Graduating from Q.C. to ‘90210'

Jessica Stroup didn't care much about “Beverly Hills, 90210” when it first aired in 1990. At 4 years old, she was more interested in watching “Rugrats” on Nickelodeon.

By her tween years, Stroup was sneaking behind her strict Southern parents' backs to watch the iconic primetime teen soap with friends.

“They didn't want their little girl watching, you know, possible abortions on TV,” she recalls, laughing.

Now 21, Stroup claims the famous ZIP code as her own. The Providence High School graduate plays a key character on the new “90210,” which premiered last Tuesday on the CW. Close to 5 million people – a near-record number for the network – tuned in to watch one of the most anticipated TV shows of the fall season.

“There has been so much hype and so much press to do that I literally am just rolling with it and enjoying it and trying to soak it all in,” Stroup says.

She has been working just four years to get to this point, starting with the tough decision to defer a scholarship to the University of Georgia and move to Los Angeles at 17.

“(After) many talks with my parents … I made the leap,” Stroup says.

Modeling gigs and commercials (her first national ad was for Dentyne Ice gum) helped pay the bills her first two years in L.A.

Her natural talent, drive and focus played well with studio executives, and Stroup soon began earning higher-profile work. She played a patient on ABC's “Grey's Anatomy” in 2007 and landed a major role in “Prom Night,” a horror flick that debuted No. 1 at the box office in April.

Stroup's rising star in Hollywood comes as no surprise to Paula Dean, her former film and TV teacher at Providence.

Dean remembers taking Stroup and other film students to Los Angeles on a school field trip.

“Jessica came back and I remember her saying, ‘Miss Dean, I'm gonna go there. I'm gonna go.' And I said, ‘I have no doubt,'” Dean recalls.

Her mother, Judy Stroup, says that when Jessica was little, she “would stand on the hearth and do little plays with her friends and sing. She was always in the middle. She always wanted to be an actress.”

It was Judy Stroup who accompanied her daughter to Los Angeles a week after Jessica graduated in 2004, living with her for the first five months as she got settled. She made a return trip to L.A. last month, this time to celebrate her daughter's new role at the “90210” launch party.

On the show, Stroup plays Silver, the main character's best friend and the author of a video blog that skewers her rich classmates at West Beverly High.

“It's honestly the most fun character I've gotten to play,” she says.

And what do her parents think of their daughter's new role on a TV show they used to ban?

Judy and husband Don, a senior vice president at Wachovia, had a viewing party at their south Charlotte home last week for the premiere.

“We're just so excited for her,” Judy Stroup says, “and we wish we were there.”