Eboni K. Williams on the Toll of Her 'RHONY' Freshman Run and Those Reunion Rumors (Exclusive)

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Eboni K. WIlliams laughs when asked if her debut season on The Real Housewives of New York City has been anything like she expected.

"I have to laugh out loud with that one," she cracks over Zoom with ET. "It's one of those things where I try to describe this insane, amazing, crazy world to longtime friends -- even my own mother -- and you just can't do it. It's really one of those things that people can tell you about, you can see it, you can be close to it, but unless you have experienced it firsthand, it's unimaginable really."

Eboni's freshman run on the 13-year-old series has been met with a cyclone of news coverage. It started out as celebratory, with outlets applauding the fact that the historically all-white show was welcoming its first Black Housewife, long overdue for a city as diverse as New York. Then, as the episodes made their way out into the world, the tone shifted: Eboni was "too woke." Eboni was "ruining" the franchise. Eboni "didn’t understand the assignment." Her name became centered in a conversation that was less about her or her actions and more about how people -- both cast members and viewers -- were receiving them. The 37-year-old lawyer turned TV personality has repeatedly hit back at the criticism, asking pundits to look through a larger lens and take in the full picture.

"Listen, I am a day one RHONY fan," Eboni proclaims. "So trust me, I get that my vibe and my energy is wholly different."

"It's been intense," she admits. "I'm a human being, like everybody, and I'm a proud advocate for therapy and mental health care. I've been seeing my therapist for six years now -- one of my longer, long-term, committed relationships, for the record -- and I have actually taken up with a supplemental therapist during the last several months, that specifically helps me work on some of the challenges that have arisen from the airing of the show and just some of the press and all the things, because it's a lot."

"What I don't want to do is take my valuable therapist, who deals with my day-to-day life, and conflate what some of these challenges might look like," she continues. "But ... it takes a toll. There is so much of it though, that of course comes with the territory and I'm super pragmatic and mature about that, but it doesn't mean some of the stuff doesn't sting a bit."

Eboni K. Williams joins the cast of The Real Housewives of New York City for season 13.
Sophy Holland / Bravo

The headlines as of late have turned to Eboni's past, digging into former romances, her legal career and even entanglements with the law from her youth (including a past shoplifting charge). Eboni views it all as par for the course, to an extent.

"Anybody who joins a Housewives show, stuff's going to come up," she notes. "But some of the stuff, what's interesting for some of these headlines, these are things that I've already spoken about very publicly and very proudly, of the fact that I was a 17-year-old dumb kid -- with great taste in shoes, though -- and I tried to lift the pair of Stuart Weitzman sandals to go to this gala on campus at [The University of North Carolina], where I was a sophomore, and ended up being able to be a beneficiary of something called deferred prosecution. It's for non-violent first-time offenders. And I got to earn a dismissal of my charges."

Eboni says when she looks at the people trying to tear her down, she views it "as an affirmation that I must be doing something damn right."

"This is straight from my mother Gloria's mouth," she says. "She's like, 'You know, my daughter, this tells me that you have struck a nerve in a way that people are feeling the need to go do, I mean, political style, opposition research…' -- I mean, this is very House of Cards, right? -- Really, to try to silence you and to try to shut down extremely valuable humanitarian conversation and effort." 

Eboni tries not to pay attention to the tear-downs, or speculate on who's "out to get" her. Instead, she's keeping her eye on the mission at hand: Be authentically herself, the good, bad and ugly, as she committed to do when she signed on for RHONY.

"I do think this is the work of my career that she's most proud of," Eboni says of her mother. "So in that way, I think it comes with the territory, when anybody ever in history has ever had the audacity to broach the status quo and kind of shake the table in that way, it's going to be met with persecution, right?"

Leah McSweeney and Eboni K. Williams enjoy a picnic with their Real Housewives of New York City co-stars.
Heidi Gutman / Bravo

Some viewers accused Eboni of entering the series with an agenda, going too hard on her co-stars when it came to discussions around race and politics. She says this is just who she is, reality TV cameras or not. Eboni points out the distinction between philanthropists and activists. Her co-stars are largely the former, she is the latter.

