"It's a hard show to do," the sophomore 'Wife confesses to ET over video chat ahead of the season 11 premiere. "Somebody asked me about [my talk show] The Real and I said, 'With The Real, I can totally be myself and have my guard down.’ With The Housewives, it's different because it's not that type of show. So it was definitely a decision. I mean, I don't know how much longer I'll do it, but I'm here now. … It's not a career thing for me.”
Season 10 didn't necessarily leave Garcelle with a bad taste in her mouth (she's back, after all), but she does admit to some unease about this group of women after seeing how they treated her friend (and closest ally on the show), Denise Richards, last year. Denise opted to exit RHOBHafter a very tense virtual reunion, which saw the cast, namely Lisa Rinna, go hard at the Drop Dead Gorgeous star over her supposed lies, most notably her denial of an affair with one-time Housewife Brandi Glanville. To this day, Denise maintains she and Brandi never had that kind of relationship, and to this day, Lisa seems to not buy it.
"[Before we started filming] actually, I spoke to the producers and I said, 'Going back, the first thing I want to do is I want to have two sit-downs: one with [Kyle Richards] and one with Rinna,'" Garcelle recalls. "It was important to me. I can't go on pretending like everybody's great when we have an elephant in the room. So they promised me that would be the case and they kept to their word."
Garcelle's one-on-one with Lisa plays out in the premiere, with the Melrose Place alum taking advice from her own (iconic) lips and "owning it" when it comes to the debacle with Denise.
"I was harder on Denise than I needed to be," Lisa tells Garcelle. "I would’ve much rather been like you and gone, 'I don’t care. I’m standing by my friend.' Like, that’s f**ked up. Absolutely, 100 percent."
"I don't want to fake it," Garcelle says of why it was important to hash things out as soon as possible. Her tagline hints at this, too: "If you want a starring role in my life, you better drop the act."
"Everybody's a great actor in this group, everybody should get an Academy Award," she jokes. "I think sometimes people put certain fronts up and it's not really who they are, so I think everybody deserves an Academy Award."
"I feel like with Rinna, I had a really hard time because we had been friends for so long and to see her treat another friend that she has known for so long [like that], really, was disturbing to me," Garcelle adds. "And I felt like, how do I trust you if you can do that to someone you've known?"
As viewers will see, Lisa leaves that dinner thinking the beef has been squashed, while Garcelle wants to continue the conversation. She still has yet to refollow her co-star on social media.
"I think she wants to make it right, but I don't think you can make it right over one drink or dinner," Garcelle declares. "I felt like she went to a place that was so unnecessary last season, so it was hard for me to get around that, and we're still working. I mean, I told her flat out that trust is important, and I don't necessarily trust her wholeheartedly. So during the season you will see us trying to figure it out. Some good, some not so much."
Garcelle is still friends with Denise, recently catching up with her former co-star over drinks of their own.
"We caught up, I told her what was happening and I told her that we missed her," Garcelle says, revealing that she and Denise had hoped to film a meet-up or two for season 11, but scheduling never quite worked out.
"I have to tell you, she looks happier and younger since she's left the show," Garcelle cracks. "She's in a good place. I mean, I would love to see her come back. I really do. I understand why she didn't, but I'd love to see her come back."
Then there’s the other sit-down Garcelle mentioned, with Kyle, set to air during episode 2 of season 11. Garcelle and Kyle never quite found their footing in season 10, with things taking a harsh turn at the reunion when Kyle accused Garcelle of skipping out on a charitable donation she committed to making at a benefit Kyle threw for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
While the moment might seem like the sort of innocuous disagreement common on Housewives, Garcelle found it important to dig into the subconscious subtext of the allegation, that of a micro-aggression. It’s one thing to accuse a white woman of stiffing a charity, but it can be quite another to accuse a Black woman of the same.
"That was the hardest thing, because I don't think [Kyle] understood the ramifications of that," Garcelle notes. "The thing that really bothered me is that she had my personal phone number, she could have contacted me. And I said that to her when I sat down with her and she was like, 'But I don't do that. That's not what I do for the charity…' Well, if they were trying to get ahold of me, why didn't you just reach out and say, 'Garcelle, they're trying to get ahold of you?'"
