Not so long ago the Disney company got very excited about an up-and-coming star. She seemed to be a perfect fit for the firm – not only could she write, she could act as well, and perhaps most importantly she held a strong appeal for teenagers, a key demographic group. But then suddenly, her bright future unraveled as a huge lie was exposed.
Her name was Riley Weston – although she had been through other names. And when embarking on her career as a writer-actress she might well have assumed a little white lie never hurt anyone. After all, Hollywood and the surrounding industries are made up of people who do in fact lie for a living.
Was it really so bad that Weston lied about something to get a job? Well, the intricacies of her story are still discussed today, because she ended up playing for some pretty high stakes. Disney was involved when the lie was uncovered of course, but she had also worked with the famous J.J. Abrams. And no, he wasn’t impressed.
Of course, there are plenty of actors who told fibs when they were first starting out. Take Mila Kunis, for example. When she tried out for the part of Jackie on That ’70s Show, she learned that all the actors had to be 18 or over. So she claimed she was about to turn that age, when in actual fact she was a mere 14 years old.
And Kunis’s lie paid off. Even when the show’s producers found out how old their Jackie really was, they decided to keep her on anyway. These days, Kunis is a popular movie star and mega-rich, not to mention married to her That ’70s Show co-star Ashton Kutcher. Without that little lie she might never have met him.
You could also ask Eddie Redmayne about lying to get a job. In 2015 he revealed to Conan O’Brien on his TV chat show that upon being cast for the miniseries Elizabeth I he’d been asked if he could ride a horse. He immediately said “Yes!” although in actual fact he couldn’t. That lie quickly came out, luckily in a hilarious manner.
Redmayne told O’Brien, “I was always taught that whenever you’re in doubt at an audition, say yes. But I hadn’t been taught that if you say yes and it’s a lie make sure in the couple of weeks before filming you have elementary training; whatever it is!” But alas, Weston’s lie was something for which she couldn’t have trained. And it didn’t turn out as well as those other ones.
What was Weston’s back story? Well, she’d had a fairly normal childhood, it seemed. Journalists did some digging once her mendacity had been exposed and discovered she attended Arlington High School in New York. There she’d lived the teenage dream of being both a cheerleader and the girl voted “Most Popular.”
Weston herself has said she was a tomboy in her early years, so it seemed she’d lived a wide variety of teenage experiences. Before residency in the Big Apple she grew up a small-town girl, living near Poughkeepsie, New York and enjoying the outdoor lifestyle. Ahead of moving to the city she spent her time water-skiing, boating, camping and fishing.
And she didn’t have the name Riley Weston during that idyllic childhood. She was actually born Kimberlee Elizabeth Seaman – and the youngster had no greater desire than to be an actress. As she grew up and moved to New York City she began pursuing that dream with single-minded relentlessness.
People who’d known Weston in her early life spoke out after the story about her broke. In 1999 a staff member at her high school told Cosmopolitan magazine, “Kim was a friendly, outgoing girl who was very well-liked by everyone. I can’t imagine that she would ever scheme the way the papers have accused her of doing.”
But Weston really wanted to be a star. During her time in New York she would cold-call on casting agents and hand over photos of her smiling face for their files. Deciding that her original name wasn’t catchy enough, she changed it to Kimberlee Kramer. She managed to nab herself a bit of commercial work and small roles, and in between those jobs she would babysit to earn money.
You can spot the name “Kimberlee Kramer” in the credits of some older sitcoms and movies. Weston appeared in TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun and Who’s the Boss?, in comedy flick Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and more. But in lots of these she was credited as no more than “Classroom Kid” or “Girl #1.”
Then came Weston’s big break. The WB channel was creating a new show for young people, Felicity. Future Star Trek and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams was among the roster of executive producers, as was the already-famous film director Ron Howard. It was the late ’90s, and shows delving into teenage life were very much in vogue.
Felicity starred Keri Russell in the title role, plus Scott Speedman and Scott Foley as her love interests. And it was a success right off the bat. Upon its premiere in 1998 Variety magazine called it “an emotive tour de force that can’t help but stand as this fall’s Dawson’s Creek, roping in teens by the bucketful.”
And if you want to rope teens into your show, what better way of doing that than to hire teens for the writing room? That was how Weston’s fortunes suddenly changed. She had already been sending around a pilot script about teenagers: that tale wasn’t taken up, but it got WB’s attention and it wanted her for Felicity.
Weston started work on the show and she quickly found friends there. Everyone she met assumed she was just an ordinary kid. In 1998 one Felicity staffer would describe Weston to Entertainment Weekly magazine thus, “Sweet, charming, a little needy, and searching for approval.” Or that’s how she seemed, at least.
The staffer also considered that Weston “spoke the language” of Felicity and so it certainly seemed. She was into all the same stuff that appeared to be the obsessions of every teenager at the time. She wore baggy jeans, had a Titanic poster on her wall, and celebrated with her new friends on set when her 19th birthday party rolled around.
Suddenly things were really going places for Weston. In 1998 she was named one of the “100 Most Creative People in Entertainment” by Entertainment Weekly. In the interview for that piece Weston said, “In many ways, I am Felicity. So I hope to portray this generation in a realistic light.”
Weston got to act on the show as well. In episode eight of Season One, titled “Drawing the Line II” – which she co-wrote with J.J. Abrams – she played a high school student who turned up at Felicity’s place at a very inopportune time. In a weird case of fiction imitating life, her character’s name was “Story.”
