Sheree Zampino on Living With the Label of 'Will Smith's Ex-Wife' and If She'd Join 'RHOBH' (Exclusive)
By Brice Sander
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For more than 25 years now, Sheree Zampino has been most-often identified as "Will Smith's ex-wife," and she’s OK with that.
"It could be worse. I could be connected to Charles Manson," the 53-year-old quips to ET over video chat. "You know, it's not my label, and I can't control the labels that other people put on me. But the reality is, that is a part of my history."
"But I'm not behind anybody," she adds. "I'm not in anybody's shadow."
While the public's always been interested in Sheree and Will's relationship (they share a 28-year-old son, Trey), interest piqued in 2018, when Will's current wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, invited Sheree to be the inaugural guest on her Facebook Watch show, Red Table Talk. The emotional chat (both women cried) made headlines, as Sheree and Jada explained their past beef and current friendship in-depth for the first time. Sheree brought Jada to tears when she thanked her for "loving my baby," Trey.
"Red Table Talk talk too much, I tell them that," Sheree jokes. "I said, 'Y'all be talking way too much.'"
Sheree returns to the show this week for a special holiday episode ("We cooked and just had a ball, just had a ball together," she shares. "That’s family, that is my forever family."), though she's not always holly-jolly about what goes down at the titular table, like in July, when Will called his 1995 divorce from Sheree his "ultimate failure."
"I was not pleased," Sheree admits. "I understood his heart in it, but I don't want to be -- you're a successful man. Everything you touch works. I don’t want to be associated in that way."
"So, I challenged him, 'cause I'm big on the words that you speak over your life," she adds. "I don't want to be in the same sentence with 'failure.' When you look at what we've been able to do, the marriage didn't work, but we are a success. The love that we have for each other, the co-parenting journey -- and not doing it perfectly, but being effective, and being an example for other people. So, we're -- I'm -- a part of his greatest success."
Sheree put some of that journey out for public consumption as a cast member on VH1's 2012-2014 reality show Hollywood Exes, a Real Housewives-style series that's guiding principle was the fact that its cast was made up of women who were once married to famous men: Sheree was joined by Andrea 'Drea' Kelly (ex-wife of R. Kelly), Nicole Murphy (ex-wife of Eddie Murphy), Mayte Garcia (ex-wife of Prince), Jessica Canseco (ex-wife of Jose Canseco), Shamicka Gibbs (ex-wife of Martin Lawrence) and, in season 3, Shanna Moakler (ex-wife of Travis Barker).
While each of the women carried the name of a famous man, the show was their chance to show off who they really were.
"Our dynamic was a sisterhood, it really was," Sheree says. "We walked in each other's shoes, so we instantly had a connection and a bond that many couldn't relate to, or might not have had empathy for, you know, 'cause we have what are called 'champagne problems.' So, when you have five other sisters who understood it -- because really, it's all the same at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who you were married to, you know, divorce produces the same heartache and heartbreak and everybody has their process to walk through."
Hollywood Exes lasted just three short seasons, though Sheree's confident it would do better if it aired in 2020.
"At the time when we did the show, what was desired and what was wanted was the 'fast food approach,' I feel, to reality. You know, you wanted the controversy, you wanted the drama, you wanted the backbiting, and we weren't that," she notes. "That's not what we served up. So, we didn't last, but that's OK, because it's interesting -- I really feel the universe has spoken and people want something more real and more authentic, you know? There are options, let's see people that are trying to support one another, that are sympathetic to each other's plight."
VH1 is giving Sheree (and the Hollywood Exes fanbase) a glimpse at what a revival might look like with Hollywood Exes: Reunited, a one-time sit-down special featuring Sheree and her co-stars. The women will dish behind-the-scenes dirt on the show and spill secrets from their lives since the finale. A lot has changed in the six years since 2014; in fact, a lot changed in the months after the show went off the air.
The season 3/series finale centered around Drea's wedding to the man whom she believed to be her "forever love," Brian McKee. They wound up splitting just two months later. Not long after that, Sheree separated from her then-husband, Terrell Fletcher. Then, in 2016, Mayte's ex, Prince, died.
"We filled in the gaps," Sheree promises of the special. "We've had death, divorce, scandal -- that's a lot in the time that we've been off the air, so a lot of those blanks are filled in and we catch you up into our right now, what was and what is, so I think the fans will be pleased."
"We're bringing the love, the laughter, the tears," she teases, "the whole range of emotions that sisters experience and go through."
One wife is missing from the reunion, though: Jessica Canseco. While Sheree says the two are still in touch, Jessica did not end her time on Hollywood Exes on the best foot with Drea and Shamicka, who called her out for making what they believed were racist comments.
"You know, she made her choice," Sheree says of Jessica's absence, "and that's OK, you know? That's OK. It's just like, in your life, whoever is supposed to be there is going to be there and we love her, but we didn't miss a beat."
Fans have kept up with the ladies on social media since Hollywood Exes ended, and Sheree's accounts blew up after she made a cameo appearance on an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in May, when the show's first-ever Black star, Garcelle Beauvais, invited her girlfriends on to shoot a happy hour scene. Twitter lit up during the airing, calling for Bravo to recruit the actress' friends to become full-time co-stars, Sheree included.
"Yes, it is something [I'm interested in]," Sheree confesses. "I wouldn't shoot it down. I would definitely consider it -- and there's more to come, 'cause we've had other scenes together. Her and I filmed scenes [for season 11], so it definitely is something I would consider."
If you need a hint at what Sheree might be like as a Housewife, she says she'd steal The Real Housewives of Potomac star Gizelle Bryant's current tagline as her own: "I'm the baddest thing walking, and the most anointed one talking!"
In a dream world, Sheree says she would like to do Real Housewives and a fourth season of Hollywood Exes. She's confident the reunion's ratings will have VH1 enticed to bring the show back.
"When they said about the reunion and we all agreed to do it, I said, 'Let me binge watch the show,' because it’s been so long -- it’s been six years! I can't remember what I did yesterday, let alone six years ago," she cracks. "So, I said, OK, let me get acquainted with things and I’ll tell you, I love the show."
"I enjoyed it so much," she gushes. "So then, for the fans to really want this -- 'cause I don't think fans would watch it if there wasn't a demand for it, or want or pull for it -- but it makes sense to me, 'cause I think people are over the cattiness. People want something positive. People want to heal. People want to be whole, and I think with us we really embodied that."
Sheree says she's got a lot more story, and a lot more of herself to share with the world. In the final episode of Hollywood Exes, she proclaimed that it was finally her time to "do me," and that's the journey she’s been on these last six years.
"It's been transition. It's been growth. It's been a relaunch and a rebuilding," she muses. "I kind of get emotional when I think about this, because I just turned 53, and in 53 years, in this space and this time, with the quarantine and what's happening in the isolation and just the distractions that I didn't have the discipline to silence, or to kind of put in their proper place, I've really learned to love me. To look at my reflection and say, 'I love you and I like who you are,' is everything."
See more from Sheree on Hollywood Exes: Reunited, a VH1 special hosted by Jeannie Mai airing Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.