‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Explained How Alison Arngrim’s Nellie Was a Pioneer Antagonist

by Anna Dunn
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Anyone who watched Little House on The Prairie will remember little terror Nellie Oleson as clear as day. Alison Arngrim’s portrayal of the absolutely cruel curly-haired blonde made her an absolute joy to root against.

Melissa Gilbert, who played protagonist Laura Ingalls on the hit show, once talked on Sway in The Morning about how Arngrim’s performance was trailblazing for modern TV antagonists.

When the host asked Gilbert about the Little House on the Prairie antagonist, he mentioned how Nellie was one of the media’s first instances of the modern mean girl.

“In my opinion, before there was Mean Girls the movie with Lindsay Lohan,” he said, “It was Nellie Oleson.”

Gilbert agreed that Nellie Oleson triggered the “mean girl” antagonist wave in modern media. Thankfully, Gilbert and Angrim were friends off-camera and are still friends today. 

“She probably did [pioneer the mean girl,]” Gilbert said. “Before her, there was only The Bad Seed and The Omen.”

Alison Arngrim Initially Auditioned for a Different ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Role

Like many young actresses, Arngrim originally auditioned for the role of Laura Ingalls. But her Role as Nellie turned out to be a perfect fit for her. This isn’t because Arngrim is similar to Nellie, but she just loved playing the villain.

“I originally auditioned for the part of Laura,” she said in an interview about her time on Little House on the Prairie. “But I think everybody read for the part of Laura. It was like the search for Scarlett O’Hara for kids. But playing Nellie was so much more fun than being one of the nice people. When I was a teenager, and in my early 20s, I wanted to be beautiful and a sex symbol. But being a sex symbol is temporary. B**** is forever.”

For Arngrim, playing Nellie Oleson was a fun break from what could have been. And she did it well. During her audition for Nellie, she had Michael Landon and the other producers in stitches.

“I read [the script], and they were laughing hysterically,” Arngrim said of her audition. The audition involved a future speech that she’d perform on the show, where Nellie tells Laura, “if I told you how much (our furniture) costs, you would probably faint dead away.”

After Little House on The Prairie, Arngrim often got typecast in “mean girl” roles, but she didn’t mind much. She thought it was hilarious that she got to play the villain and loved her time on the show.

One of the most entertaining parts of Little House on the Prairie is the antics between Nellie and Laura. The hilarious rivalry made the show an absolute pleasure. Thankfully, there were plenty of times on the show where Nellie got what was coming to her.

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