“We are reality-TV people; we are not great actors, we are not thespians.” So says The Real Housewives of New York City’s Simon van Kempen (who, while technically neither a housewife nor househusband, still enjoys a large role on the show). We spoke to Simon and his wife, Alex, on the phone yesterday in advance of tonight’s episode — expect another big blowout between Alex and Jill, says Alex — and asked all the pressing questions. First of all, where have they been all season? Secondly, why aren’t they acting as strange as they used to? And finally, why the obsession with “delivering Bethenny’s message”?
This season has been drastically different than the previous two …
Simon: Has it? Why?
Much more fighting.
Alex: You’re really getting to see everybody’s true colors. When you come into it and get to know someone on TV, I think it takes a little while for the dust to settle, and to figure out who your friends are. I think you’re seeing conflict because they cast people who really do get along, and who really don’t.
You guys used to have a quirkier rep, but this season you’re being painted as the most normal of the bunch.
S: Over three years of doing a show like this, it’s hard for either a construct of the editing process or a fake personality someone’s created for themselves to last the test of that sort of time. In season one, we were “Silex,” but that’s just one percent us. Throughout season two and now into season three, that one percent which was weird has now been rounded out with more normal footage. So therefore, while we do still love opera, while we do speak to the boys in French, while we still go to St. Barts in the off-season — those are not the only things in our life. They are just one bit of our life.
A: When we first started out, people took the best one percent or the worst one percent or the weirdest one percent — certainly for us, we felt it was …
S: … The most dramatic one.
A: I don’t want to get a big head, but people say to us that we have good heads on our shoulders. And we do. And I’m glad that people are getting to see that.
Alex, you, um, dramatically delivered Bethenny’s message last week about not wanting to see Jill again. Do you regret doing it in such a public way?
A: In real life, if somebody really, really makes you angry, and does things over and over again that are just not nice, and sometimes even reprehensible, you have the option to just walk away and not see them ever again. When you are shooting a reality-TV show together, there is none of that. Jill’s been doing certain things to me since we met and for the last three years. So it was kind of a perfect storm, where I had my own pent-up anger at Jill, and then I saw her doing it to someone that she used to call her best friend as well, and so I snapped. And it was a small explosion last week, but you’re going to see a much bigger explosion this week.
So that wasn’t you being dramatic for the cameras’ sake?
A: No! Being real is what finally motivated me to deliver Bethenny’s message and let Jill have it. And even after I delivered Bethenny’s message, she said, “What did I ever do to Alex?” She has really got blinders on, and it took me doing that to actually make her pause for a moment, because she just made up her own reality in her head. Then she’s got this crazy assumption, she thinks she knows exactly what we’re thinking. I needed to be real with her and make sure she heard me.
S: If you cast your mind back to the beginning of season two, it started off with Jill having run to the New York Post gossip pages. Just malicious stories about Alex and, predominantly, me.
A: Yeah, she’s really good at that.
S: So that was all because of that interview we did in New York Magazine. Jill wasn’t jealous of our house or our lifestyle or anything like that, she was jealous of column inches. And that, unfortunately, is Jill to a T, and that’s what’s been driving her vendetta against anyone this season. If anyone is deemed to be more successful, or has suddenly gotten her own show, or had a better exposure on some form of entertainment program, then Jill’s pissed.
Since you two also suffered from a bad rap the first season, couldn’t you just chalk Jill’s behavior up to editing? It’s hard to be that evil.
S: No. Alex and I never said what was shown of us wasn’t true. We said that seeing that in isolation made us look more quirky and more weird and more out there than we really are as rounded people. But let’s face it: We’ve had nine episodes so far, and in all of them Jill’s been a pretty nasty woman. Jill Zarin is, ultimately, a pretty unhappy woman, and the high-school thing goes back to … she admitted this in an interview recently, that no one invited her to the prom. She’s still very much a damaged girl.
Okay, moving along. What are you two up to?
S: We are reality-TV people. We are not great actors, we are not thespians. This notoriety is fleeting, and I think whenever you start believing your own press, you’re likely to stumble. And Alex and I are both very lucky that we have full-time jobs. We have two young boys. That in itself is a full-time job.
A: Absolutely. We just put a book out, and we’re going on the book tour, balancing going out and doing signings with work and kids.
S: Alex and I attended the Jersey premiere on Monday night, and when I came home from that, I scooped out the kitty litter, took out the trash, checked on the children, and so on. You know, regular, normal things. These things help us stay grounded, and we don’t have time to obsess about what I’m going to say on the show next week, or how I’m going to deal with this conversation, or whatever.
A: No time to be picking stuff apart, either.
S: We’re just real people leading real lives, who happen to be on a reality program, which I think helps it stay more real, even if it is sometimes bordering on boring.
Do you worry that you’re getting less screen time because of that?
A: No, not really. You just have to be true to yourself. And as far as screen time, we have zero control over that. We do what we do, and it’s really up to the editors to decide what to put in.
S: In episode nine that aired last Thursday, I think you saw Kelly for three inches of film. She was hardly in the show at all, very briefly in the scene at Equinox. I think one of the dangers of doing reality TV is you think you have to do something to get screen time …
A: … then you are doing the wrong thing.
S: It will blow up in your face.
Have you heard LuAnn’s song?
A: I’ve only heard it once, but I did hear her sing it live, which is a good thing, because it wasn’t overly mixed. So I’m looking forward to actually listening to the whole thing at some point. And I believe she’s got another one coming out. You do Housewives to show people how you live, to be entertaining. And then you also do it to do whatever it is that you want to do on a larger scale. I think that being on a reality show greases the wheel as far as getting meetings with people, but then you have to go out there and have a product that is worth selling, and bring it to market, and do all that work.