"I just felt like there's tones that people don't understand because now we're being more 'woke' than we've ever been," she continues. "So I think she did not understand that, and we got to a place where -- I say this in my confessional -- I didn't want to cuss her out, I wanted to educate her, and I think that’s way she received it, which is how we've been able to move our relationship forward."
For the record, Garcelle has refollowed Kyle, a hint at the uptick their friendship takes after said meeting. Race and discussions around it promise to be an undercurrent of RHOBH’s new season, thanks in part to Crystal Kung Minkoff's casting. The 38-year-old is the California-set series' first-ever Chinese-American cast member, who joined the show just as anti-Asian violence spiked in the U.S. as racist rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus pandemic became part of the national conversation. This, of course, comes after the Black Lives Matter movement surged in response to police brutality against Black Americans last summer.
There's a discussion happening among Housewives fans and Bravo watchers on social media, questioning the way in which some of these historically white casts have been integrated over the last couple of seasons. From Garcelle in Beverly Hills to Dr. Tiffany Moon in Dallas and, most recently, Eboni K. Williams in New York City, just one woman of color is introduced to the group, putting these women in situations where there’s not necessarily someone else with whom they have a shorthand, a fellow minority who can act as an ally.
"It's funny because I think the fandom can read my mind, because just the other day, I said, 'I'm tired of being the only Black woman in this group. I'm tired of always being the only Black one in the room,'" Garcelle candidly offers up. "But Crystal, definitely, we were able to have conversations about people seeing color and race, so that was nice to be able to have somebody there to sort of share that experience."
That sense of allyship is especially needed when the discussion turns to race, particularly in the political atmosphere of the last two years. As more white people's eyes open to the atrocities faced by communities of color, those same distressed communities take on the emotional labor of educating those without the same lived experience.
"I had a big blowout about that on Housewives this season, for sure," Garcelle shares. "I mean, I had enough. I had had enough and I needed to let it out and I didn't even realize that I needed to let it out, but I did. I think it's hard. I think if you're not in it, you don't understand. But I think you can no longer use that as an excuse, just because it doesn't affect your life doesn't mean that it's not happening."
When asked if another Black woman joining the cast (like, say, her good pal -- and Will Smith's ex-wife -- Sheree Zampino) might change Garcelle's mind about her Housewives longevity, her answer is, maybe.
"I definitely need an ally, that would be fun," she says. "I mean, I think it would, I think it would. And I don't think whether it's a Black woman, would I stay longer or not? I mean, I'm not making any decisions, but I take it one season at a time, which is what I do really in my life. I mean, I really do things one day at a time in terms of what I want to do, where I want to go next and I love mixing it up."
The season 11 trailer offers some teases of the discussions the group has surrounding race, including one about "not seeing color" between Crystal and "friend of" turned full-time Housewife Sutton Stracke. In a separate exchange, Crystal tells Sutton, "You're an inappropriate, awkward person."
"I think they both rubbed each other the wrong way right out the gate, both of them," Garcelle observes. "I know when Sutton said, 'I don't see color,' 10, 15 years ago, people would say that and that would be the polite thing to say, right? But now, you can't really say that anymore, because if you don't see color, then you truly don't see me. Because that's the first thing, when I walk into a room, that's what you're going to see first."
Garcelle says she "can’t speak for everybody," but seems pretty certain that all the women grew from having those sorts of conversations on camera.
"That was one of the things that I'm really happy about this season is, we get to have conversations, tough, uncomfortable conversations that are actually happening in the world," she remarks. "I think shooting a reality show, if you're not talking about what's really happening in the world, that's a missed mark. So, I was really grateful that we had uncomfortable conversations."
Garcelle and Sutton have gotten closer over the last year, even hanging out off-season, much to fans' delight. Garcelle says she was Sutton's first call when the boutique owner found out she'd been promoted to diamond-holder status for season 11 (Sutton was set to be a full-time Housewife in season 10, but stepped back to a "friend of" role due to her ongoing divorce).
"Oh my god, I felt like she deserved it so much," Garcelle gushes. "We screamed and hollered, it was ridiculous. I was so happy because I feel like she deserves it. She brings it. The fans love her and she's really authentic. She's really authentic. She's not out to hurt anyone. We all say our little shady remarks, but Sutton's not out to hurt."
