is poised to be the queen of series reboots, but her TV visibility means something greater to her.
After a five-year run as Naomi Clark on The CW's
the actress joins TNT's
update in its Season 3 premiere Monday (Feb. 24). She plays Southfork ranch hand Heather, a single mom whose strong spirit attracts Christopher Ewing (
) ... and mirrors the highly philanthropic McCord's own spirit.
"The CW let us know in the beginning that they do one season of press" for a new show, McCord tells
, "and after that, it is up to the actors if they feel inclined to engage their fans. It's not the ideal, because we have a lot on our plates as it is, but what really came out of it for me was a deeper connection with the people following me.
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"I'm on Twitter and Instagram, and I had a story line in Season 2 (of '90210') where my character was raped by her teacher. I work with an anti-sex-trafficking organization, and that was a wonderful platform for me -- having already started to establish a connection with my followers -- to have a conversation with them."
And it didn't start and end there. "To this day, I stand by it," McCord says. "Both unfortunately and thankfully, you have to have a light shone on things that have happened, and to be able bring justice to certain situations. I said, 'If you don't feel like you can come forward to anyone, come forward to me, and I'll do something about it.'"
Indeed, McCord reports, "I've had direct-message sessions with my Twitter followers around the world who have suffered from abuse, be it physical, mental or verbal ... or their own self-abuse. I've been able to start conversations through social media to educate and bring light on a personal level, which has been healing for me, because I was abused when I was a young teenager."
McCord notes the irony of her work on a show that was "so glitzy and so glammy" becoming the springboard for exchanges on "real issues like this. It's far more than I ever could have imagined when I said, 'OK, sure, I'll be on "90210!" ' It's been life-changing. I always believe you take something for a reason, so for me, it's been monumental."