It was an earthquake that broke the pop-cultural Richter scale: the revelation that “Vanderpump Rules” stars Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss were having a secret seven-month affair behind the backs of their closest friends. But there was one of their co-stars who didn’t find the news of the affair quite so shocking: Lala Kent.
Kent was the first cast member to suspect that Sandoval was cheating on Ariana Madix, his girlfriend of nine years. Madix found out herself when she discovered an explicit video on Sandoval’s phone, and, as Variety detailed in a May 17 interview with “Vanderpump Rules” executive producer Alex Baskin, by the time TMZ broke the story on March 3, Bravo’s cameras were already at the Valley Village home she and Sandoval share to capture the fallout. Those astonishing scenes aired during last week’s season finale.
After this seismic scandal broke, fans have gathered evidence like detectives hunting a suspect. In a season of reality TV that has twisted time itself, Kent has been the bridge between the “before” and “after” of the #Scandoval — two opposing worlds have been maddening and fascinating to reconcile. Now, she tells Variety she has been “vindicated.”
“Vanderpump Rules” has followed the hedonistic lives of a group of friends living in Los Angeles for over a decade. The group is bound together by Sur (Sexy Unique Restaurant), a West Hollywood establishment owned by ex-“Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Lisa Vanderpump where most of them have worked at one point or another. After moving to L.A. from Salt Lake City, Kent tells Variety she was a big fan of “Beverly Hills,” and got her job as a hostess at Sur after striking up a conversation with Vanderpump one evening at the restaurant. She joined the cast in Season 4 as somewhat of a hellraiser who seemed a little lost. But at 32-years-old she is now sober, a mother, an author and a beauty brand owner. It’s been quite a journey.
“Vanderpump Rules” is more than a spin-off show: it has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right. Even before the #Scandoval, fan anticipation for this season was high: there was a rumored hookup between Leviss and Tom Schwartz — Sandoval’s best friend and business partner, who is only recently divorced from their co-star Katie Maloney. Leviss was introduced as the girlfriend of the show’s anti-hero, DJ James Kennedy, in Season 5. (The pair became engaged during Season 9, but broke up before the reunion.) After a lackluster few seasons, where some of the biggest stars were fired amid controversies and a claustrophobically filmed COVID season, this incestuous drama in Season 10 was a return to what fans originally loved about this show: its unrestrained chaos.
Kent has been at the center of the “Vanderpump Rules” renaissance. During our interview, we talk about how she became the de-facto narrator of the #Scandoval, taking us through every twist with wit and perceptiveness. She has had her own storyline this season, too: fans have watched her come into her own as a single mother of her two-year-old daughter, Ocean, following the collapse of her relationship with film producer Randall Emmett — a man whose name she makes a point of refusing to say throughout this interview.
In June 2022, the Los Angeles Times published a bombshell report accusing Emmett of serious allegations, including fraud, sexual misconduct and offering acting work in exchange for sexual favors. Now, the claims against Emmett — including racial discrimination — are being further explored in the Hulu documentary “The Randall Scandal,” based on the Times’ reporting. Kent was not interviewed for the documentary, which dropped on May 22, but says she is “eager” to see it. She did give brother and her mother her blessing to sit down with the ABC News Hulu project: “I’m all about people having a mind of their own,” she says.
During our interview, we talked about how Kent has defended herself against the accusations that she was once Emmett’s “mistress,” how she felt when people said she “should have known” about his alleged behavior, and the propensity of her male co-stars to blame women.
And as our conversation came to a close, she teared up when I asked about what her daughter would think of her tumultuous journey. True to her word, Kent does have a mind of her own — and she’s not afraid to give them Lala.
You’ve ended up as the unofficial narrator of this season. How does it feel to be the voice of the #Scandoval?
I feel like I was directly affected, in the sense that Sandoval kept telling me that I needed to be “real” all the time, and Raquel kept calling me a “mistress” the whole time. But I just had this gut feeling that there was something going on between them. I was constantly talking to producers about it, so I feel like it was inevitable that I would be the one narrating what I saw. You’ve got to have some light in the darkness, and I feel like I’ve been able to provide that, at least that’s what I’ve been told.
One thing that I think gets lost in the #Scandoval of it all is that you would have looked quite bad if you had been wrong about your hunch that something was up. Why did you feel like you had to take that risk?
I just knew something was wrong. I don’t know that I would put my life on it at that point in time, but I would have bet a large sum of money that something was happening. It crossed my mind at the time. I was like, “I’m going to be roasted. They’re going to crucify me at the reunion!” I was OK with that, because I’ve been in that position many times. But I was right — and here we are.
This season, it was pretty difficult to watch the scenes between Schwartz and Sandoval where they were casting Ariana in a bad light, knowing full well that Sandoval had already slept with Raquel and that Schwartz knew about it. What did you think of that?
