Not counting Nathan‘s abduction by Russian basketball gangsters, the main antagonist on One Tree Hill this season has been Tara: Not only is she sleeping with both Chase and Chris Keller, but she’s also the owner of a rival cafe and puts up signs like “Karen’s Cafe hires murderers!” She keeps outdoing herself in bitchiness: She delights in getting goody-two-shoes Chase to help her cheat on her boyfriend Chris; she gave Brooke a cockroach-infested peace offering; and she left a note on Julian‘s car reading “Fry burgers, not your babies.”
And she’s only been on for three episodes! Tara is a sly, cruel woman who gets enjoyment out of manipulating others and causing trouble. Imagine my surprise, then, to recognize the actress playing her as former Disney star Chelsea Kane.
As we’re all well aware, young women who got their start on Disney shows have a difficult time transitioning to more adult roles. And yet, suddenly we have the girl who played Joe Jonas‘ girlfriend strut on-screen naked and seducing Chase. I’m not complaining at all—I think it’s fantastic that Chelsea can go from “sweet best friend” to “ruthless temptress.” But you can’t blame me for being surprised that she’s smoothly sidestepped any penis cakes, stoner rumors (coughMileyCyruscough), and rehab stays (ahemDemiLovatoahem).
What’s her secret? As far as I can tell, these are the steps that got her from Disney to dangerous without stumbling:
- Emphasize your brand apart from your roots: Since I’m too old for Disney’s current roster of stars, the first I heard of Chelsea was when she competed on Dancing with the Stars last season. She made it to third place, so viewers got a good long time to get to know her as the slim beauty shimmying around in beautiful outfits.
- Be patient: Usually by the time Disney girls have acted out and tried to appear more mature, the Mouse House is glad to be done with them. However, even after JONAS L.A. ended in 2010, Chelsea popped by the sketch show So Random! (basically Disney’s version of SNL) as herself. It’s not like she was in a rush to propel herself into more adult roles.
- Keep distance between your face and voice roles: One of Chelsea’s regular gigs is actually working on the Disney show Fish Hooks, but she wisely chose to stick with an animated show. That way, her voice is associated with the kid’s programming, but not her face. There’s less confusion of viewers seeing squeaky-clean Chelsea in one show and skanky Chelsea in another.
Chelsea was likely inspired to pop over to One Tree Hill because her boyfriend Stephen Colletti — yep, from Laguna Beach – plays Chase. But what also attracted her was the character of Tara: “I love that I get to work on different roles and not only stick to one side of the good and bad spectrum,” she wrote on her official website. “I always forget how interesting it is to play a ‘villain’ type character.” (She’s likely referring to her first big role, the mean-girl villain of the Bratz movie.)
“Why do you think [Tara's] that way, or anyone for that matter?” Chelsea added on her blog. “It’s too easy to just believe someone is truly ‘bad,’ there are always layers and reasons that make people behave the way they do.”
Last night’s episode had Chris and Chase choosing their friendship over the manipulative Tara and Brooke stealing all of her customers back, so it’s unclear if Chelsea will be returning for any more episodes. But even if that were her last hurrah, I want to applaud her for seamlessly moving from kids’ roles to adult ones without having to act out or embarrass herself.