While she may not be out to hurt, Sutton’s not afraid to poke. The first looks at season 11 show her digging into Erika Jayne's state of affairs. The "Pretty Mess" songstress filed for divorce from her husband of more than 20 years, attorney Tom Girardi, while filming. Not long after, she and Tom were sued, accused of using their divorce as a cover-up to embezzle funds, allegedly stolen from the families of plane crash victims. New information about the case and how Tom ran his law practice (the state of California has since disbarred him) continues to eke out.
"I don't know if we know everything," Garcelle says. "I don't know if we'll ever know anything. I mean, obviously there were certain things that she could not talk about, but she was definitely much more revealing than I thought. I mean, we all asked her questions because she was open to it, and I think Sutton came from a really good place about why she was asking those questions, because this is big stuff we're talking about. And, in a way, you got to make sure you're protected, because we don't know, we're just talking about it. We don't know."
Just this week, a Daily Mail headline claimed investigators would be "transcribing every word" uttered by Erika in season 11, to potentially be used against her in court.
"We didn't even know going into it that those things were a possibility, and that's what Sutton brought up," Garcelle reveals, "and to me, it made perfect sense and it didn't go well with everybody. Not everybody felt the same way."
In the trailer, Erika grits her teeth at the Georgia transplant, tersely telling Sutton, "I am not a liar. You have a lot of f**king nerve." When Sutton tells Erika, "Don’t talk to me like that," the veteran Housewife fires back with, "Or what?," repeatedly, before telling Sutton to "shut the f**k up."
"The thing with that is, I was next to Erika so her back was turned to me," Garcelle recalls. "I got her ponytail. So I didn't see how angry she was. I mean, I knew she was because I could tell all the other girls were reacting, but it wasn't until I saw that scene that I was like, wow. And then of course Sutton got really upset. And as she should, that was tough. That was really tough."
In past interviews, Garcelle admitted to being proud of how Erika handled herself while filming, but when questioned if she believes everything Erika said to the women, Garcelle coughs out, "I'm going to plead the fifth."
"I don't think Erika knows everything and it's just a tough spot to be in," she adds. "I mean, her life changed drastically in a matter of days. I can relate to that. When I got my divorce, it was public. It's hard to live something so personal so publicly, and being on a reality show just amplifies it that much more. So I definitely feel for her, but I feel for the victims. If this is absolutely true, then my heart goes out to the victims and no one else."
At the very least, Garcelle says viewers should walk away with "more insight" into everything unfolding in Erika's world, amending her statement with, “But that’s her story to tell.”
Second seasons are typically tougher for Housewives (see, well, Denise), but Garcelle quips that "Erika made it a little less tough on me."
"The second season, I knew what I was in for," she notes. "The first season, although you watch the show, you're a fan of the show, it's different when you're on it. So this season, I felt like I got my bearings and I was a lot more comfortable and opinionated -- as I always am -- and I think a lot of fun is going to be had, and drama of course."
Garcelle first teased the drama of season 11 mid-filming, during a January appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, proclaiming, "They're coming for me, let me just say that! They're coming for me, but I’m ready."
"OK, well, that particular day we had just finished [filming] and I felt like [Dorit Kemsley] was coming for me,” Garcelle reveals. “I felt like she had things that she wanted to get off her chest, rightfully so. So, that was where my head was at that day.”
Once again, though, Garcelle promises there’s "more fun" in season 11 than season 10, which she says "was all about Denise." In season 11, the apparent ambassador of fun is none other than Kathy Hilton, Kyle’s sister, who joins the show as a part-time cast member.
"She is really fun," Garcelle says. "I enjoyed her a lot. I had gone to dinners -- in Beverly Hills, you see everybody at dinners, at events, and I had seen Kathy Hilton and been at intimate dinners with her, and I really got to see a different side of her. I had one opinion going in, but I really came out with a different opinion. I think she's just great."
In the premiere alone, Kathy offers multiple memorable moments, including briefly mistaking Garcelle for her own sister!
"One of my favorite stories about Kathy, she came -- when we were in [Lake Tahoe, California], she came into my room, third night in and she said, ‘I just have a really good feeling that you're going to do amazing things. Don't worry about finding a man, you're going to do some amazing things,'" Garcelle shares. "So I was like, 'Thank you, Kathy.' I'm playing along. And then she went back to Kyle and told her and Kyle goes, 'Kathy, you're no swami, she does amazing things already!' So, that was really funny.”