It’s a little hard to believe Christel Khalil (Lily) when she tells you that she’s a typical teen. Sure, she’s got the gift for gab, her finger on the pulse of the hottest in music and fashion and lights up like a Christmas tree when she talks about her gal pals and her boyfriend (her first, by the way). But when the talk comes to show biz and her role as troubled teen Lily, which garnered the up-and-comer an Emmy nomination at 16, this little girl is all grown up.
Since her daytime debut in 2002, Khalil has guided Lily through some seriously traumatic experiences: statutory rape by an Internet predator, an STD and being slipped a date-rape drug and lapsing into a coma. “I have no idea why she is a victim,” ponders Khalil. “I don’t understand how she could be, being raised by her mother who is a strong person herself. It’s funny because I do portray Lily as being a strong character. The nicest compliment I got came from one of our crew members after we did the scene where Lily tells her parents she had sex for the first time. This woman came to me and said it reminded her of how it was with her parents. That made me feel so good.”
What doesn’t make her feel good are the critics who are skeptical about the 5-feet-3-inch actress’s petite frame. “People look at me and say I look anorexic or bulimic,” she shares as she wolfs down a huge pasta salad during our lunch interview, while awaiting an apple crisp for dessert. “I remember reading Brittany Murphy talking about that. No one would every say, ‘Wow, you’re fat!’ It’s just as detrimental to your health, being told you’re too skinny. If somebody tells you that all the time, you’ll think, ‘Wow, I really am.’ People follow me to the bathroom to see how I stay so skinny!”
Khalil credits her ability to juggle the pages of adolescence with a demanding full-time job to her solid family life. She shares a home with her three older brothers, Adam, Alex and Chris, and three dogs, Rocky, Simba and Mica. But it’s her mother, Belita, to whom Khalil credits her personal and professional success. “My folks are divorced, so I have a very close relationship with my mom,” she explains. “If I could be half the woman she is, I’d be pretty well off. She is so strong, so smart, so savvy. She comes off as being really quiet, but she’s a tiger. I tell her everything. She’s my anchor.”
Her on-screen mom provides the same grounding. “When I first came on the show, Victoria [Rowell, Drucilla] took me under her wing,” she smiles. “The same with Kristoff [St. John, Neil]. They’re always so supportive. If I ever needed anything, I could always come to them and ask and they would help me.”
She’ll need that support system as her star continues to rise, if the ladies’ room stalkings (not to mention Emmy nomination) are any indication. But Khalil is tough enough to take all the attention — negative and positive — in stride. “I like being in the spotlight,” she grins. “I don’t like it on a personal level, but I like going to events and walking down the red carpet, getting to meet celebrities and going to premieres. And gift bags are always good,” she giggles.
Spoken like a typical teenager … until that underlying resolve surfaces again. “Everyone always asks me what I’m going to do if acting doesn’t work out, but I know it’s going to because it’s something I want to do,” she insists. “I do plan on going to college, but if it interferes with my career, I’d put it off for a bit. My mom always said that I could quit at any time, but I never wanted to because I loved it so much. And still do.”
Sounds like 16 going on 30 to us.
Malcolm In The Middle
While the Winters Family is a tight-knit bunch, that picture of domestic bliss may be shattered with the return of Shemar Moore as Lily’s Uncle Malcolm. It was a decade ago that Mal slipped into bed with a doped-up Dru, and nine months later, Lily was born. Could Malcolm be Lily’s father?
“It would be a great story to find out that Lily’s dad [Neil] is not her [biological] dad,” Khalil enthuses. “Although he is in every other sense of the word. [As of press time] I’ve never met Shemar. He was gone before I came on, but everyone raves about him, saying what a sweet guy he is. I’m really excited to meet him and work with him.”
Just The Facts:
Birthday: November 30
Does She Know Lily’s Middle Name? “Amanda. What do you mean, ‘Do I know?’ ”
Education Station: “I’m homeschooled. Right now I’m in my last year. I’m in 12th grade.”
Trading Space: “I’m redoing my room right now. My walls are purple. The carpet is green. Everything’s going to be darker. I’ve had enough of light interiors.”
True Brit: “I think Britney Spears is so adorable. I don’t care what anyone says about her — they’re just jealous. She is a little messed up, but that’s okay. Everyone’s messed up.”