Bethenny Frankel on Why The Real Housewives Is Like Watching a ‘Natural Disaster’ and How Other Housewives Rip Her Off

By
Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

It has been ten years since Andy Cohen and Bravo graced the world with the Real Housewives of Orange County, and since then there have been almost 90 women bringing conspicuous consumerism, wine-throwing, and blaring narcissism to the different programs in the franchise. We’ve loved every minute of it.

Of all those women, Bethenny Frankel is the most successful. She started off on The Real Housewives of New York as a single woman with barely enough money to get by. While she was on the show she got married, had a baby, and launched Skinnygirl Margaritas, a brand she later sold for millions. She left the show for her own spinoff, a talk show, and to focus on her personal life, after a short marriage to Jason Hoppy (whom we saw her marry onscreen) ended in a messy divorce.

Eventually, Bethenny would return to a show that had been wracked with cast changes and sagging ratings. But RHONY returns for an eighth season this Wednesday, and according to Bethenny, it’s better than ever.

So the traditional Housewives greeting is to say that you look amazing.
Thank you, if you mean it.

I do mean it. Your clothes have been so great since you’ve been back on the show, and when you were on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills you wore that amazing outfit you split up the back. And your hair looks fantastic. What is going on?
What do you mean, what's going on? Nothing!

Are you working harder on your wardrobe and hair? Did you get a stylist?
I couldn't stand my hair. I never felt it looked great and it was high maintenance and I wanted to change it. I've wanted to cut my hair for about 20 years, but I did it months ago. I think what's going on is I have a home so I'm more settled with my belongings and I know where everything is so I can focus and put myself together. I was living out of a car half the time when I was getting dressed going from interview to interview. So it is a different season. I'm just more happy and more settled, and when you're settled you feel centered and balanced. You seem calmer and less afraid.

Do you ever catch the old episodes of the show when they rerun them?
I don't, and I always hear other people talking about it on Twitter and I never — I only watch it one time. I watch before it airs when Bravo sends it to us a couple days before and that's it.

You never have the draw to go back and explore some of those memories?
No, that's really weird. I don't need to because people remind me. People bring up the quotes and things they remember. We relive it sometimes in clips that people post or that the press post, so you get the sense of what it was like. It would be fun to go back to, I guess, to episode one and see what I was like.

What sort of things do people say to you when you come across them in public?
People say, You inspire me, you’re so real, you tell it like it is, you're my spirit animal, or I want to be you when I grow up.

This is your second season since you returned to Real Housewives of New York. Why did you want to come back for another year?
I have a different perspective on it and I enjoy it now. I enjoy the women and can relate to and identify with what a lot of the women are going through: personally, professionally, getting older. I just think it's funny. It's a comedy. I’m a mom now, and there are many mothers on the cast, and I find it to be different than when I was that single, broke, alone girl trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life.

Is it better?
Much better. There is a beauty of it being new and fresh and dramatic and exciting. But there's a beauty to being where I am now, taking it as a comedy and having a sense of humor about it and not buying into everything. I appreciate the vehicle to just be free and say whatever you want, and that's amazing because you don't get to do that at work.

Was it easier to get back into the swing of things this second time around?
I've always been in the swing of things. It's just being real. I don't think there's any swing to get into, it's just you doing you.

So is there anything new or different about this upcoming season that we should be ready for?
It's more raw and real than ever. It's always been real, but it's not sensationalized. Some crazy stuff happens that you can't even believe like, How is this happening right now? It’s so dynamic, and shocking, unbelievable things occur. It’s like a natural disaster.

A lot of the fans say, “Oh, this is scripted," or, "The producers made this happen.” Is everything we're seeing really as it plays out?
Yeah! I mean, when I'm around, absolutely. I would never participate in that. You can tell when people are being a little contrived or Housewifely. Like, You were so upset that you didn't get invited to the fashion show or Oh my feelings got hurt — all that kind of BS. I don't even tolerate that. That's the stuff that you say on television and not really you. You know you can't control what people say, but they will try to play characters themselves.

Are there other sort of fake Housewives behaviors you see happening often?
Sometimes. But it's hard to get away with it. There's something the viewer sees as inauthentic.

Last season of Real Housewives of New York is one of my favorites because it was more about these women being single, and they've all started a second chapter rather than being actual housewives. Should we expect more of that in the upcoming season?
Ramona is definitely sowing her oats, and she's in a different place. LuAnn gets into a relationship. Carol's embracing her relationship, which was questionable for other people. It seems people are settling into who they are and what their lives are regardless of anyone else's judgment or stereotype of it.

Are we going to see more of your dating life this season?
You see a little bit. I don't have that much of a dating life, that's the unfortunate truth. I would like to work on that. I would like to eventually be really fully divorced. I’ve been focused a lot on just my daughter and work. I do date and I have been in short little relationships, but there's nothing substantial.

A judge recently ruled that you don't have to pay spousal support to your ex anymore. How did that feel?
You know, there's a lot more to that puzzle than people will realize. Divorces on two-year marriages don't normally take almost four years to get divorced. There's a lot more to it than meets the eye, but that felt good and just. I'm adjusting to the typical gender and role reversal of being the breadwinner.

