Sophia Rossi is sitting in a café on Robertson Boulevard, explaining her friendship bracelets. “I had Lauren’s here. This is Soleil. That’s Nicole,” she says, fingering the tangle of thin, colorful strands that dangle from one wrist.
“If I could have a whole arm of them, I would,” Rossi, 29, says wistfully, as she blinks several times from behind a pair of black, chunky glasses. Her long, dark hair falls softly around her face, accenting her eyes, which are round and liquid.
Rossi has a lot of friends, most of whom you’ve probably heard of. Lauren is Lauren Conrad, of the now-defunct MTV reality shows The Hills and Laguna Beach. Soleil is former Punky Brewster actress Soleil Moon Frye. Nicole is Nicole Richie.
There’s also comedy writer and star of The Office Mindy Kaling, fashion designer Charlotte Ronson, and her sister Samantha (i.e., Lindsay Lohan’s ex), who Rossi—who likes to create metaphorical scenarios to describe her relationships—says is “like a cousin who lived with me for a summer: we have really strong feelings, but we live the same schedule, we’re always traveling.”
Just four months old, the peppy, decidedly anti-snark site, which Rossi sees as a kind of Huffington Post for tweens, is already getting, according to her, 1.5 million unique visitors a month. Fans include Maude Apatow, Judd Apatow’s 13-year-old daughter, and Judy Blume, with whom Rossi recently had lunch after Blume started following her on Twitter. (Rossi has more than 60,000 Twitter followers.) A recent “Dear Ryan Gosling” story that jokingly implored the Drive actor to “stop being so attractive” and “stop being so adorable with children” did particularly well. (A more recent post: “Ryan Gosling Loves Crazy Chicks.”) And when Hello Giggles aired the first episode of New Girl two weeks before the show aired on Fox, several million people tuned in, Rossi says.
Of the Hello Giggles trio, Rossi is the least well known, at least to outsiders (before 2 Broke Girls, Molls made a name for herself as a blogger). But within a certain L.A. clique of young, creative types, Rossi is a ubiquitous energy force—a smart, bubbly, self-effacing wit who makes a point of knowing everyone, and, quite often, parlaying those relationships into opportunities for all involved. She is the kind of person whom Malcolm Gladwell would call a “connector”—though in the case of Rossi, whose production company is called BFF Productions, “friender” might be a better term. (Naturally, Hello Giggles has a BFF section, where favorite links are listed.)
“Sophia is the ultimate best friend,” says Mindy Kaling. “She knows so many people from completely different circles, but is a grounded and loyal friend. She loves women and girls and wants to support and encourage their expression more than any person I’ve ever known.”
Describing the process of adding new people to her life, Rossi says: “If I feel like I’ve known you forever—not to be all Kabbalah or whatever—but that’s the easiest. If I feel like I love you already.
“Either it freaks people out or they’re really into it. It’s really that simple, you know?”
This insta-bond transpired with Deschanel, whom Rossi met while working out at the Tracy Anderson studio in Studio City.
“I had shin splints,” Rossi recalls as she takes small bites of a breakfast frittata. “And Zooey would always come up to me and be like, ‘Hey, you should do this, or you should ice it.’ And then one day she was like, ‘If you ever want to go to lunch or something …’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’
“So we went to lunch, and I told her that I really wanted to do something for women online. And she was like, ‘I’ve been thinking the same thing!’”
Rossi then suggested meeting with McAleer, whom she’d also recently met and was making videos with for the teen site Alloy. Months later, Hello Giggles launched. Although the three women work as partners, Rossi is the most hands-on, since Deschanel and McAleer have full-time jobs in TV.
Despite her coterie of A-list friends, Rossi sees herself as, and gives every indication of being, very normal—at least in an L.A. kind of way. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, she spent one day at American Jewish University before taking a job as music supervisor Amanda Demme’s assistant. During the day she would work for Demme, and at night she’d sit at the door of clubs with her friend Katherine Power—who was working for nightclub impresario Brent Bolthouse—doing bottle service. (Power would go on to cofound the celebrity fashion site Who What Wear.)
“People had to pay $100 just to sit at the table, but we would sell people out. People would leave the club at 12:30 and we’d sell the table again. It was so much fun,” Rossi says, giggling at the memory. “You couldn’t believe how crazy people were for these bottles. The waiters and us would laugh hysterically. Like, who are these idiots? Who is paying for this bottle?”
But Rossi’s real break came with The Hills. As a talent producer on the show, she had to cajole, calm, listen to, and at times persuade the show’s stars to do things they might not want to do. It was perfect: she was essentially being paid to be friends with people. She and Conrad became particularly tight.
“There was a trust factor,” Rossi says. “Lauren and I are still really close, but I’d be really honest with her. I’d be like, ‘You have to go to the birthday party. You can leave early, but you have to go.’
“The hardest part for me was having to be so emotional. If Lauren was crying, I’d cry. If she and Audrina [Patridge] were going to fight, I’d cry … I was sort of like a double agent. I’d know they were going to fuck with Lauren. I’d know they were going to send Heidi [Montag] in. So I’d tell Lauren, ‘Lauren, something’s going to happen.’ And she would trust that so much more.”
Working on The Hills, Rossi says, “I was always nervous. Everything that could go wrong was on me.”
But with Hello Giggles, “it doesn’t feel like it’s my responsibility. I just feel like we got so lucky. We have so many awesome new writers.
“For the next couple years, God willing, this will be my priority. I really feel connected to it. I feel it really is something for other girls. I really want other girls, a lot of people, to come over.
“That’s why I like a house environment,” she says, in reference to her home office. “Because I know my friends will come over!”