These L.A. reality stars are perfectly happy to be part of Hollywood’s ‘middle class’
When “Vanderpump Rules” made its debut on Bravo in 2013, promising a mix of messy drama and mindless fun as it followed the good-looking staff of West Hollywood‘s SUR (Sexy Unique Restaurant, in case you were wondering), most of the cast had dreams of breaking out beyond the restaurant’s eclectically decorated walls.
“I do want to be famous,” Tom Sandoval, then a bartender at SUR, says in the show’s first episode. “I don’t know if I want Michael Jackson-type of fame, but I definitely would love to be famous.”
As the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” spinoff is entering a milestone 10th season, there’s no question that Sandoval’s lofty ambitions have come to fruition for much of the cast. Their friendship woes, bad relationship behavior and drunken antics made them reality TV stars we couldn’t stop watching and — in the show’s heyday, especially — tried to witness firsthand, booking reservations in the hopes of seeing it all in action.
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They’re not exactly pop culture icons, to be sure. As fellow cast member Tom Schwartz admits sheepishly on a recent afternoon, “Vanderpump Rules” has secured them status in a comfortable Hollywood tier: “Middle-class show business is a good place to be.”
All that is top of mind strolling into Schwartz & Sandy’s, the newish bar and restaurant in Los Angeles’ Franklin Village co-owned by Sandoval and Schwartz. (And yes, Schwartz pointed out the light installation near the bathrooms inspired by James Turrell’s skyspace, though it wasn’t fully lit at this hour.) The cocktail lounge, which opened last fall, is a full-circle evolution for the longtime friends, who spun their reality TV fame and years hustling in the service industry into careers as budding restaurateurs — before Schwartz & Sandy’s, they started as junior partners in TomTom, alongside Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken Todd.
Schwartz & Sandy’s is still a construction zone and a source of tension when the new season returns on Wednesday. Still, executive producer Alex Baskin describes the new episodes as a “real renaissance” for the show, which has struggled to find its footing again after unsuccessful cast additions and major departures. (In 2020, Bravo fired original castmates Stassi Schroeder, Kristen Doute and Jax Taylor because of their past racist actions against Faith Stowers, a Black former “Vanderpump Rules” cast member.)
“You really fully see this group moving on in their lives,” Baskin says. “I think the challenge of the previous season [Season 9] was coming out of the pandemic, and with some of the turmoil in the show, we had a hard time. It felt like we were catching the group when they were more in the state of stasis. This season is like shot out of a cannon.”
The new season follows along as some cast members navigate new business ventures and others attempt to rebuild their lives after big breakups — most notably the end of Schwartz’s marriage to Katie Maloney and Lala Kent’s split from ex-fiance Randall Emmett; the disgraced producer faces civil fraud claims and allegations of abuse toward women (which Emmett has denied), as detailed in a recent L.A. Times investigation.
Saying she was “very disappointed” with the revelations and allegations against Emmett, Vanderpump noted that Kent’s experience this season is the nature of the business: “That’s what they’ve signed up for. If they’re not willing to share their life, they shouldn’t be on reality television. We’re not making some b— show.”
Hunkered down in one of the booths at Schwartz and Sandy’s — where a mountain lion figurine, an ode to L.A.’s famed P-22, keeps watch in the distance — Schwartz and Sandoval reflected on the early years of the show, how their ambitions evolved, and this season’s drama.
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Let’s turn back the clock. What do you remember about getting the call about “Vanderpump Rules”?
Schwartz: We were all really close friends and all living together and dating before the show started. Maybe too close of friends. I mean, we were with each other every day.
I think everyone was excited about the prospect of it. But also a lot of us, we moved here to be performers, to be an actor. So we were torn. It’s not like I had a rich resume and I was gonna jeopardize my acting career, but in my mind, I was still an artist. I had been in a ton of classes and I was really passionate about it. And there was still a kind of a stigma attached to reality TV back in 2009. It’s like, “If you do this, your acting career is done.” And now it’s a whole different landscape.
What made you say yes?
Sandoval: I did these, like, Bon Jovi videos back in the day — I was basically like Bon Jovi’s Alicia Silverstone, like what she was for Aerosmith. I would be in magazines and I’d go back to St. Louis and my friends would be like, “Oh, my gosh, Tom, I can’t believe you made it.” And it’s like, ‘Dude, no, I’m driving a ’97 Honda Civic stick shift while I got $270 in my account. I’m driving on the 405 changing [clothes] because I’m supposed to look like a waiter for this audition, so I’m changing from swimwear because I went on a swimsuit casting for modeling. I thought it’d be exciting for people to actually see how it really is.