It made me sick to my stomach, because you can see exactly what they were doing. They were prepping the audience to make Ariana seem like she was not a good partner, so that when he decided to leave her when that happened, the audience would be understanding. But the universe doesn’t work that way. If you’re being dirty, it will reveal you for who you are and what you’ve been doing.
Watching the finale, I was quite surprised that Sandoval didn’t leave Ariana in their house to give her space after the story broke. What do you think says about him?
It tells me that he’s a narcissist, and is parallel to my ex. I couldn’t get my ex to stay home, but the second he felt like he was losing control, I couldn’t get rid of him! Sandoval did the exact same thing. The dude was never home, but everything goes left and now suddenly his plan is to be home all day long using every room!
Speaking of your ex, this season the allegations that you were Randall’s “mistress” got brought up yet again. I’m struck by how some people love this narrative that you used Randall for his money. But really, you could argue that you made him much more famous?
I’ve learned that, even after I explained the full story and the nuances, certain people still want to label me a certain way. And I have to be OK with that. I’m not going to ever have everybody on my side. Not even Gandhi had everyone on his side! I’m certainly not going to have everyone feel for me, or have understanding for me. But at the end of the day, I really did put that dude on the map. I’m not taking away from his accomplishments, but it is what it is. When we first met, I was very much a fish in foreign waters. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and he made me feel safe and taken care of. That felt really amazing, being from Salt Lake and moving away from home for the first time. And if people understand that they do, and if they don’t I don’t care. My life is really beautiful, and I’m proud to be where I am.
There was a scene in the season trailer released before the premiere where you were crying and said: “I want to know why people are accusing him of the things they’re accusing him of” about Randall. Is it frustrating that important moments like that ended up being cut?
I got married to my story this season. The first rule of reality TV is it is your life, but it’s also a produced show. You have to know that anything you talk about, even though you’re truly going through it, could end up on the cutting room floor. But at the end of the day, I feel like I had a really great season. Whether it was because I was just exhausted mentally from what was going on behind-the-scenes, or it was evolution, I don’t know. But I’m grateful and, no, that stuff didn’t make the cut. But you know what? I don’t need to constantly tell people who this man is. Everyone already knows.
There was a scene between Schwartz and Sandoval, where they basically said you “should have known” about the allegations about Randall, despite Schwartz literally hanging out with him after those allegations were made public in the L.A. Times expose. I wanted to give you the chance to respond to that. Was it tough to watch?
Before #Scandoval broke, that was one of the more difficult conversations for me to watch, because it was so personal. And it wasn’t about me anymore, it was about Ocean, and for you to say I should have known better—you think I don’t sit there every day and think things like “you should have known better”? I don’t need anyone asking me how I didn’t see red flags, because I asked myself that every single day.
What triggered me the most was the follow up that I should have known better than to “get knocked up by a dude like that.” My daughter is not the product of some one-night stand. When she was conceived, it was out of love and mutual respect. My vision was that we were going to have a beautiful family together. So no one is going to discredit the beautiful light that came into this world. Even if we know what we know about him, that’s not what it was like when we decided to have her.
In the season finale, there was a montage of clips of the men in the group — Schwartz, Jax, Sandoval — basically saying straight-up that they lie for each other and cover things up. It seems kind of hypocritical to say you “should have known” while also basically bragging about how they’ve all co-conspired in lying to women?
Well, that’s why I feel so vindicated. I hate that this happened to my friend Ariana, but that bitch is thriving! Right after it happened, I said to her: “You’re not going to see it now. But there’s going to be a day where you wake up and think that this was the best thing that ever fucking happened to you.” I think she’s starting to get there.
To see those montages where they basically say how they lie for each other, it just goes to show why I choose to not surround myself at this point in time with straight men. I just think the good ones are so few and far between, so I don’t really care to weed through them.
One person who has come across very badly this season is Tom Schwartz. From his behavior toward Katie, to the kiss with Raquel, then the insults he hurled at you when he was drunk. And of course, the fact he knew about #Scandoval and didn’t say anything until it all came out. Why do you think he seems to spend so much time either engaging in or defending terrible behavior?
I think everyone gets their day. There will always be a time for all of us where the truth is revealed, and your true character is shown. I don’t think that Tom Schwartz is a bad guy. I think he tries to avoid conflict at all costs. People don’t like confrontation! I don’t really enjoy it. I’m great at it, but I don’t like it. He’s comfortable in the gray, and at this stage in the game, the gray can’t exist. I said at the very beginning, in Episode 1, that at some point you have to stand for something. Now here we are and you still can’t pick a side? Even though it’s clear as day: right and wrong.
He said you were a “bootleg Housewife” in his big rant about you…
That was the biggest compliment ever! The thing that offended me the most was that he was making fun of my lips when the chick he just made out with looks like she had a head transplant. You’re going to make fun of my face? Raquel doesn’t even look like the same person! She looks fantastic, by the way. I love a good injection. But shut the fuck up! Don’t make fun of my face.
If Andy Cohen called you up and suggested that you join “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” what would you say?
