Netflix filmed her surprise divorce. Now she’s ready to ‘rip off the Band-Aid’
The following contains spoilers from the new season of “Selling Sunset.”
Chrishell Stause has been counting down to the third season of Netflix’s “Selling Sunset.”
“I have been having crushing anxiety about this,” she told The Times. “I’ve been waiting for the show to come out for so long, and to look back on it is really painful because it was an extremely difficult time in my life. And people are going to make their judgments.
“But at the same time, I’m ready to just rip off the Band-Aid,” she continued. “I want to get it over with so that I can really focus on the future.”
Stause is referring to the sudden divorce filing by her then-husband, “This Is Us” breakout Justin Hartley, after two years of marriage and six years together. Their surprise split made headlines last November, just as Stause and the rest of the Oppenheim Group agents were in the midst of filming Netflix’s first English-language docusoap, which follows the lucrative listings and costly closings of Los Angeles’ luxury real estate market.
For months, Stause has remained mostly mum about her side of the story. With the premiere of “Selling Sunset” Season 3 on Friday, that’s no longer possible. But while fans may binge for answers about why the two broke up, what they’ll find instead is an intimate account of a normally private heartbreak, captured with thoughtfulness and care. That’s a rarity for reality television, a genre that has historically sacrificed the devastated for a delicious bit of schadenfreude.
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The first half of the season illustrates how Stause worked hard to prove that the San Fernando Valley was an area left untapped by her brokerage. The entire Oppenheim team even heads to the Valley in the fifth episode for Stause’s charity event at a listing property.
The next scene shows the agents and brokers at their Sunset Strip office, reading a TMZ report on their phones and computers, shaking their heads in confusion. “What happened?” asked Maya Vander. Heather Rae Young echoed, “It doesn’t make sense.”
The series still had at least three weeks of production left. “When things like this happen, I find it’s best to take a beat and talk with the person and figure it out: Will you let us tell this story? What’s the best way to do that without making the situation worse for you?” said series creator Adam DiVello, who was also behind “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills.”
“From the moment we heard about it, we made a very conscious choice to protect Chrishell as much as we could,” he added. “When we’re making these shows, I try to protect the cast as much as I can because they are putting themselves out there. I’m grateful that they all give us as much access as they do.”
After some back-and-forth with DiVello, Stause ultimately chose to continue filming. “It was a little bit of a struggle for me to decide to go forward and have the camera there for these really raw moments,” said the actress-turned-agent.
“But I am really, really, really proud of my second career in real estate. So I thought, if I was losing something that I thought was half of my life, how is it going to help me to throw away the other part of my life that I’ve worked so hard to build? If I walk away from that too, what am I left with?”
‘It’s not normal’
Stause agreed to speak about the situation to fellow agent Mary Fitzgerald at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, where she was staying upon leaving her home with Hartley. “We just let that scene unfold,” said DiVello. “It was so genuine because Mary and Chrishell have a nice relationship.”
With flowers in tow, Fitzgerald meets Stause in her hotel room. “I’m just kind of in shock with it all,” says Stause, a self-professed hopeless romantic. “I’m trying to keep it together, but it’s a lot at once because everybody in the whole world knows at the same time I knew.”
Stause recounts on screen that she and Hartley had a fight over the phone. “Before we had a chance to figure anything out, he filed,” she said while wiping her tears. “I found out because he texted me that we were filed. Forty-five minutes later, the world knew.”
After moving out of her paparazzi-surrounded home with Hartley, Stause tells coworker Amanza Smith, she wrote a goodbye letter to Hartley’s daughter from a previous marriage. The two suppose that Hartley’s fast rise to fame may have led to their split.
“It’s not normal to meet somebody and then become wildly famous or become wildly rich and all these things. I don’t, at the end of the day, think that those things matter,” she says. “Your feelings obviously changed for me at some point, but I just feel like that’s how you’d treat the garbage that you throw out.”
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‘For better or for worse’
Stause opted to get away to St. Louis to spend time with her sister Shonda and her family, and DiVello asked if the nimble crew could come with her. “Oh, my gosh, I love my family so much,” she told The Times. “They’re my home base and they recenter me and remind me of what’s important. I’m happy that the show wanted to film that, because that really is who I am and what I value.”
Though the rest of the Oppenheim team surrounded her with hugs on her way out of town, multiple scenes show agents Christine Quinn and Davina Potratz doubting Stause’s blindsided stance and making fun of her for leaving town.
“I get it — everyone has their opinions, and they are definitely people who, well, nobody was happier when this happened,” said Stause with the air of a shrug. “I wasn’t expecting them to be sitting around saying nice things. If anything were to shock me, it would’ve been that!
“I’ll just say that this show does a really good job of letting our personalities come through,” she continued. “And, you know, that’s their personality and it came through, for better or for worse.”
‘What’s out there?’
Stause returns to the office in the season finale but remains undecided about attending Quinn’s wedding later that week. She ends up going — out of her own volition and not for the sake of the show, said DiVello. In the episode, Stause hides her face from the cameras during the ceremony and evades questions from Potratz at the reception before leaving early.
“I don’t think she expected to walk into what she did, getting confronted by other cast members like that, but it happened,” recalled DiVello. “I really give her credit for staying as long as she did. I think it shows how strong she is.”
The season closes with Stause sipping wine in her new home in the Hollywood Hills. “I love the solitude of it and the way it was situated with the windows looking out over the whole city,” said DiVello. “This is a girl we’ve followed all over the Valley, and now she’s propped up in the hills, as if she can see everything that’s ahead of her.”
Watching the new episodes, Stause appreciated that final shot. “It symbolizes so much, and I think that viewers will be able to see that as well. I’m wondering, ‘What’s out there? What’s this going to turn into?’ I don’t know what the future holds, but there are endless possibilities now that my plan has completely changed.”
‘It is what it is’
Since filming wrapped, Stause has been leaning on family and friends for support, especially after the death of her mother, and continuing business as usual as much as she can. “In the high-end market, appointment viewing is the way it’s done anyway, so it hasn’t been that huge of a shake-up,” she said of adhering to coronavirus precautions. “You and your clients keep your masks at showings, and the homes are so big that it’s easy to social distance.”
DiVello did Stause the courtesy of “walking her through the scenes we were going to be using, just to make sure she was comfortable before we locked them.” The day before the season dropped, Stause braced herself for what she agreed to film.
“To be honest with you, in my position, even if I took every step perfectly, I’m still in a position to lose, because I’m still dealing with the public divorce in the public eye,” she explained. “It is what it is, and with the cameras there, I just did the best I could.
“That being said, I like the way that they handled it on the show,” she continued, hopeful that viewers going through a similar experience will be able to relate and feel less alone. “It does give a little bit of purpose to the pain.”
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