Schwartz: I was up early submitting them [Sandoval and Taylor] for modeling castings on Craigslist, L.A. Casting; they would give me a percentage. We had a little fake agency in our apartment ... . They would give me like [10% or 15%] — even Jax.
I rewatched the first episode and it’s such a time warp. There is that moment where, Sandoval, you talk about wanting to be famous. And I’m curious now, having achieved the level of fame or notoriety that you have through the show, has your relationship to that idea evolved?
Sandoval: The first season was very popular. The second season was extremely popular and obviously ended with the infamous punch to Jax. It skyrocketed after that point. And we were still working at SUR into Season 4; most of us were. So dealing with fans in an environment where they’re drinking and excited, it really sort of was like a great training on how to handle people, just in general, which I feel like a lot of people who get famous don’t have that.
Schwartz: It becomes very insular.
Sandoval: But also just don’t know how to handle people like screaming and running after you, grabbing you, knowing you. Having somebody who flew in from Washington or Indiana, and they’re like a doctor or lawyer or whatever, and you’ve got to cut them off from drinking.
Schwartz: I think that’s one of our best assets. We’re accessible. And we’re approachable. We’re in here almost every night of the week. You could come and you could take a shot with the Toms — not to like put that on a pedestal.
Sandoval: Somebody like Channing Tatum will be hanging out and people will be afraid to go talk to them, but they’ll come right up to us.
It’s so clear that all of you had a lot of ambitions that went beyond SUR. What do you remember about what you thought could come from this show?
Sandoval: I moved out to L.A. expecting, imagining myself to be this big actor, leading guy, wanting to model myself after like Brad Pitt or Leo [Di Caprio] or somebody like that. And to also be in a band playing original music. And never thought about owning a place; that just seemed a little secondary to me. But it’s just funny how in life, sometimes it’s good to be stubborn with your goals, obviously, and to be driven for them, but to be sure not to ignore things that are right in front of you because these opportunities come up and it’s sometimes you just gotta like pivot and embrace it. I never would have imagined being a reality star. In fact, if you would have told me that 15 years ago, I would have been insulted.
Schwartz: It’s ironic because I used to watch “The Hills” and, in the moment, I could kind of appreciate it for what it is. But I remember specifically vividly thinking to myself and saying out loud, like, “I would never f— do a show like this.” I think the universe was like, “We’ll see about that.”
When this started, I was reluctant at first. But I remember one moment, where the show had started getting some traction and we were in Vegas, and they were all doing their first appearance and I think everyone got paid $1,000. It may be inconsequential, but that was a moment where I was like, “Holy s—, we can really go places. This can open a lot of doors.” And now it kind of has taken us to the next strata.
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Well, let’s get into this season. Because it does feel like a reset and it’s very clear to the viewers that everyone’s in a different place now. The show opens, Tom, with the news of your divorce from Katie. Did you and Katie have discussions about how to navigate this transition in front of the cameras?
Schwartz: We didn’t. We never contrive things. We never plot certain things. Because when you do that, the producers can smell it a mile away. And it usually ends up falling flat. ... We were pretty pragmatic about our divorce. But in terms of the day-to-day emotions, I’ve never experienced such high highs and low lows as I did. Still, sometimes I could step outside of myself and appreciate just what a strange experience it is to get divorced. I never thought I would, and all of a sudden I’m a statistic, I’m a divorcee. So there were times that I kind of treated it like being in a movie. Does that sound weird?
I’ve experienced a lot of heartbreak and sadness, but that divorce, in conjunction with trying to open this spot, being under the risk of financial ruin at times, my dad almost dying — I had the conversation mid-construction about, “Do we pull the plug on my father?” right outside those doors [points to front entrance]. And it was one of the hardest conversations in my life. It was just a really rough year. A lot of life came at us fast.
One of the other big updates on the show is news involving Randall Emmett. And I know one of the things that comes up is Lala’s frustration with you for still hanging out with him after their breakup. And then the L.A. Times article is published, which is discussed a bit on the show. Where do things stand now?