"The real meat of my work at this point in my career is in the grunt work, really, of fighting for what that equality and shared humanity and intersectionality looks like in all of these spaces," she explains. "Whether that's LGBTQ+ ... whether that's, obviously, the Black and Jewish communities, whether that's anti-Asian -- I'm very close with Crystal Kung Minkoff [of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills] and stand in solidarity with my sister as she is fighting just unacceptable anti-Asian hate. So, I'm really about that life, as the kids would say."

"I don't know how to turn it off. I don't want to turn it off," she adds. "To me it's like roaches, OK? If you can see a roach, there's a thousand more just like him behind a wall somewhere. So that means when you see it, you gotta stomp it out and get rid of it on site. When you start letting things pass and slide, you curate an environment where it's deemed tolerable, right? And if we're going to be the America that I know we can be -- I know it in my spirit we can be all of these amazing patriotic ideals of shared humanity and Americanism -- we got to stomp it out."

Eboni says she doesn’t take on being the voice for marginalized people as "a responsibility or burden or a task," but rather "an enormous opportunity" provided to her by Bravo and "my God above."

"To be the first Black Housewife [in New York City], as such on the heels of the tragic murder of George Floyd and a racial reconciliation that our nation has long needed, now guess what? To me, this is the big opportunity to meet a moment, and meet a moment where our country says, 'Not on our watch.' We will no longer tolerate any hate, any -isms, any level of subordination of our shared Americans. It's important."

It's part of the reason why Eboni wanted to host a "Black Shabbat" at her friend Archie Gottesman’s home. Eboni believes bringing together oppressed groups will only help to lift up each other's causes and contribute to each other’s success. Bringing the Black communities and Jewish communities together is part of that. 

Eboni K. Williams and Ramona Singer attend 'Black Shabbat' on The Real Housewives of New York City
Bravo

"I didn't know a lot about Judaism at all, other than I read Night in eighth grade, like everybody else did, and obviously know about the Holocaust, but not, like, a deeply cultural understanding of Judaism," Eboni shares. "Since I moved to New York about seven years ago, I have really been blessed with a tremendous education and close personal relationships with members of the Jewish community, and it has really just opened my eyes to how much we share as members of really cool cultural identities, and it's really dope. So while I'm not Jewish, true, I just have a kinship. I so appreciate the Jewish people's resilience and their faith and their tradition."

Archie, who founded the organization JewBelong to make the Jewish faith feel less intimidating and to share traditions with non-members of the religion, gives Eboni props for bringing Shabbat to RHONY. While there have been Jewish cast members on the show in the past, this is the first time the series has shined a spotlight so specifically on Jewish culture and tackled Anti-Semitism.

"It took a Black, non-Jewish woman to pitch Shabbat, which is really -- right there -- there's some sort of heroism to me about that, because she's got a lot!" Archie tells ET. "There's a lot... People find reasons to kind of pick on Eboni and then she's got to, like, lean in and help the Jews, too? That's amazing. No one does that. But Eboni does."

"I think she's fabulous and brave," Archie adds. "And even with Leah [McSweeney], same thing. They start the episodes, Leah converting to Judaism. The amount of hate that those two have received, because they even mentioned Judaism, it's a lot and it's not OK. It's not right. There's way too much Anti-Semitism. Shouldering that is just something every Jewish person should be really thankful for. Jews need allies, all of us need allies."

Archie, who's known Eboni for years, says it hasn't been easy to watch her friend withstand the media firestorm that’s come her way over the past few months that RHONY season 13 has aired. "I have so much admiration for Eboni," Archie says. 

Eboni says she suggested Black Shabbat because it helps to show that her work is about "embracing all our shared humanity."

"I'm a new Housewife, these are new friends. I wanted them to really get to know me. This is a great way to see that my work is not just only solely around the lens of Blackness," she says. 