It seemed like Weston was finally getting the career of which she’d dreamed. She’d already been featured in a major magazine and now major players were reaching out to her. Disney’s Touchstone Television got in touch and signed her to a $500,000 contract. Not only did she stand to be famous, she was likely to get rich as well. Everything was within Weston’s grasp – and then it all came crashing down.
The same year Weston had been featured in Entertainment Weekly’s Most Creative list, the magazine also reported her downfall. Something big had been discovered. Weston had gotten her writing job on the basis of being a teenager, had played a teenager on Felicity… but she wasn’t one. She was, in fact, very much an adult.
Ironically, the revelation had come about partly because of her sudden success. The WB had suggested Entertainment Tonight visit the Felicity set to do a story on their exciting new “teenage” wunderkind. But before they could publish anything, someone contacted the TV show with a crucial piece of inside information.
Weston has never named who that someone was. But in 2007 during an interview with blogger Luke Ford she said, “There was a woman I worked with for four years before I started working a lot as an actor and writer, she decided it was in her best interest, after reading about a deal I got with Touchstone, to tell everybody about my age.”
And suddenly the media had a massive story on their hands. Journalists called up Weston’s manager Brad Sexton, but he wasn’t talking. Plenty of people were falling over themselves to share their grievances over the deception, though. For example, producer Kristi Kaylor told Variety magazine, “In negotiations, her attorney said, ‘Please don’t stand in the way of this poor 18-year-old’s career.’ She conned everybody.”
Weston quickly released a statement. She told the media, “It’s been an accepted practice for actresses to lie about their age, especially in instances where they are always asked to play younger. I adopted an age appropriate for my physical appearance, never imagining I would one day become a writer.”
But then she added, “I could not be one age in the acting world and another in the writing world, so I chose to maintain the ruse. In a business fraught with age bias, I did what I felt I had to do to succeed.” It seemed that she was laying the blame at Hollywood ageism. And she also denied any “purposeful deception.″
People in Weston’s inner circle had been helping her maintain the lie, it turned out. Her mother Betsy had known what was going on and had, well, kept mum. And then there was the case of her manager Brad Sexton. He wasn’t just her manager… he was her husband as well.
The Weston-Sexton story was a confusing one, it turned out. She had met him in 1993 and married him not long afterwards. Then they had apparently split, but remained friends and she’d hired him as her manager. Whether they were actually legally divorced or not seemed to be a matter of debate, as Weston had reportedly told people different things.
As the story continued to go around, Weston gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly and apologized for what she’d done. She said, “I misled a lot of people and that was very wrong,” and mentioned that when the “19th” birthday party was thrown for her she “didn’t feel good about it.”
Entertainment Weekly indicated that Weston had left the show because her option was up, she hadn’t been specifically fired. But the firm behind Felicity, Imagine Television, wasn’t happy either way. It released a statement to the media saying, “We trusted her as a colleague and are saddened by her dishonesty.”
J.J. Abrams spoke about the whole disaster at PaleyFest in 1999. He said, “It’s very weird when you talk to someone and you think they’re much younger than you – and then you learn that they’re two months your junior – and you’re like, ‘Wait, you watched the lunar landing? You were alive when Star Wars came out?’”
It was all over for Weston. There was no more Felicity, no more deal with Disney, and the media was relentlessly slamming her. Her mother Betsy told Entertainment Weekly that her daughter was crying all the time. But Sexton told the same publication, “She’s so driven, more driven than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
He wasn’t wrong. Once the story died down, Weston began putting her career back in order. In 1999 she played herself in an episode of Beggars and Choosers, telling the story of the scandal that had taken over her life. After that she did various small roles in television movies.
And then she became a published novelist as well. In 2006 her first novel, Before I Go, was released. It was all about another one of her interests, ice-skating… and not only was the main character a teenage girl, but Weston planned to play said teenager herself in a movie version.
In her 2007 interview with Luke Ford, Weston talked about that project, and said, “I want to star in it. I wrote it. I wrote the book. I wrote the future soundtrack… It’s not about me playing a 17-year old. That’s what I just did last week. The roles I play are all around that age range.”
Weston seems to have thoroughly bounced back these days. She moved to Nashville and began working as a country music singer – and yes, she was successful. As a writer she’s done pretty well for herself as well. In addition to getting Before I Go published, she’s written scripts for Hallmark movies.
On her Twitter account Weston describes herself thus, “Country artist/songwriter. Actress. TV/screenwriter. Award winning author. Moonshine and whiskey drinker. Lover of cookie dough and my dog Joe Bob. Miracle believer.” And at least at first glance, she seems to be perfectly happy with the way her life has turned out.
But does she have any regrets? Her 2007 interview with Luke Ford indicates that she would never try and deceive people again. The experience, she said “taught me a lot about the business of Hollywood, which I had no idea [of] before this happened. It’s nasty. It can be cruel. It can be unfortunate. It can be full of lies. Me included. I lied. I’m the first one to take responsibility for that.”
Weston perhaps summed up the whole story when she said in the interview, “I’d like to think I’m a decent person who’d never hurt anyone and to go through that and be made a spectacle of was not what I intended. I just wanted to work. If you’re in this business, that’s what you’re thinking. Most do whatever they have to do to make that a reality.” But she went further than most.