In her acting comeback, Kyle Richards had one question: ‘How far do you need me to go?’

A woman sits on the front steps of a home flanked by jack-o'-lanterns with another one on her lap
Kyle Richards, star of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” returns to the “Halloween” franchise 43 years after starring in the original film.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
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During a meeting last week with the executives behind “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” Kyle Richards started bawling. She had, she said, “a total meltdown about the show” she has been part of for 11 years.

Outside the Bravo reality series, she has a happy life. She and her husband, Mauricio Umansky — founder of the real estate brokerage the Agency — have been married for 25 years. Portia, the youngest of their four children, was bat mitzvahed this month. She has five dogs, two live-in house assistants and resides in an $8.2-million Encino mansion that once belonged to Smokey Robinson.

And, 15 years removed from her last serious role, on “ER,” she’s returning to the job that first made her famous as a child star: acting. She has a prominent supporting role in the horror sequel “Halloween Kills,” now in theaters and streaming on Peacock, reprising a character she originated in the 1978 genre classic. In December, she and Betsy Brandt will co-lead a Christmas movie for Peacock called “The Housewives of the North Pole.” They play two best friends who begin feuding after years of dominating a local house-decorating contest.

Which sounds rather tame compared to the real-life intrigue that has transpired this season on “Real Housewives.” And that’s what’s been getting Richards so upset. Not the drama on the show, mind you, but the criticism from viewers who don’t like how she’s handled said drama.

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“It does just feel like too much sometimes, all of the outside toxic stuff,” says Richards, 52, trying to explain what led to her “breaking point.” “After the meeting, I was texting our group chat with the girls [from the show] and I said, ‘Honestly, I feel like sometimes I just can’t do this. It affects me too much.’”

A woman in a black-and-white dress and hat standing next to  a woman in a maroon dress
Kyle Richards, left, with Erika Jayne on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
(Nicole Weingart / Bravo)

It was, of course, only a fleeting moment of hesitation. She says she loves the cast — “I actually adore all the women” — and the crew too much. And she is also keenly aware of how the show has helped her further her Hollywood career. Unlike most of the “Housewives,” Richards says she has leveraged her 3.5 million Instagram followers not to launch her own beverage or beauty brand, but to persuade casting directors and network executives to take a chance on her.

When “Beverly Hills” began in 2010, Richards was cast alongside her sister Kim. Unlike the other women in the group, they didn’t have celebrity husbands or co-own professional sports teams — the siblings’ claim to fame was that they were kid actors. Kim was arguably the more recognizable of the two, having been in the 1970s sitcom “Nanny and the Professor” and the Disney movie “Escape to Witch Mountain.” When Kim exited “Housewives” after Season 5, little mention was made of Kyle’s childhood acting; more recent viewers would likely be entirely unfamiliar with her résumé.

“The haters will be, like, ‘Oh, please. You didn’t even do anything,’” she says. “I’m not going to respond, but I do think, ‘If you’re bored, you can check out my IMDb.’ One sitcom alone I did 105 episodes.”

That was the ’80s television series “Down to Earth,” which Richards joined after Disney’s “The Watcher in the Woods,” a film in which she co-starred with Bette Davis. The youngest of three girls — the eldest being Kathy Hilton, who was featured as a “friend” of the “Housewives” this season — Richards said her mother began bringing her to auditions to follow in her sisters’ footsteps.

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“They kind of pushed me into it, but I was very shy,” she recalls. “I thought every audition was a doctor’s appointment. Maybe because the person had on white or something. I’m terrified of doctors, so I would freak out. And I was so shy that my mom thought, ‘Let’s push her even more to get over this shyness.’ But I’m grateful that she pushed me to do that, because I ended up loving it. I had such a positive experience as a child actor, which not everyone can say.”

Bette Davis, left, with Kyle Richards in the 1980 film "The Watcher in the Woods."
Bette Davis, left, with Kyle Richards in the 1979 film “The Watcher in the Woods.”
(Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Richards is sitting in her living room, which is so immaculately manicured that it looks ready for an Architectural Digest shoot. The couch she sits on has oversized velvet pillows that appear as if they’ve been karate chopped in the middle to create maximum fluffiness.

In the entryway, a neon sign reading, “Bitch please! You could never be me … ” radiates a pink glow.

There’s a large picture of her, taken on a London photo shoot, that her husband loved and had framed. It is diametrically opposed by the iconic 1978 “Morning After” photo of Faye Dunaway reclining at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool, surrounded by discarded newspapers, just hours after winning an Oscar. Richards’ eldest daughter is Dunaway’s real estate broker, and Richards said she’d agree to pay the asking price for the Terry O’Neill shot if the “Network” star would come for dinner at the house. Dunaway agreed to the deal.

