Selling Sweetheart

Chrishell Stause is a soap opera veteran. But playing herself on Selling Sunset might be the role of a lifetime.

Tawni Bannister

Tucked away in the Mount Olympus neighborhood of the Hollywood Hills, Chrishell Stause is giving a home tour. Sporting full glam, she sashays through the airy bedroom flanked by glass doors that open up poolside, presenting each area of the midcentury ranch with the delicacy of Vanna White unveiling a new letter on Wheel of Fortune. But the open-concept pad isn’t one the Selling Sunset star is currently looking to sell to anyone: It’s all hers. “I was my own agent on the deal, of course!” she exclaims, taking in the lush views of the canyon and city.

Stause, 40, has reason to be proud. The four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bathroom property is the first she’s owned following her divorce ​​from This Is Us star Justin Hartley. She purchased it in June, after previously renting a much smaller bachelorette pad in the Hills. “This was my big girl step,” she laughs.

Wearing a silky blue, polka-dot wrap dress, Stause is showing off one of the tweaks she’s planning to make to her new home: blowing out a wall to create a spacious walk-in closet. The future closet happens to sit diagonally from a guest room that houses racks of polo shirts and shoes that belong to Stause’s current boyfriend and boss, Jason Oppenheim, the fifth-generation real estate broker who founded The Oppenheim Group. “Normally it’s going to look like a pretty guest room, but it’s gotten taken over momentarily,” she says, referring to his belongings.

On Selling Sunset, Netflix’s first reality show from The Hills creator Adam DiVello, Stause fills the role of America’s sweetheart: the girl next door who joins The Oppenheim Group’s brokerage team in the first episode, sparking drama among its melting pot of personalities. Like the rift between The Hills’ Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag, much of the Netflix show’s drama has been tied to Stause’s frenemy feud with resident “bad girl” Christine Quinn that’s simmered for three seasons (Stause blocked her co-star on social media in 2020 after Quinn labeled her “two-faced” and speculated about her divorce). But despite being at the center of the conflict on screen, Stause insists she hardly has any drama with her non-Selling Sunset friends. If she didn’t have to film with her co-workers for TV, she’d simply cut those who wronged her from her life.

“Not that she would want to apologize, but she’s so far past being able to apologize for things that she’s done,” Stause says of Quinn. Still, she can’t help but add a side of Southern sweetness. “I honestly do say, sincerely, that I want the best for her. I want her to have everything that she wants, because I think when someone is really happy and fulfilled, they don’t try to do things to tear other people down.”

Victor Glemaud clothing, Jimmy Choo shoes, Stylist’s own earrings

Born Terrina Chrishell Stause, the Selling Sunset star was raised in the South — Kentucky, to be precise. She opts to go by her middle name, one her mother created after giving birth at a Shell station with the help of an attendant named Chris. As a self-described “poor, uncool kid” whose family was homeless at various times in her childhood, Stause grew up watching soap operas and admiring the glamorous women on her TV screen. “They seemed like the exact opposite of my life,” she recalls. “So I wanted to be that.”

After graduating with a theater degree from Murray State University in 2003, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Two years later, she landed her first role as the sexy troublemaker Amanda Dillon on the ABC soap opera All My Children, one she’d play until the show’s cancellation in 2011. In between a handful of smaller roles, Stause joined the cast of Days of Our Lives in 2013 as physical therapist Jordan Ridgeway — a character she’d play on and off over the years, making a guest appearance as recently as May 2021.

But even with her successful soap career, Stause’s past financial struggles always lingered in the back of her mind. In 2017, after her Days character was set to move to New York and would thus appear less frequently on the show, she decided to look for a second career that she could have in tandem with soaps. Real estate, she thought, seemed practical. “I don’t want to feel like I’m ever in a situation where I can get things taken away from me and I have to go back to a life where I can’t just stand on my own two feet,” she explains. As someone who has experienced homelessness in the past, entering real estate had “a romance to it”: “I like the idea of matchmaking people with houses.”

It was around that time Stause was approached with the idea of Selling Sunset. Since she was just getting her footing in real estate, she figured she didn’t have much to lose if the show depicted her struggling to make deals. Plus, The Oppenheim Group was a better company than her employer at the time. Stause, perhaps naively, believed that the show was just about selling houses. It didn’t take long for her to realize that it was also about high-stakes chaos, lavish parties, and Real Housewives-like catfighting.

Fendi clothing, Jennifer Fisher ring

Of course, by now, she’s gotten the memo. “They do a really good job to make those moments real,” Stause says of the show’s producers, though she concedes that the interactions are inherently a little contrived. If two people haven’t spoken in a long time, they’re kept separate because they want “juicy” and “organic” on-camera reactions. “I think if we weren’t filming a reality show, some of these things would blow over easier.”

For Stause, the drama of Selling Sunset was just the beginning. Yes, she’s aware her love life has been everywhere lately — perhaps you’ve seen that viral photo of her gently caressing Oppenheim’s bald head? — but even before dating Oppenheim, Stause was accustomed to being tabloid fodder. On the third season of Selling Sunset, Stause says she found out via text message while filming that her husband of two years, Hartley, was filing for divorce. “It was just such a dark, dark, time,” she says. While she “100%” fought producers to not have it play out on reality TV, she kept showing up because she was trying to build her career. Though she now views the uncoupling as “a gift,” she says, grateful as ever, “it was the hardest thing I’ve gone through.”