This week's episode of The Real Housewives of New York City picks up in the middle of Black Shabbat, which Eboni teases is the season’s “rock bottom” (as noted in previews, Sonja Morgan uses Archie’s driveway as her personal toilet). 

"And then we go up, which will be great,” she promises. There’s a lot of chatter about where RHONY goes after this much-criticized season. Housewives executive producer Andy Cohen told ET he believes the answer is simply more women, a sentiment to which Eboni agrees. Some of the friction between Eboni and the audience this year likely would’ve been softened by the presence of more people with more experiences. The current cast features three long-running 'Wives -- OGs Ramona Singer and Luann de Lesseps, plus Sonja -- with similar lived experiences, with only Leah serving as Eboni's sort-of contemporary.

"There's these amazing veterans, who we know -- the audience knows their story and knows their vibe -- and this brand new kid on the block, who's extremely different than them," she notes. "And so what you get is a season of that, of what feels like a lot, because it's kind of far apart. I think with more women, you get intermediate variations that they create for a more cohesive viewing experience that I think we all aspire to. And I think we'll get there."

Recent reports have speculated on a rift between Eboni and those veterans, but she squashes that, noting she just had a two-hour dinner with Ramona, arguably the hardest nut to crack of RHONY's triumvirate. 

"I think where Ramona and I are is two adult women who know where our commonalities are and know where our value alignment ends," Eboni says. "So now that that's thoroughly been investigated and is crystal clear to everybody involved -- most importantly me and Ramona -- we can share a space. That's where me and Ramona are."

"What I don't believe in is silencing people," Eboni declares. "I don't believe in canceling of people. I don't believe in shutting down of people and things that you don't like or want to talk about. I say, let's all bring it on, in a really loving, important way."

Eboni plans to bring it on, to borrow her own phrase, at the soon-to-film all-cast reunion. Eboni calls reports that the sit-down special taping has been postponed indefinitely "ridiculous." It's happening and Eboni has a "fire" dress being made. 

Eboni K. Williams' headshot for season 13 of The Real Housewives of New York City
Sophy Holland / Bravo

"Everybody's incentivized to make the reunion happen," she says. "I'm looking very much forward to this reunion. I think my castmates are, too, because a lot of crap went down this season. And it'll be great, I think, for everybody to be able to express how they feel, how they felt watching it back. I mean, for me as a newbie, I mean, it was a lot."

"I think it'll do us all tremendous good to sit down as grown adult women and have this big, open conversation so that everybody can, as we say in the Southern church, all hearts and minds can be clear," Eboni adds. "Amen."

There's still a good chunk of the season left to watch before the reunion, though, including what Eboni calls the “crystal titty moment” first shown in the season trailer, the rest of Black Shabbat and Eboni connecting with her biological father’s side of her family for the first time ever.

"I've learned that I'm actually a lot more vulnerable than I thought," Eboni says of reliving that experience. "I tend to be very guarded and very pragmatic and very, kind of, able to separate myself from the emotion of it all and always think with my head. And, I just wore my heart on my sleeve with this one, and really, really, went there."

"We find out the results -- I find out the results -- and I lose it in a really big, important, beautiful way," she teases. "And I am glad that I let myself go emotionally and feel it. Sometimes I think I can shut down the feelings and compartmentalize to get through and to deal. Obviously, it's a coping mechanism. But I had nothing for that moment other than just a kind of sweet, little 6-year-old girl would found her daddy and it was really special."

Sharing her search for her father has been a bright spot for Eboni in her RHONY journey. She says her DMs are flooded by viewers with similar experiences. 

"So many people from all parts of the world, all parts of America, all ages, demographics, everything, have told me variations of their story," she shares. "And there's so much shame and stigma, I think specifically when it comes to paternity and fatherlessness and feelings of illegitimacy, and it's really been through this season and … meeting my actual blood family. Oh my god. To share that with people and to hopefully help de-stigmatize stepping into that experience of finding that out has brought me a lot of pleasure. And it makes me really happy to be a Housewife."

The Real Housewives of New York City airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. To learn more about JewBelong, visit the organization's website.

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