Inside Amanda Bynes’ Private World: How She’s Staging Her Return to Hollywood
As tweets go, they were #basic. When Amanda Bynes logged onto her social media page in August of 2016 after a six-month hiatus, the messages she shared bordered on banal. She was swamped with classes at L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, she said, and had just made it through midterms. “I am really loving school and I feel that I am learning a lot,” she detailed in her first tweets since showing off a fresh haircut that February. “I enjoy all of my classes and my teachers are excellent.” In fact she was so focused on her studies, she said, “I don’t have time to tweet.”
Requesting that Drake you-know-what her vagina this was not. Bynes, who marks her 32nd birthday today, has come a long way since she rushed to share every thought that crossed her mind with her 3.2 million followers. (For the record, she’s said she was trying to be funny with her Drake missive, “but I was also on drugs.”) Nearly four years sober since her lowest point saw her placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold, the Thousand Oaks, California native is focused on working with a life coach—a source tells E! News their relationship “is productive and helpful,”—and completing her studies this fall. Explains the source, “She really wants to finish what she started at FIDM.”
And then, should all go to plan, return to her roots. Despite announcing her retirement in 2010 with—what else—a tweet declaring “I don’t love acting anymore, so I’ve stopped doing it,” the former child star revealed in an interview last June that she misses performing. “I have something surprising to tell you,” she teased in her chat with The Lowdown host Diana Madison, “I’m going to start acting again.”
Discovered at a Los Angeles children’s comedy camp as a grade-schooler, Bynes showed a natural gift for physical comedy when she began her six-year run on the Nickelodeon sketch show All That in 1996. “She is fearless,” former costar Kel Mitchell assessed of her skills in a February appearance on E!’s Daily Pop. As she scored her own spinoff, The Amanda Show, and collected roles in everything from What a Girl Wants to Hairspray, industry insiders praised both her comedic timing and her ability to avoid the Hollywood club scene that had waylaid other young stars.
“I’ve seen kids in her position experiment with drugs and be too promiscuous, but Amanda has avoided all that,” producer Dan Schneider asserted of the then-16-year-old in a 2002 New York Times profile that touted Bynes as a “proud product” of the Nick pipeline. “My wife, who knows her, says she’s almost like Marcia Brady in that she’s so clean-cut and wholesome.”
Turns out it was a part she played just a bit too well. As she was continuously cast as the uptight best friend (Hairspray) or the bubbly, somewhat goofy teen (What I Like About You) she reportedly grew resentful that she wasn’t scoring the more mature roles being offered to the likes of, say, Lindsay Lohan. “Everybody had her as a goody-goody. She couldn’t break out of that genre,” an unnamed executive explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “Her frustration was, ‘I could have played this role; I could have played that role. I’m not getting the Lindsay Lohan roles.'”
Of course at the time Lohan, just three months older, had racked up a handful of arrests for drunk driving and drug possession, while Bynes had made it a point to publicly eschew the type of wild behavior that could saddle her with a party girl rep. “I’m not that interested in the club scene and drinking doesn’t appeal to me so it’s actually easier for me not to do it. I have never been offered drugs,” she shared in a 2007 Showbiz Tonight interview that now feels just a tad ominous. “I’m surrounded by people who aren’t interested in that. Birds of a feather flock together and I definitely don’t fly with that crowd.”
But she was wiling to change course just a bit. In a seeming bid to take the shine off her straight-laced image, she told Cosmopolitan that, yes, she does drink occasionally—”I’m in that phase where I just want to have fun!”—and that she was looking to stun with a meaty, dramatic role. “I’d love to do something that would shock people, something that’s against type,” she said, adding, “I feel like people don’t know yet what I can really do.”
Two years later she posed in lingerie and a bellybutton ring for a February 2010 Maxim cover that proclaimed her “grown up & uncovered.” Inside, she shared her parents, former dentist Rick and former office manager Lynn, had asked if she’d be doing “sexy movies.” Her response, she said: “If they’re done the right way, then maybe!”
Her sultry campaign worked. That same month, she was tapped to play Paige, a provocative 21-year-old babysitter determined to seduce Owen Wilson, in the Farrelly brothers’ raunchy flick Hall Pass.
But when she showed up to the Atlanta set that spring—fresh off a traumatizing split from rapper-actor Kid Cudi—she was no longer the girl set insiders lauded as a consummate professional. (In The Hollywood Reporter profile, Morgan Creek Productions president David Robinson, a producer on Bynes’ 2007 comedy Sydney White, said the star “was always on time, worked hard and was great with the crew and the cast.”) One source told The Hollywood Reporter she hadn’t learned her lines. Another whispered to The Daily Beast that she was acting paranoid and scared. She was swiftly replaced by future Baywatch actress Alexandra Daddario with both camps blaming the switch-up on a scheduling conflict.
