“When the cameras are on, I always turn into someone else.” So declares Paris Hilton toward the beginning of her YouTube Originals documentary This is Paris, out today (September 14). 

The implication—that the OG influencer has been playing a dramatized version of her real self since she first bedazzled a cell phone—is the central motif of the doc, which explores everything from her infamous sex tape to the trappings of being the first reality TV star to some intense emotional unpacking of childhood trauma rendered at a reform school in Utah.

I’d venture to say it’s the same when the audio recorders are on. 

During my sit-down with Hilton back in January, she opened up about a lot of topics. How she feels she has a new mission in life. How for years she lost sight of her true essence. How it was the process of making the documentary, directed by Alexandra Dean, that opened the 39-year-old’s eyes to issues she’d never confronted. It’s all very meta. Seems creating This Is Paris was the catalyst to Hilton discovering who she really is.  

But it was after I hit stop on my recorder that she notably lit up. I had the good fortune of being her last interview of the day, and we ended up getting a little down time as we gathered our things to leave. She told me she enjoys donning “disguises” and attempting to go incognito, and relayed a humorous failed attempt at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. She shared thoughts on astrology (she’s an Aquarius). She offered to fix my hair—a gesture not entirely unwelcome after a long day at the Television Critics Assn. tour. 

The Hilton of the interview was affable, though she still seemed somewhat veiled in gauze. Post-interview Hilton was decidedly more animated, and funny. A good hang. Both versions are on full display in the documentary, for which Dean spent a year accompanying her subject around the world. 

We ended up walking together, with a small cadre of handlers, down from the interview suite and stopped in the lobby bathroom to touch up our makeup. Even back in the pre-Covid days when you could visit a public bathroom without fearing for your life, Hilton’s casual ease was disarming. She is, after all, one of the most recognizable people in the world. I couldn’t help but think, Maybe she really is more comfortable in a simpler life. 

Then duty called. A throng of devotees, whom she affectionately refers to as “Little Hiltons,” had been growing just outside the hotel entrance throughout the day. And Hilton does not like to disappoint her fans. A switch flipped, and she flipped her oversized sunglasses down from her head, flashed a smile, and disappeared into the sunshine and a barrage of cameras, signs and screams. 

Here are excerpts from our interview: 

Your documentary is about showing the world the real Paris Hilton. Who are you?

I’m the exact opposite of what anyone would think. I feel the world was introduced to me though “The Simple Life” and playing that character, and I’m the exact opposite. I’m a tomboy. I’m real. I’m smart. I know what’s going on. I’m down to earth. Especially with doing this film, I realized after playing that character for so long I almost began to forget who I really was. When you always have to be on, always traveling and always working and playing this character, you kindof forget who you are. I’ve never really known who I am until very recently, and it’s an exciting time.

Your Instagram’s been heavy on sparkles and unicorns lately. What’s your message to your fans, new and old? 

Everyone is put on this earth for a reason, and one of the reasons I was put here was to spread love and light and happiness. Before I was doing that in a different way, but now I feel I have an even more important message and something on a deeper level. I feel like I have a different mission in life. I feel lucky to have such a close relationship with my fans. I feel like I’m their big sister and they come to me for advice, and it’s just an amazing feeling to have that effect on people and bring happiness. Seeing the smile and the glow, it just fills my heart up.

What kind of responsibility, if any, do you feel today as influencer?

I feel that I am a role model and I have a lot of young women and men who are my fans who look up to me. That’s another reason I wanted to show who I really am, because I want to be someone they can be inspired by—by being a businesswoman and working hard and having a big heart and believing anything is possible if you have that good heart and that good karma. I love spreading that message. Before, I feel that with that character it was just… it was fun and whatever, but now that I look back at it it’s kindof shallow compared to the depth of the person I truly am. 

You were pretty heavily handled in “The Simple Life.” None of us, yourself included it seems, knew what to make of reality TV yet. 

“The Simple Life” was the first reality show, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The producers told me to play the blond, spoiled, airhead character, and I just listened and did it. I didn’t realize it would be such a huge success and I’d have to continue to do that character all the time—doing every talk show and every interview where I did the character. 

So I got stuck, and almost lost, in my character where I forgot who I truly was. I was so used to it and I never had time to think about what I was doing because it just became second nature to me. Alexandra [Dean] asked me questions no one had asked me before, and I had so many realizations about who I am for real. It’s a new stage of my life.

What can you share about the process of making your documentary?

When they first approached me about the film I said “No.” They kept asking me for over a year, and then they started sending me other projects IPC had worked on and I was impressed by that. And then when they got Alex as the director and I saw her film “Bombshell” and loved it, we met and I finally agreed to it. She traveled with me around the world for a year, everywhere I went and just being at home. And then the project morphed into something else. The whole movie was supposed to be about me being a boss and just focusing on my brand, but it just turned into something that was so much on a deeper level. I started realizing so much about myself and the whole film changed into something we all were so surprised about. 

The movie is so powerful and emotional. Everyone who’s seen it, especially people who didn’t know me before, say, “I had so many misconceptions about you.” And after watching this film they hugged me and were crying and saying, “I love you so much” and saying things that make me happy. I feel that people who don’t know me could be judgmental; they don’t understand me. But finally after this movie people are going to actually understand who I am.

A big part of your identity these days is rooted in music. You DJ’d at Tomorrowland this year, and you’ve got some song credits of your own.

I just shot two music videos with Nervo, and I have six singles coming out in next few months. I’m planning to go on tour and doing concerts around the world. I like to optimize my time, so if I’m doing my fragrance tour I’ll also make it a music tour so during the day it’s business and at night I’ll perform. 

You’ve got a lot of businesses to take care of. What else are you involved in? 

I’m writing a new book, and I have 19 different product lines. Everything from clothing, handbags, shoes, jewelry, contact lenses, makeup, dog clothes, home wear. Basically every product you can think of, I make. I’m also involved in real estate. I have two properties and now we’re branching out and doing boutique hotels and spas and nightclubs. And I’m getting really involved in the tech business. I have my two apps—Roxi and the Glam app—and I’m going to be releasing more apps, and also going into the virtual reality world. I basically don’t stop. I don’t sleep. Success drives me.

I’m exhausted for you. Let’s do a speed round… What’s in heavy rotation on your personal playlist?

Rihanna, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Calvin Harris

Favorite recent TV show you watched?

“Euphoria”

What’s your ring tone?

“Stars Are Blind” [Hilton’s debut single, released in 2006]

Favorite places to travel?

Ibiza, Tokyo, Fiji  

How much time do you spend a day on social media?

A lot. Now that they started doing that thing with the hours, sometimes it will be like nine hours and I’m like, “Oh my God,” it’s mind-blowing. I just wasted half my day. How much time do we waste on this thing, it’s addictive. It’s part of our world… but it’s a lot.

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