a guest’s segment, Craig gives them the choice of winning a big cash prize, doing an awkward pause, or playing the mouth organ. Well, Wilford goes for the mouth organ, then proceeds to go on a mad harmonica solo, at which point Craig awards him the Gold Harmonica.  

SD: Oh, I so have to watch this. [Laughs.] Wilford is… It’s not surprising to me that Wilford gave very short sentences. He doesn’t elaborate a lot. He’s a man of few words. But when he does speak, it’s definitive and it’s about something. You know, he’s old school. Seriously old school. And he is awesome.

BE: I think the perfect encapsulation of the interview came when Craig was asking Wilford about his ranch, and Craig says, “Oh, what kind of horse do you have?” “Brown.” And that was it. End of discussion.

SD: [Laughs.] Yep. You know, he gave me a brown horse.

KI: He did?

SD: Yeah. Brownie. One of my first horses. I’ve had two men give me horses. Wilford was one, and the other was R.D. Hubbard, who used to own Hollywood Park (Racetrack). He gave me a black stallion. Because “The Black Stallion” was one of my favorite movies, and I was, like, “I want a black stallion so bad!” So he gave me a black stallion.

BE: Lastly, as far as “90210” goes, did you enjoy the episodes that you did, and will we ever see you on the show again?

SD: I…thoroughly enjoyed coming back and doing it. It was…it’s definitely a different show now, I think, that when I was on it and when Jennie (Garth) was on it. It was different producers at the time. You know, for me it was great because it was… I think the best part was sort of the fans, and doing something to say “thank you” for fans being so incredibly loyal. And my fans are the best. They’re very loyal. Also, it was very interesting to come back as adults and work again with Jennie, especially since…well, you know, it’s no secret that we weren’t exactly friends on the original “90210.” But we’re friends now, and to sort of look at each other and for me to go, “Oh, man, I’m so stupid,” and for her to go, “I can’t believe I said something so mean about you,” we were looking at each other and going, “You know, I actually like you. You’re actually cool.” [Laughs.] I think it’s just such a commentary on, when you’re 18 and thrown into that kind of situation versus when you’re older and more mature, what happens. You always give people a second chance.