“I was so nervous!” Richards says, pointing to a picture of the two of them after the meal. “She’s a Capricorn, like me.”

Some of Richards’ fondest acting memories involve her mother, who died in 2002 from breast cancer and taught her about classic Hollywood. While in London shooting “The Watcher in the Woods,” she would lie in bed listening to her mom talk about the significance of her co-star, Davis. But there were less pleasant times, too, like when her peers at Los Angeles’ Roscomare Road Elementary School circled around her and said she looked fat in the 1800s-set miniseries “Beulah Land” because she was wearing petticoats.

“I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable that all I said was, ‘I know,’” she says, emotional at the recollection. “I always think about that moment. I spent so much time with adults that it wasn’t easy for me to be with kids after playing backgammon on the set with all the crew guys.”

Kyle Richards, bottom right, with co-stars on "Little House on the Prairie" in 1975.
Kyle Richards, bottom right, with “Little House on the Prairie” co-stars Bonnie Bartlett, back from left, and Radames Pera and Brian Part, front left, and Brian Part in 1975.
(NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

She acted less as she grew older, and by the time she had her first child at 19 she retreated from the profession almost entirely to focus on raising a family. She’d always wanted to be a young mother. She was 11 when her sister Kathy gave birth to a daughter, Paris. She’d visit them in New York and sleep in a twin bed next to her niece’s crib. “I would steal her out of her crib in the night and lay her on my chest. I can remember feeling her little head and tears would roll out of my eyes because I loved this baby so much.”

By the time she started “Housewives,” Richards’ youngest daughter was a toddler. Filming the reality show was so time-consuming that she felt she couldn’t handle a return to acting. She fielded offers for cameos as herself or to play “a Beverly Hills whatever,” but she resisted.

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“I started thinking: ‘Well, gosh. Now it’s weird, because people just know me as Kyle, and they’re not remembering that I’m an actress.’” So she decided to pivot to producing, creating a Paramount Network series inspired by her childhood called “American Woman.” The comedy only lasted one season, but the experience helped her gain the confidence to use her voice, contributing creative suggestions at table reads that previously intimidated her. Now, she’s developing a one-hour scripted drama with a “big network who actually approached me” and a reality show.

Her newfound self-assurance may also have contributed to her return to “Halloween.” Richards attended the 2018 premiere of the last installment in the franchise, and on the red carpet, a reporter asked why she wasn’t in the film. She noticed the film’s writer, Danny McBride, standing next to her and decided to ask him: “Why wasn’t I in this?”

As it turned out, McBride was a huge fan of “Beverly Hills” and suggested the idea to director David Gordon Green.

“He was like, ‘You can’t underestimate Kyle Richards!’” the filmmaker says with a laugh.

A woman holds a flashlight on a playground at night
In “Halloween Kills,” Kyle Richards reprises the role she played in the 1978 original horror film.
(Ryan Green / Universal)

Still, Green wanted to meet with Richards face to face to get a sense of what she was like outside of the “Housewives.”

“I just didn’t know what I was getting into,” he says. “I’m not just trying to do fan service by bringing performers back. You can see someone’s character on a reality show and wonder: Is that reality? And when I sat down with her, she had such a normal vibe to her. She’s very relatable and charismatic and charming and natural.”

But there was still a degree of uncertainty. The part called for Richards to be far grungier and physical than she is on reality TV — and to film a harrowing scene in a North Carolina swamp, home to alligators and snakes.

“So I asked: ‘How far are you willing to go?’” Green remembers. “And she gives me a priceless, beautiful, hesitant: ‘How far do you need me to go?’”

Richards was able to avoid vicious reptiles, though she did break her nose during a different scene — something she was able to hide from Green for weeks. The director says he’s already at work writing her part for the next chapter in the franchise — “Halloween Ends,” scheduled for release next year — and expects “she’ll definitely get a lot of acting work” from the new movie.

“The camera has been good to her,” he says, “and she doesn’t feel betrayed by what a camera has brought to her life. The relationship to your own exploitation is tricky with some people, because they get self-conscious.”

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A woman stands in front of a graveyard set
“Halloween Kills” director David Gordon Green says Kyle Richards, shown on a graveyard set, will “definitely get a lot of acting work” from her role in his new film.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

On “Housewives,” however, Richards acknowledges that she’s had a more difficult time figuring out her role. At first, she loved getting dolled up for the show, but says she no longer enjoys having her hair and makeup done.