Fendi top

That personal loss was magnified when her father, Jeff, and mother, Renée, and both died from lung cancer within roughly a year of each other in 2019 and 2020. “It’s been crazy,” she says as her voice cracks. “There’s nothing I can say that’s going to sound eloquent or nice about that because you just never get over it.” Unlike her divorce, “there’s no gift in losing someone so important to you, like a parent.” Her eyes illuminated by tears, Stause searches for a shred of light: “You ​just learn to live with it and adapt.”

Not long after her marriage ended and her mom passed, Stause was invited to join the cast of Dancing with the Stars for Season 29 in the fall of 2020. It seemed like a sign — a way to remain tethered to her mother. “My best memories with her would be dancing with her in the living room, just being silly,” she remembers. “It almost seemed like she had a hand in that because she loved dancing so much.”

Though the show allowed Stause to channel her grief into dance, drama followed. There were rumors that she and her dance partner, Gleb Savchenko, were romantically involved amid his divorce from wife Elena Samodanova (both denied they were; Savchenko went public with his new girlfriend soon after). Even now, Stause is wary of adding a “new comment.” “Everything I said then is what I stand by today. He has a girlfriend, they’re divorced. I’m happy for him,” she says. “Now I’m doing what I just said I wasn’t going to do, and I’m commenting.”

Soon after those rumors began swirling in November 2020, Stause went public with then-boyfriend Keo Motsepe, one of the other professional dancers on Season 29 of DWTS. Conspiracy theories questioning the veracity of their relationship given its timing followed, all of which she vehemently denies. “To me, it’s insane to put your name on something that’s fake and a ruse,” she says. “That’s an insult to him, and I think that was ridiculous.” Still, Stause understands that people have their narratives, and acknowledges it doesn’t help that she “came from soaps”: She could have turned on the chemistry for the camera with any one of the dancers. “The one thing I know how to do is put on a show from here up for the cameras,” she says, gesturing from her chin up. “Now, the footwork? No.”

But while the tabloids might convince people otherwise, Stause says she misses anonymity when it comes to her relationships. “For women, you can work so hard, and sometimes it’s frustrating to feel like people only want to focus on who’s in your bed,” she says. “This happened before when my whole divorce was so public, [but] nobody knew who I was or knew what I did.” The double standard, understandably, frustrates her. “I’m just saying Jason doesn’t get these questions,” she sighs. “They’re talking about real estate with him.”

Jonathan Simkhai cardigan, Calle Del Mar bandeau and panty

Nevertheless, when Stause posted a photo of Oppenheim kissing her neck to her 2.1 million Instagram followers in late July — the caption? “The JLo effect” — she admits she knew exactly what she was doing. Soon enough, the “best friends” who had started dating a few months before had broken the internet. “We were about to get outed, so it was either I post it, or somebody else was about to post it,” Stause recalls. Despite the assumed showboating, she would have preferred to keep their relationship quiet. “I just wanted the freedom to be able to hold my boyfriend’s hand,” she says innocently. “I knew it was going to be a thing.” And, boy, was it.

For both Stause and Oppenheim, the relationship was “unexpected.” “He’s always been a very proud bachelor. That’s the opposite of what I’m looking for,” Stause recalls. “He always dated these young blonde models. We just were not each other’s types.” Against all odds, their relationship was a slow burn. “I became best friends with someone platonically before it started to become romantic, so I just think that over time we both were surprised by it.”

Years prior to dating Stause, Oppenheim had also been romantically linked to Selling Sunset cast member and fellow real estate agent Mary Fitzgerald. On the show, accusations of preferential treatment surfaced as a result. But Stause points out that Oppenheim isn’t technically anyone’s boss because agents are independent contractors. “It’s not the same as going into corporate America and dating your boss,” she notes. Still, Stause hopes she gets treated a little differently at the office. “Well, if I don’t get some favoritism, I’m doing something wrong,” she jokes.

Otherwise, Stause is over talking about her dating life — or at least she wants to be. Despite what the media writes about her relationships, she’s clinging to the hope that Selling Sunset, which debuts its fourth season November 24, will show people there’s more to her than that. What she wants most is for her work ethic to inspire other women.

And Stause has kept busy, whether or not people are aware. She spent the past year writing her forthcoming memoir, Under Construction: Because Living My Best Life Took a Little Work, did another stint on Days of Our Lives, and has some secret projects she can’t speak about yet. And, of course, she’s always making real estate deals. As starry-eyed as Stause can be, she’s also a realist who’s aware that the fame of Selling Sunset is likely fleeting. “It’s one of those things where I know this is all going to go away,” she says. “I’m working really hard behind the scenes [to] build everything during this moment so that when it’s all gone and I get my privacy back, it’s just this fun thing that I talk about that happened.”

Top image credit: Victor Glemaud clothing, Jimmy Choo shoes, Stylist’s own earrings

Photographer: Tawni Bannister

Stylist: Chris Kim

Hair: Bradley Leake

Makeup: Nicholas Wlodarski

Art Director: Shanelle Infante

Bookings: Special Projects