Months later, Bynes declared her retirement and instead of acting, began acting out. It started with a series of 2012 driving violating that ranged from merely troubling—that March she was pulled over for talking on her cell phone, but drove off before she was ticketed—to full-on alarming. In the first of three accidents, she ran her BMW into another car while trying to pass a police car at 3 a.m. When she refused a breathalyzer, she was arrested for a DUI. She followed up that performance with two consecutive hit-and-runs.
In the age of twitter, fans devoured every update in real time, with Bynes providing commentary of her own. As her missives grew increasingly concerning—in one, she asked President Barack Obama to fire the cop that arrested her; in another she told Rihanna ex Chris Brown “beat you because you’re not pretty enough—outlets began compiling lists of her wildest tweets.
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Bynes’ offline behavior ramped up as well. She locked herself in the dressing room of a West Hollywood boutique, then a New York City cupcake shop bathroom, she allegedly threw a bong out the window of her Midtown apartment in NYC and was placed on the first of two involuntary psychiatric holds (and under the conservatorship of her parents) after starting a fire in the driveway of a stranger’s California home and inadvertently dousing her Pomeranian in gasoline.
She did even more damage with her words. In a 2014 Twitter rant, she accused her dad of verbal and physical abuse, claiming, among other things, that he fondled himself in front of her. “He called me ugly as a child and then asked me if I wanted to have sex with him and I did not know how to respond and I said no and then I was forced to live with my dad which was a total nightmare,” she wrote. “My mom knows that my father’s literally and physically incestual towards his own daughter and the fact that she never called the police on him embarrasses me to no end.”
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Forced to respond, her mom called the accusations “absolutely horrible,” issuing a statement saying “These allegations stem from Amanda’s mental state at the moment.” And while Bynes recanted her claims a day later, her words did little to ease growing concerns. “My dad never did any of those things,” she wrote. “The microchip in my brain made me say those things but he’s the one that ordered them to microchip me.”
A month later, she boldly delivered a new diagnosis, tweeting she was suffering from both bipolar disorder and manic depression. And while it’s unclear her exact condition (her mom later refuted she was battling mental illness, and her lawyer Tamar Arminak would only confirm that didn’t have schizophrenia) her brave statement put a public face on an issue many battle privately.
With her final big reveal—and six months of residential treatment—behind her, Bynes set about resuming a more private existence. Arminak told People she was “devoted to living her life as healthy as possible.” To that end, she took up hiking and spin classes, she told Madison in her 2017 interview and feeding the homeless. Outside of that, an insider told E! News in 2015, “She is focusing on reading, yoga and reconnecting with her family.”
And her studies. By the fall of 2015 the creator of Steve & Barry’s fashion line Dear, had re-enrolled at FIDM. “I’ve learned how to sew, I’ve made patterns, and I want to start a clothing line in the future,” she explained to Madison, “so FIDM has been helping me with that.”
At the downtown L.A. institution, a source told E! News, the former straight-A student (she completed Thousand Oaks High School’s independent study program at age 16) keeps her head down. Though her long blonde locks and famous face make her easy to spot, “At school, Amanda doesn’t socialize,” says the insider. “She doesn’t want to be a distraction for the other students so she just keeps her head down, focuses on the work and sticks to herself.” And thanks to a fascination with the history of fashion, “She has been reading all sorts of materials on books about it for her own interest,” says the insider, “so that’s been keeping her busy.”
So busy, that she rarely finds time to tweet. Since her August 2016 progress report, she has only logged on three times — including once to refute a report that she was engaged and expecting.
With any luck, her next update will come with a tune-in. In his Daily Pop appearance, Mitchell indicated he’d be up for hosting a reunion on his Nickelodeon comedy series Game Shakers. “That would be awesome!” he said. “I love Amanda.” And the role would fit right in with her current plan. Bynes’ focus, she said, is to start on the small screen: “maybe a few guests spots on some shows that I’m a fan of,” she explained, “and maybe another TV show that I’m the star of it.”
For now, she’s keyed in on being the leading lady of her own successful existence. Having scrubbed her twitter clean of remnants from her toughest days, only 38 missives remain with perhaps the most telling coming in late 2014. “Stay true to who you are,” she wrote that November, adding a month later, “If you aren’t my friend at my worst, then you aren’t my friend at my best.”
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