Is there an end in sight for the divorce to be finalized?
I believe there's an end in sight. I do. I think we are at the very end. I’ve said that before and been wrong. But this is the closest I've ever felt.

Do you have party plans when this is done, or what?
I might just have party plans. You don't want to decorate the nursery until the baby comes, but I'm excited, just as excited as someone is excited to paint the nursery pink. I don't know many parties that would rival my divorce party, I’ll tell you that.

One of the things I loved when you filmed with the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is you showed all the ladies your wine bar at your Hamptons house, and then a few episodes later Lisa Vanderpump showed everyone her wine bar at her house. Is that the new must-have Real Housewives accessory?
Mine is a place I call the Place of Yes Bar. It was a shed in my backyard. My bar is to me as Lisa's bar is to her. My bar is in the Hamptons, it's in a farmhouse, it's very chill. You would expect peanuts on the floor and a dartboard. Her bar you would expect Swarovski-encrusted coasters, as is perfect for Lisa Vanderpump. I guess, so yeah, I had it first. I was one of the first celebrities beside Diddy and Dan Akroyd to have a cocktail brand, and I was by far the first Housewife or reality star to have my own cocktail brand. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. This is not the first or last time other Housewives have been inspired by my ideas.

You've met a lot of other Housewives over the years. What qualities do you think make for being a good Real Housewife?
Being unfiltered, having thick skin, being direct and able to communicate your thoughts, and being self-aware. Being honest and going for it. Not thinking before you leap.

Who have been some of the best Housewives over the years?
Kim Zolciak and Nene [Leakes]. I like Atlanta a lot. Kenya [Moore]. Lisa Vanderpump is a good Housewife. Kyle [Richards] is a good Housewife. Tamra Barney comes to mind. Ramona [Singer] is a great Housewife!

How do you think you would fare if you were in the Atlanta cast?
Great, especially now that Sheree [Whitfield] is back, because I'll go gangster. Those girls don't have fear, which I like. They don't pretend and they don't hold back their words. And I love that because in that environment, I'd be a different animal.

Is there anything that you're really excited for people to see in this upcoming season?
Oh my God. So many things! It comes in waves. In the beginning you establish, Hi we're all back here we are. The second episode, boom, you're right into it. It gets you right on the ride. There's not a lot of foreplay. We get right to the wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

So is this your favorite season?
Yes, for sure. Definitely. And I'm going to get my ass beat. It's one of my favorite seasons despite the fact that I'm going to have to go into the witness-protection program.

Why are you going into the witness-protection program?
As always, I just say exactly how I feel, and I felt a lot of feelings and I was not afraid to express them.

Do you ever pay attention to the recaps and the fan reaction?
Yes, I do, but you can't get too sucked in; otherwise, you'll be worried about what people think. They're usually pretty accurate. Some weeks you know you're taking a hit, just like anything else. Some days you walk out of the door and everything's fine, and sometimes you come home and you know that was a rough day. You can't play it safe on the Housewives. The same thing on The Apprentice. You're going to be out there and be entertaining and be yourself, and if you’re true to yourself you're going to take some hits. I've done some crazy things in my day. Typically speaking, if I say something in the moment people might say, "Oh my God, I can't believe she said that." You will always find out that if I stick the ingredients in that bowl and in that pan, what I tell you is coming out is coming out, just let it bake. It takes a minute. It's my tagline. If you can't handle the truth, then you can't handle me.

How do you prepare for taking those hits when you know they're coming?
I have another life. I have a daughter. I have a business. Sometimes I don't even remember it's the day that the show is airing. My life does not revolve around the show. The show revolves around my life. There are many Housewives whose job is to be a Housewife. They get paid that salary and then create other little cute hobbies that they pretend are their businesses that they put on the show. But I have a business, so, as it should be, the show follows what I'm really doing. The show takes a toll on me, because it's hard for me to have enough time to run my business as it is. So when the show is filming, it's like I have another job. Once the show stops, then I can catch up on everything else I need to catch up on.

Is this show helping business?
The brand is so successful it's hard to know exactly if it's helping. I certainly don't think it's hurting. I'm not like Coca-Cola where I'm doing mass research on exactly how many coffee pods or pieces of candy or microwave popcorn I sold the day after the show airs. But it can hurt, too, because if you rip somebody and say something negative it could hurt. But I don't think that it is [hurting the brand]. It certainly helped in the beginning. We know that. There are so many products and so many lines it's hard to know. And you can't really separate the two. It's not like I'm putting my product on the show. I am my product. When they're filming me, I'm doing what I'm doing.

Some of the fans complain that it seems like whenever you’re onscreen there's always Skinnygirl behind you. Is that just the way life is?
Listen, if we go to Atlantic City, I'm bringing my booze. The same thing would happen if we went on a trip to South Beach and there were no cameras there. What am I going to do? Go pay to drink someone else's alcohol? And you know I have 15 products. If I go to Starbucks and I have a coffee I'm going to put Skinnygirl sweetener in it. What I don't usually do is just go out to lunch on a Tuesday. If you see us going out to lunch it's a rarity, because I don't really lunch as a verb. So if you see me at my Skinnygirl protein-shake lunch that's because that's what I'm doing on that Tuesday. So if they want to film me, they have to film my product. It's not a commercial; it's what I'm really doing.