For W’s third annual TV Portfolio, we asked 21 sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small screen characters by stepping into their shoes.
Chrishell Stause is, somewhat unsurprisingly, in the middle of renovating her Hollywood Hills home. When I meet the Selling Sunset star on Zoom, she’s cloaked in a white terrycloth bathrobe, sporting wet hair, and reporting live from her walk-in closet. (If you’re among the millions of fans of the Netflix series, you’d recognize it; her purchase of the property was a central plotline in season 4.) “You see, there’s still some work to be done,” Stause says, pointing to the blue flagging tape on the ceiling, “but it’s getting there.”
It’s only fitting that our conversation begins on the matter of real estate, which Selling Sunset has turned into a powerhouse television-series topic of veneration. Since the show’s premiere in 2019, Stause and her costars, including Christine Quinn and Oppenheim Group owners Brett and Jason Oppenheim, have become celebrities in their own right, as recognizable as any prestige television actor. Stause’s love life, in particular, has become regular fodder for the series, with both her divorce from actor Justin Hartley and her brief romance with Jason Oppenheim serving as storylines. In May, she confirmed her current relationship with the non-binary Australian singer G Flip on the Selling Sunset season 5 reunion special. In Stause’s eyes, they’re all just one part of the reality-TV machine—with which the actress is intimately familiar, due partly to the fact that she’s a fan of the genre herself. “I’m a reality-television junkie and have been since way before I was doing this show,” she says, ticking off The Bachelor, Big Brother, and Love Is Blind as a few of her favorites. “They’re a study in human nature, and they’re fascinating.” More intriguing, though, is the revelation that Stause, a real estate agent and a former daytime soap opera staple, is also a huge fan of horror and true crime. It makes sense, then, that she would choose to pay homage to Showtime’s Dexter for this year’s TV Portfolio. The show, which follows Dexter Morgan, a Miami-based blood splatter expert—who doesn’t just solve murders; he commits them, too—is a favorite of Stause’s, along with the Saw and Scream franchises. Below, the actress discusses her go-to horror flicks and the difficulties (and triumphs) that come with being a reality star.
Selling Sunset is ostensibly based on your real life and real relationships. But how do you navigate what’s actually real and what’s for television?
It’s a slippery slope, I’ve gotta tell you. For the most part, we’ve become a family—as dysfunctional as I know that may seem. So there’s a lot of excitement about being able to do this with your friends. Sometimes I can’t believe this is our actual job. With that comes the downside. You have to mix in different personalities…people aren’t getting along…and turn up the heat to put us in more dramatic situations. In real life, you would do a better job of avoiding people you didn't get along with. But there’s no show if everyone only hangs out with the people they get along with.
Do you consider yourself an actress?
I do. I started in 2005. It is always going to be that first love for me. It's less stressful, too, because it’s not you personally. You’re playing a character and you're not responsible for whether people hate a character who’s really mean or crazy. That means you did a good job!
You’ve described reality TV as a study in the human condition. What do you mean by that?
They want to get you at your best, at your worst, and everywhere in between. It’s very funny that small things can take on a life of their own. If we put cameras on you for six months, but you had one single breakdown moment—that’s in the trailer, and that’s going to play over and over. But if you aren’t real, and if you don't react [authentically] in the moment, I personally don’t think the show works. At this point, the audience is smart, and you have to keep evolving the show because of that. In this position, you have to learn how to sink or swim.
How does one sink in your position?
You’re getting millions of people’s criticisms and comments about your real life choices or a moment that you’re not proud of. If you’re successful at being totally private, you would get that criticism only from friends and family, who are speaking from a place of love. In reality TV, that’s definitely not the case. Because as much as we build people up, we want to tear them down. I get that cycle. It’s just how it works.
And how does one succeed, or swim, as you said?
It’s important to remember that nothing’s too serious. I’m already going to have these ups and downs in my real life. All the details of what happens on the show are already out there. If there’s a way to give something a little bit more respect when I know it’s going to be taken out of context, I do want to be part of the narrative. I’ve kind of embraced it, and I’m just living my life out loud. I know that opens me up to a lot of criticism because I’m the first person to say: I don’t have it figured out.
At this point, how much are you actually working in real estate?
As of June, I think I’ve done seven deals so far in real estate [this year]. It’s not a ton of deals. I obviously could be doing a lot more if that were my sole focus, but it isn’t. I try to only take the jobs that are going to be filming on the show, or involve people I’ve worked with in the past. I’m actually excited to be able to dip my toe into a little acting and get something in before we go back. I would never be good at a nine-to-five, anyway.
I saw this tweet in which someone said they’d driven past the Oppenheim Group offices in Orange County at 11 p.m. and one of the Oppenheim twins was there working at his computer.
It’s harder to get work done in the office now, because people are constantly in there, trying to get pictures and knocking on the door. It’s very sweet, but you can’t get work done. So when I actually have work to do, I’m normally doing it at home. You have to go in knowing that you’re going to be shaking hands and kissing babies, because we are now part of the star tour that goes around.
Let’s talk about character you chose to portray, Dexter, the Miami-based blood splatter expert, who doesn't just solve murders; he commits them, too.
I’m such a fan of thriller, horror, real crime, anything like that. No one would guess that. My favorite emotion is to be scared. Growing up, my friends were all watching Gossip Girl or shows on the CW. That just wasn’t my thing. But you wanna know anything about the Saw trilogy? Scream? Dexter? That’s my thing right there. And I love Michael C. Hall. For a long time, I had a crush on Dexter, which says something about me. [Laughs] That is some therapy for another day.
Do you have a favorite horror movie?
I have so many. I just watched X, and it was amazing. My favorite is a tie between The Strangers and Saw. I’m really torn between those two, but if I had to pick one, I would pick The Strangers. It’s so chilling to [think that] it was based on a true story, which [speaks to] that true crime part of me. It could happen to anyone.
Do you listen to any true crime podcasts? Any favorites there?
Yes. The best one ever is The Jinx Podcast. I don’t think that’ll ever be beaten, ever. That takes the cake as far as true crime.
How did you start watching Dexter?
My older sister, Shonda, was into it, and she was the one who got me into it. We don’t live in the same city. But we would always voice-note our little reviews after each new episode. I know people hated the ending, but I still loved it. In her voice note about the ending, Shonda got very upset—she was very unhappy about it. I was like, I thought it made sense! I don’t wanna say [too much], but if you watched it, you know.
Hair by James Wilson and makeup by Nicholas Wlodarski.