At this point in time, I’d say no. I don’t think I would be a good fit. I think that’s because of the stage of life that I’m in. I’m in that weird place where I’m too old to be getting fucked up on a beach, but I’m too young to be a part of that group because they’re all very successful and very established. They have these fantastic lifestyles, and I’m just not in that zone. I’m also a fan. When people join a show and they’ve watched it on TV, those are people I actively avoid when they come on “Pump Rules.” I’m like, You’re a fan! You know nothing.
Your friendship with James is fascinating to watch. How do you strike a balance between being so close with him, but also holding him accountable for his behavior when he’s out of line?
I really love that dude. I don’t want to say “schooling” him, but when I’m schooling him, it’s not me on my high horse. It’s me being understanding, because I’ve been where he is. I’ve lashed out, I’ve said crazy things, I’ve picked up drinks when I’ve had one too many already. I understand him, and there are times when I’m preaching to him and he says, “Why would I listen to you?! Look at your life!” and I’m like, “That’s why you should listen to me, because I’m trying to teach you what not to do! So that you never end up where I’ve been.”
I have a deep love for him, and I think he’s misunderstood a lot of the time. I think he’s done things in his past that he wishes you could change, but we can’t change what we’ve done in the past. You move forward. You can’t be married to your past.
It’s no secret that you’ve always disliked Raquel, and have never had much time for her. But over the years, you have tried to look out for her at various points Was there any part of you that felt protective over her at any point?
No. I knew that my group of friends had chosen to be friends with her and they liked her, so I cared enough about those friendships to try to put how I felt about her aside and try to build some sort of friendship. But she always triggered me, because it always only lasted for five seconds. Every time I tried to bring her in and create some sort of bond, it always ended up going left. Finally, I said to her, “I’m not invested in you. You’re on a journey, and I’ve been on that journey. When I was on it, you wanted nothing to do with me. And now you’re on it, I want nothing to do with you.”
As a viewer, it seems that Sandoval and Schwartz spend a lot of their time blaming women for things, or deflecting onto them. Do you agree with that?
Yeah. And you know what? After my relationship ended, I realized that some men like to place blame on women for being strong — although they just label us “bitches” — because they’re worried that we’re going to sniff them out for who they are. That’s their biggest fear. So now when I come in contact with a dude who doesn’t quite vibe with me, I’m like, “It’s because you know I’m going to pick up on your scent, and I’m a liability to you.”
What is it like starring on a reality show with people who seem like they’d take you down in a second if they could?
I think that we have a really unique show. At the end of the day, we have the purest intentions with each other. I’m not only hanging out with these people on camera. This is my real friend group. If my friends confide in me about something, and I know that it’s a private matter, then I’m not pocketing that and using it against them later. We’re a family, but if you mess up, then we’re blasting you.
I was also surprised that Sandoval and Schwartz hadn’t bothered to coordinate their timelines of when Schwartz knew. In the sneak peak of the reunion, you point out that they still hadn’t agreed on a timeline. Why do you think they were so sloppy?
I think that Sandoval is a mastermind, and he’s great at lying, but he’s trying to coach other people to do something that is unnatural. It’s not natural for someone to lie and create stories that don’t exist. That’s basically what he was trying to get them to do, because for him it’s second nature. But that’s not a sustainable way to live. You can’t control everyone around you and get them to fall in line. He should have given them little cue-cards or something!
People have questioned Raquel’s intelligence since she joined the show. But how does that square with the fact that she managed to keep this a secret for seven months. Do you agree with James that this was the “smartest thing” she’s ever done?
To me, it’s the dumbest thing she’s ever done! I mean, the girl was thriving. She was everyone’s favorite. She could have parlayed this opportunity into something so great. We had so many conversations about a brand that she wanted to start that was amazing, and I was sitting there willing to help her get it off the ground. Instead, she chose to sleep with Sandoval. To me, that doesn’t say you’re smart because you got away with it for seven months. That tells me you’re easily manipulated and you’re a fucking idiot. A smart person wouldn’t do that.
I was really struck by the lack of care about Ariana’s feelings from both Sandoval and Schwartz in the finale. Schwartz in particular seemed more concerned with how everything was impacting him. What did you think of that?
That was really triggering for me, because I cannot I can’t relate to it at all. I was there watching my friend Ariana just and she was heartbroken and devastated. Then to watch Raquel and Sandoval, the way Raquel was laughing and saying, “This ended up so terribly wrong!” It was sick.
Do you think Ocean will ever watch the show? What do you hope she’d think of her mom if she watched you back this season?
I hope that my daughter watches the entire show since I started. I want her to see what her mom did. I was a hot mess. I was a cool girl. I would take my top off and do skinny dipping. I want her to know that she doesn’t need to be some perfect child. I want her to see that you can evolve and come out on top, and you’re going to just roll with the punches.
So I hope that she will be proud. I know that if I saw my daughter go through what I went through and she came out the way that I have, then I would be really proud of her.
This interview has been edited and condensed.