“This is the most I can come up with these days. They have hard soles,” she says, pointing to her slippers, which are in fact $790 calfskin and shearling slides from Celine. “Things have changed with hair and makeup now. They’re, like, ‘Oh, we have to do this lewk.’ I’ll say, ‘It doesn’t look like me, so why do I have to wear it?’ They’re like, ‘You want to look current, don’t you?’ I’ve had the same hair since ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”

Trickier still has been navigating just how candid to be in her confessional interviews. Take this season, for example. Since May, audiences have been riveted by the tension between the “Beverly Hills” ladies and their co-star, Erika Jayne. Last December, days after Jayne suddenly announced she was divorcing her longtime husband, famed L.A. lawyer Tom Girardi, The Times published an exposé alleging that he had stolen millions from orphaned and widowed clients to fund his lavish lifestyle. Whether or not Jayne was aware of her estranged husband’s supposed crimes became the season-long topic of debate — as did The Times article itself, which, at 3,991 words, Richards repeatedly said on the show was “too long” to read.

Tom Girardi is facing the collapse of everything he holds dear: his law firm, marriage to Erika Girardi, and reputation as a champion for the downtrodden.

For the record, Richards now says she meant she didn’t read the article when it was first published online because she was on-camera hosting the women at her home in La Quinta and because she doesn’t “have great eyes.”

“I came home from La Quinta and the L.A. Times was laying in my driveway, actually. So I picked up one side and read the whole thing,” she insists. “I still get the L.A. Times paper because I like to read paper. I’m old school. I actually love to read. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.”

As far as Jayne goes, Richards says she remains one of the few who believe that her co-star was unaware of Girardi’s alleged misdeeds.

“It was really hard to navigate through because Erika’s always been so kind to me,” Richards says. “She will always send a text, ‘I just want you to know, I’m so proud of you, Kyle.’ I’ve never seen her as someone who was a liar, so I was like, ‘I have to look at this from the person that I know and not be influenced by people who’ve never met her seeing someone they see on a TV show.’”

An actor sits on the steps of a house on the Universal Studios backlot
Kyle Richards, shown on the Universal Studios backlot, hopes to act in a scripted series as well as remain on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
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From Richards’ perspective, viewers don’t see much of Jayne’s genuine self on “Housewives.” She says the Jayne she knows is “extremely sensitive and emotional,” but relies on the “I am a tough bitch” persona to avoid looking weak. “But I know that that’s not who she is. When I see her acting like that, I know that means, ‘I’m really, really hurt and I don’t want to cry in front of people.’ She’s literally just putting that on to defend herself. It hurts her immensely that people don’t believe her.”

And no, Richards swears, she was not aware of Jayne’s financial issues years ago. That idea arose after Bethenny Frankel — a former member of “The Real Housewives of New York” — said she’d told Richards and Bravo executive Andy Cohen that all was not as it seemed with the Girardis back in 2018.

“The truth is, she did say something to Andy and me — that [Girardi] owed money or something — but I really didn’t pay much attention to it, because I hear so many things about so many people,” Richards says. “I really didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t know anything about Tom being in trouble. I knew nothing until those articles came out.”

Walking the line between civility and cattiness is the key to Richards’ longevity on “Housewives,” says one of the show’s executive producers, Alex Baskin.

“She’s the glue within the Beverly Hills group,” says Baskin. “She’s been someone who has opinions and relationships that might go through turbulence, but in the end she’s always looking to make sure that things work out. She really is a model of something we ask for: someone who is open, committed, and wants to make a really good show — but wants to do it in a way that makes us proud. She’ll say things that are difficult, but she wants to live with what she’s done.”

Looking ahead to the 12th season — which begins filming in just a few weeks — Richards says she recently made a vow to herself during one of her morning meditation sessions not to respond to any snarky Instagram comments. That may prove particularly difficult, given that she’s also part of November’s “The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip,” a Peacock special shot over eight days as women — Teresa Giudice, Kenya Moore, Ramona Singer and more — from various cities went on vacation together.

As for her acting ambitions, she’s hopeful that her new movies will help her land an acting gig on a scripted series. She’d like to emulate the career of her hero, Betty White, “and be doing this when I’m 100.”

“Even though I worked all my life, being on ‘Real Housewives’ has actually given me the confidence to say: ‘You know what? I don’t like that. Can we stop and do that again?’” Richards says. “It’s opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve changed a lot over these 11 years. Doing a show like this is very difficult, but it does help make you grow and change. And applying that confidence to my acting helps.”