Schwartz: It’s tough because I’ve had a close friendship with Randall. I haven’t taken time to sort of go through and discern what’s true, what’s not true. With the kids involved and everything, I’ve just sort of stayed away from that. Not to give you a cop-out answer, but honestly, it’s just a very high-stakes thing. And you’ll see some of that play out this season. I know you hate that answer. I haven’t talked to either of them a lot lately. To be honest, I’ve been so consumed with my own life, just this year, in general, was really intense for me that I haven’t necessarily been a great friend for some of my friends.
What is it like being in that Bravo bubble? The fan base that surrounds this and other Bravo shows is quite intense. How would you describe what it feels to be in that vortex?
Sandoval: Sometimes it can feel a little violating, but, I mean... [laughs]
Schwartz: Violating is a strong word, but sometimes when we’ve f— up and we’re in the bar ... I’ve made some very questionable decisions in the past — we don’t have to dissect those — [and] people will come up and they will scold me. And it’s kind of deserved but it’s also just a bizarre experience to have someone you’ve never met come up to you like, “Dude, you were a f— d—. I love you. We’re gonna hang out tonight. I’m so stoked to be in your restaurant, but like you were a f— d— that night.”
When the show started, you guys were like in your 20s, early 30s. And usually when you have those mess-ups in life, it’s not in front of a camera, especially when alcohol is involved. I’m curious, what do you wish never aired for the public to see? What do you wish hadn’t been captured by a film crew?
Sandoval: Oh, I know one. Season 3, Miami. First day, we were not filming straight, but we filmed for like 18 hours. The next day, we filmed for like 16 hours. And after 12 hours of filming, I was completely mentally broke down and I was sobbing, ugly crying, to Kristen [Doute] and I wish that wouldn’t have been on there.
Schwartz: That was just raw and I loved it. Sorry, at your expense. I like to think that our pain is your pleasure on “Vanderpump Rules.” I’ll say I don’t have any regrets. Now, at the end of each season, in moments while we’re filming, I have a deep sense of shame and regret and I have existential meltdowns.
Give me one, Schwartz. Was pouring the drink on Katie Maloney one?
Sandoval: New Orleans. You hated the way you acted in New Orleans.
Schwartz: When I finally went back and watched the New Orleans episode, I’m in awe of how sloppy I used to get. Another thing is, with TomTom and this venture — if I could change one thing, I wish I would have just had more composure, more aplomb with these adventures. I go back and I really struggle with watching myself, not to be too neurotic because it’s not good for our mental health, but just seeing I was such a spaz, that’s probably one of my biggest regrets. I guess it’s kind of entertaining for other people, but for me seeing that, I’m like, “Dude, take a f— breath.”
Sandoval: I regret not having more patience. Because I would like get very irritated very quickly and have no patience, especially dealing with Katie during that time. I had no patience.
Schwartz: I became very resentful of this endeavor because I wanted to be home with my dad, who needed me more than he’s ever needed me in my life. And there’s a little part of me that’s like — and I know it’s a cop-out — but did this lead to the downfall of my marriage? There was moments where I was, like, “I don’t want this place to become a f— shrine to everything that went wrong in my life.” It’s not, to be clear.
Sandoval: How about your shrine to the year that puts you most of the test?
Schwartz: Honestly, on that note, I look back and I maybe I had it too easy. After I got married to, like, 2019. I was in the happiest little cocoon. I wasn’t rich—
Sandoval: There was an easy time for all of us ...
Schwartz: For like three years. I wasn’t rich, but I wasn’t worried about money. And everything was great. I was in love. I was happy.
Sandoval: From like Season 4 to Seasons 7 or 8, we’re living in apartments. I had rent control for the first time—
Schwartz: For the first time in my life I don’t have to worry about how much a meal might cost.
Sandoval: Literally Postmating like three times a day. Everybody collectively between like Season 3 to Season 6, the whole cast collectively gained like 10 to 15 pounds because we didn’t have to work at SUR really anymore and had enough money to do whatever and can afford Postmates three times a day, Lyft anywhere.
Schwartz: Middle-class show business is a good place to be.
So tell me, at this level of success that you’ve found and good fortune from the show, what is the reason you feel like you should still be documenting your life?
Sandoval: If we were still doing all the exact same thing, still living check to check, bartending at SUR, maybe we wouldn’t. But because we’re moving through different chapters of our lives, whether it’s with our friends or lovers or business-wise, I think the show keeps us motivated to keep wanting to do it.
Schwartz: If it sucked ... I’d probably still do it, let’s be honest. But I think it’s a great show, as hard as it is for me to watch it — and it is hard.
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
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