Denise Richards On Joining ‘Real Housewives’, And Gaming The Tabloids

Denise Richards has long been derided by tabloids, and 'Real Housewives' lets her take back the narrative.

Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills star Denise Richards

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“I’ve had a lot of stuff that has been out in the public.”

Denise Richards is sitting opposite me on a very expensive-looking couch, overlooking Sydney’s sandstone-heavy streets in The Rocks. I’m one of many short 10-or-so minute sit-downs she’s knocking out back-to-back; she was in Australia for just a few days this April, and her press team were going to make the absolute most of it.

Two press teams, really; Richards has been flown over by both Foxtel and Hayu to promote their shared show, The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, aka RHOBH. She’s the newest housewife — and the way she sees it, it’s a way to control her own image, something she hasn’t always been able to do.

“Some of [what’s reported] is true,” she tells me, “some of it’s not and going through challenging times and having it out there is… [well], you’re very vulnerable.”

Tabloids have followed Richards since the ’90s, when she began acting alongside modelling, guest-starring in a series of notable TV shows (Friends, 90210, Melrose Place) and future cult-classics (Starship Troopers, Wild Things, Drop Dead Gorgeous). We’re not here to talk about her well-documented custody battle with ex-husband Charlie Sheen, but safe to say that when reflecting on the tabloids, that comes into play too.

Equally harsh was the response to arguably her most (in)famous role, as Bond girl Dr. Christmas Jones opposite Pierce Brosnan in The World Is Not Enough. Derided for not being believable as a nuclear physicist who also wore a crop top, the criticism was barbed and personal.

“Back then, it hurt,” she tells me. “It was hard because I was very sensitive to it and I felt like, ‘Well what? I don’t understand. I’m playing a Bond girl and who the hell would want me super conservative, dressed a certain way and doing certain things?’. And if I had done that, they would’ve been wanting the sexy bombshell Bond girl that has been in all the other 18 Bond movies prior to the ones I was in.”

“This has been such a lesson for me with the media and social media and people’s opinions: when you’re in the public you really open yourself up for criticism and you’re never going to please everyone.”

So what can you do? Become a housewife, naturally — as a decades-long friend of Beverly Hills star Lisa Rinna, Richards knew what the show could offer. It offered fun. Of course, even with Rinna’s ‘top secret advice’, it was a little awkward joining the cast nine years in.

“I didn’t know a lot of the other women and a week into filming, we went to the Bahamas,” she said. “It was like being the new girl with the popular girls, hanging out with them. But I had such a great time and everyone was very welcoming of me. I had fun with it.”

It’s Complicated

Fun is an underrated approach to a career, and it’s working for Richards. On Season 9, she’s slid in perfectly with the show’s larger-than-life characters dealing with minute, overblown drama. And why wouldn’t she? As her tagline says, “My problem with the tabloids? My real life is so much juicier.”

And adjusting to the mechanics of reality TV hasn’t been too hard, as it’s not her first time at the rodeo. Between 2008-9, she had her own E! show, Denise Richards: It’s Complicated. It was a very different time for both Richards, and the general public, who, pre-Kardashians, treated reality shows with contempt, if not outright hate.

“That was a such a different show because I was going through a divorce. I just lost my mom. My older girls were two and three years old. Now I’m remarried, I got teenagers and another child,” she says.

“But what’s really fun about [RHOBH] is they film us and our life separate from each other and then film us together as the women integrating with each other and I think that’s a great balance.

“I’m actually grateful for [It’s Complicated] because people had a certain perception of me. I was going through a very ugly divorce and people got to see another side of me and form an opinion that way as opposed to what may or may not have been true in the press.”

In addition to RHOBH, on which she was recently married (“We paid for everything else, but not the videographer,” she jokes), Richards is co-currently on The Bold And The Beautiful. It’s really two ends of the same coin, though she notes that the shooting schedule means she has days with “50-60 pages of dialogue”, which is a challenge in its own way.

Our time’s almost up before the next interview, and, realising this is my last chance, I ask about beauty-pageant mockumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous.

In it, Richards plays the pageant’s clear front-winner, Becky Leeman, whose mother (Kirstie Alley) may or may not be trying to kill off her competition, who include Kristen Dunst, Brittany Murphy and, in her first film role, Amy Adams.

One of the film’s greatest moments is the talent show, a series of super camp performances — including a scene where Becky sings and dances with a Jesus nailed to the cross.

“We shot that in Minnesota,” she says. “I do remember when my character does my talent show with the Jesus that a lot of extras walked out because they were offended, because they didn’t read the script. They didn’t have the script, so it was taken out of context for them. They were quite offended.”

It’s a perfect headline-ready snippet of gossip, which Richards knows. She’s been doing this for years.

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills streams on Foxtel and Hayu, same day as the US. New episodes every Wednesday.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and his perfect date would have to be April 25th, because it’s not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket.