Ashley Darby very much relates to Jada Pinkett Smith and the whole "entanglement" saga.
"Oh my gosh," the Real Housewives of Potomac star sighs when the topic comes up. Back in June, Jada and her husband, Will Smith, revealed to the world that Jada had a relationship outside of her marriage to Will with singer August Alsina that went on for quite some time. Jada and August's "entanglement," as Jada dubbed it, occurred while Will and Jada were on a break of sorts from their marriage.
"You know, I related to that a little more than I'd like to admit," Ashley says, recalling watching the episode of Red Table Talk on which Will and Jada discussed their relationship woes.
"I was like, man, Jada. I'm with you girl," she continues. "I get it. I mean, marriage is just so hard -- and it's really hard being a public figure and having difficulties, and it's even more difficult when you decide to talk about them and say some things that aren't necessarily fitting the mold of what people think a marriage is or should be."
Ashley's marriage to her husband, Michael, has been under a microscope for five years of RHOP. They have an age difference (she's a millennial, he's in his 50s) and a number of cultural differences (she's American and biracial, he's from Australia), and there hasn't been a single season where allegations of infidelity, hidden sexuality or some combination of the two aren't a topic of discussion. Season 5 is no different, as Ashley's co-star, Candiace Dillard Bassett, receives a text message with new accusations against Michael. This time, someone claims to have seen Michael out at a strip club, where he allegedly shared that he has "a boyfriend and a wife."
"Obviously, Candiace and I have had our share of differences in the past, so I wasn't really keen on believing her from the beginning, because Candiace has said a lot of things that weren't true," Ashley shares of what starts to play out in this Sunday's episode.
"I took it with a grain of salt... and then it unfolds and boy, does it unfold," she adds. "I mean, there's, like, layers upon layers upon layers of it."
In the past, Ashley and Michael have largely brushed off the rumors, denied them or gotten involved in legal action about them. This time will be different, though, as Ashley admits Michael did make a "pretty significant" mistake. Viewers will see the 32-year-old confront her husband in an upcoming episode.
"I'm truthful and I know that can be a hard thing to believe, and that people want to think that we make up things and there's all these facades around our relationship, but I really am truthful," she says. "So if there's something that needs to be talked about, if there's a hurdle that we actually do need to overcome or an issue we have to address, we're going to address it."
"It's not as though I've said those things in the past to be facetious, or to just, like, you know, create this false illusion about my marriage," she adds, referencing the way the couple has handled marital speed bumps in the past. "No, if there was an issue then, I would've talked about it. When we were having issues with the restaurant [we owned], I was upfront and talked about it. When I was having issues with my mom and how my family dynamic was working, we talked about it, and this is not going to be any different. So, the things that were false, yes, I said those were false. The things that are true, I will talk about them, and if they're true, they're true."
Ashley says fans will definitely learn some new information about her relationship and how it works before season 5’s end.
"I'm not a conventional person and I just don't think it's gonna come as a shock to anybody," she teases. "Michael and I are an unconventional couple in many ways."
The pair is still very much together, though. They recently wrapped up an extended stay at their beach house in Delaware, and are now back home in the Potomac area. (And she's not sure why Google has Michael labeled as "Ashley Darby’s ex-husband," but offers a joke guess of a petty employee of the search engine just wanting to mess with her.)
"I love my husband," she declares. "He's a great husband, and my relationship is going to withstand. It's strong enough to withstand a lot. It's really going to be up to us to what we think is something we can overcome. I'm not going to let the media, or the public, or the opinions of others affect what I do and how I approach my marriage. Everyone's going to have an opinion. I'm sure there'll be some very strong reactions to what they see and what happens, but ultimately the only person who really lays next to Michael at night and has to have these discussions is me. So, that's that."
"People say that becoming parents can really change your relationship dynamic. I never thought that would be me, but it was me," she says.
Becoming a parent changed more than just Ashley’s marriage; it changed her whole world. She was just two months postpartum when season 5 started filming, and she wasn't sure she was up to the task of doing reality TV while feeling overwhelmed by new motherhood. She briefly considered quitting the series, but her co-stars convinced her she was strong enough to handle it all.
"The women really rallied together to help me feel more comfortable and that is one of the most reassuring things about being in this group," she says. "For them to come together and put their differences aside -- which we know there are many -- to put all those aside and be there for me, it really reminded me that I do belong in this group."
"Talk about a revelation," she adds. "I never thought that Karen [Huger] and I would have bonded the way that we did, or even that Robyn [Dixon] and I would be as close as we are. But yes, this journey has not only been mine. I've had quite a few passengers with me and they've been really supportive."
It hasn't been all love from the girls, though. Ashley quickly found herself at odds with new 'Wife Wendy Osefo, who took issue with Ashley bringing Dean on a girls' getaway to Monique Samuels' lake house. Wendy left her own newborn daughter, Kamryn, at home, not knowing she had the option to bring her child, too. That fact led to not one but two shouting matches between Ashley and Wendy within a 24-hour period, for which Wendy has since apologized (though Ashley notes it wasn't an immediate "sorry.")
"I had no idea that any one of the ladies would have such a strong and vocal and very aggressive opinion about me bringing Dean," Ashley confesses. "I thought it was gonna be a great trip, but then when Wendy lost her top, I was flabbergasted."
"I do accept the apology," she adds. "What I hope that people in general learn is that we just have to be more supportive of each other, rather than that be the first impulse and the first reaction; to just be more considerate of what another person is going through and I hope Wendy learned her lesson, too."
Ashley was privately dealing with a number of postpartum emotions at the time, including anxiety and even some depression. The new mom admits she even found herself contemplating suicide.
"I didn't really anticipate that this would be a journey that I would go down, that I would even begin to have those types of thoughts, so it was a challenge for me to even acknowledge that I was even experiencing it," she shares. "But with the help of a counselor and talking to somebody who can help me come to terms with what I'm feeling, and to help me see a different perspective, I was really able to see a brighter side and I'm so thankful that I have access, that I can financially afford therapy and that I am just so privileged, because so many women don't have that opportunity and a lot of women, unfortunately, do succumb to postpartum depression and it's a really serious problem."
"I hope that I can just be a voice for it and encourage anyone who is experiencing it to get help, and if they can't afford help, then hopefully there's some resources for them," she says.
Ashley shares a lot about her pregnancy-into-motherhood journey, all in hopes of making women who might be experiencing these typically "taboo" topics feel less alone. In one of the first episodes of the season, Ashley shocked her co-stars by confessing she was contemplating getting a Botox shot to her anus to help repair a tear she experienced during childbirth.
"That was just one of the many traumas and I can say that I'm recovered," she offers as an update. "I'm exercising again, I'm feeling good, Dean sleeps through the night. So my body is just like, she's on the up and up."
The same can't be said for the relationship between Ashley's castmates, Candiace and Monique. The season is building to a much-reported-on physical altercation between the women that went down last fall. Little information is publicly known about what went down between the frenemies. Each woman filed charges against the other, but they were all eventually dropped. Bravo has released only a little bit of footage from the fight in the season trailer; it's all Ashley has seen of the moment. She was in the bathroom when the incident occurred.
"I almost ran out of the bathroom with my pants at my ankles!" she admits. "The way that the room was shaking, I thought someone was attacking us. So, I'm first like, 'Oh my gosh. I gotta get out.' And then, when I came out I saw, you know, a melee. I don't really know what I saw. Still, I really don't."
Without knowing the details, the audience is already choosing sides: Team Monique or Team Candiace. Ashley cautions against picking a side, though, at least until viewers can see what happened and its aftermath.
"I don't think it's about taking sides as much as it's about seeing what happened and just really trying to understand that these women were friends, and just looking at the situation in that way rather than looking at it as if it was a boxing match or as like a fight," she says. "This isn't UFC. We just had a disagreement that escalated and got out of hand. That's how I want people to see it. Not so much as being like, you know -- it's not Tyson vs. Holyfield. It’s two women who just… it got out of hand."
Ashley admits she found herself siding with Monique, at least at first, due to her past history with Candiace. Last season, Ashley and Candiace got into a screaming match at Candiace's home, which included Candiace threatening Ashley with a butter knife.
"I initially thought -- and I still don't have any clarification -- that Candiace was an active provoker in this argument, so I wanted to be there for Monique because she has been such a supportive person to me," she says. "She was really supportive when all those things were going on with Michael and the ladies were making jokes about it. The one person who was calling me, texting me, checking on me was Monique, and I wanted to be able to reciprocate that to her because she was obviously going through a difficult time. That's not like her."
"She and I have gotten into arguments and it's never gotten physical," Ashley adds. "So I knew that it was something more that was going on with Monique."
The fight no doubt changes the course of season 5 and future seasons of RHOP. Candiace claims she has no interest in filming the show with Monique moving forward, suggesting she would quit if Monique stayed a part of the cast.
"I'm like, well, what does that mean for the rest, for all of us?" Ashley asks. "We're just a nice, dysfunctional family. You can't have people leaving the family!"
A lot of the continued Candiace vs. Monique battle is now playing out off the show, with social media the saga's new arena. Candiace has done multiple Instagram Lives to share her thoughts and feelings about the season, discussing drama with Monique that’s not even playing out on the show. Monique responds to Candiace’s claims in Lives of her own, and in a number of interviews, too.
"There's definitely been some strategic word usage and placement of interviews and things like that, that I personally have never thought to operate that way," Ashley says. "But they're two people who can, you know, they're handling it the way that they want. Just different than what I would've done."
Ashley says she's excited for fans to see how everything plays out and if gaining new information will change any preconceived notions about season 5.
"Our group continues to change and continues to evolve," she notes. "Nothing is stagnant. Nothing just stays the way it is. We all continue to grow and evolve. And sometimes for the best and, you know, sometimes for the worst. But either way, we're always in motion."
The Real Housewives of Potomac airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo, and starting Sunday, Sept. 20, all past seasons of RHOP will start streaming on Peacock Premium.