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Exclusive: Denise Richards on Raising Daughters, Real Housewives & Picking Your Battles

Reality TV has a funny way of making you feel like you know someone more than you do — and when it comes to Denise Richards, to know her is to love her. SheKnows sat down with Richards to talk about teenage girls, co-parenting, and Real Housewives drama (on- and off-screen), and the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star was just as laid back and charming as we expected. When it comes to her daughters, her co-stars and pretty much anyone else, Richards knows how to keep her cool. To be honest, we were hoping for tips on how to emulate that kind of serenity — but after chatting with Richards, we’re pretty sure she’s just born with it.

Richards let audiences in on a lot of important moments during Season 9 of RHOBH: her 2018 wedding to Aaron Phypers, the discovery of her daughter Eloise’s chromosomal disorder and her forced evacuation from Malibu during the California wildfires, to name a few. Between major life events, the Drop Dead Gorgeous star is raising her three daughters: Sam Sheen (age 15) and Lola Rose Sheen (age 14) with ex-husband Charlie Sheen, and Eloise Joni Richards (age 7), whom she adopted as a single mother. And then there’s her robust work schedule: in the past few years, she’s filmed a season of Real Housewives, landed a new gig on The Bold & The Beautiful and somehow found the time to shoot a new Lifetime movie too.

Her latest feature film, The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders, comes out on Lifetime September 2nd. Richards plays Candice, whose daughter Ava joins the high school cheerleading team — and quickly realizes the glamorous squad of popular girls is not what it seems. As Ava struggles with the dangerous world of mean girls and hazing, Candice tries to connect with her teen daughter, but finds herself worried when Ava’s stories don’t match what she’s seeing. SheKnows talked with Richards about why she took on this role, what her own mother-daughter dynamics are like and more.

The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders airs September 2nd at 8pm PST / EST on Lifetime.

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A+E Networks. A+E Networks.

SheKnows: Let’s talk about the central mother-daughter dynamic in The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders. It seems like there’s a lot of love there, but not a lot of trust. Did that remind you at all of your relationship with your teenage daughters?

Denise Richards: No, not yet. I haven’t gone through what these two characters have gone through but I can imagine what that must be like, you know, for the history of what happened with her daughter that she would be in a place where it takes time to build trust. But I personally haven’t gone through that.

SK: Was that something that attracted you to the project, the mother-daughter dynamic?

DR: Yeah, and also I think it’s actually a good message for kids, and my kids. I think that there’s not a ton of movies for young teenagers to really watch and have a good positive message and I think that this one does. So that was part of the appeal for me wanting to do it.

SK: Another one of the issues that it tackles is the unhealthy body image and disordered eating that can come up as a teen. Is that something that you faced growing up in the public eye?

DR: You know, my family was always very thin. I didn’t have to ever have concerns about trying to lose weight, so I didn’t have that. But still, you always compare yourself to other people and have different insecurities. From a very early age, I’ve always tried to instill in my girls that it’s about — when they would see me work out, it was about health, not anything other than that.

But I think it’s very difficult for teenage girls now, especially when they see so many different things on social media, and different girls looking one way, and — not realizing there might be filters and editing and all of that — trying to compare themselves. I think that kids nowadays have it really tough.

SK: You’d mentioned that if you could go back, you wouldn’t give your kids Smartphones with access to social media.

DR: I would not, yeah. [Laughs] I made a mistake doing that. But it’s hard to go back and change it!

SK: Do you restrict their access now at all?

DR: Oh, I try, but they’re very smart. [Laughs] That’s the problem with these phones.

SK: You’ve also talked about being a “strict” mom for your kids — and how you were sneaking out of the house starting at age 15. Do you have any regrets about how you spent your teenage years?

DR: No, I would say looking back I was a pretty good girl, I didn’t get into trouble, I wasn’t promiscuous, I never did drugs. My dad put the fear of God in us that if we ever did, we’d be kicked out. We lived in Illinois, so….[Laughs] The thought of sneaking out when there’s a blizzard was not appealing. But I was always pretty much a good girl and stayed in a lot of activities and focused.

SK: So what do you think drives you to be so strict with your daughters now?

DR: Well, I don’t think that it’s that I’m so strict. I just believe that I don’t want my kids to be growing up being entitled. I think it’s important for kids to learn that there are consequences if mistakes are made, and you can’t just be however you want to be in life. Because in the real world, when they’re 18 and on their own, growing up, they’re going to be in for a shock that the world doesn’t always revolve around you.

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A+E Networks. A+E Networks.

SK: We recently learned that Aaron is going to be adopting Eloise, which is amazing. I was curious to hear more about what the co-parenting relationship with him is like, both for Eloise and for your older daughters.

DR: He and I are definitely great partners with the kids and we’re definitely on the same page, which makes it so much easier. We have a strong family unit, we’re very secure and I’m so happy that Eloise has such a wonderful dad and my girls have a great stepdad.

SK: Was that tough at all because he got to know your daughters at an older age?

DR: They saw how — right away — how he treated me and how he was with them and I think they felt comfortable with him right away. It was definitely an adjustment because the girls had always had — I didn’t share my dating life with them, I was very private about it, so it was an adjustment, but it was a good adjustment.

SK: Why did you decide to adopt Eloise when you did?

DR: I knew I wasn’t done having kids. I had always wanted to adopt, and felt that — pursuing it as a single mom, it was something that I just knew [I wanted]. I wasn’t done.

SK: You’ve spoken out about Eloise’s chromosomal disorder. What challenges have you faced in figuring out how to manage her condition?

DR: Well, it was challenging trying to figure out what was causing her delays. And once we did, there’s not really a roadmap for her, so it’s just trying different things out for her. Right now, we’re starting sign language with her. Hopefully, one day she’ll be able to speak. She can only say a handful of words still.

It’s definitely been challenging with schools. At times, it’s not just speech — there are times where she feels much younger than her age. And she needs to be watched 24/7. It’s challenging, but that’s all we know with her. So that’s just how it is with her. Sometimes we don’t realize it until other people point it out, because that’s all we know of her.

SK: Do you have any advice for other moms who are grappling with similar issues?

DR: Every family is different. I think that the hardest thing is trying to — for us, it was trying to figure out what it was. And then, when you realize that there’s not — that everyone’s different, so you don’t know what to expect […] She has so many amazing, positive [qualities]. She’s a light, so we look at her like that. She’s a happy girl.

SK: We hear that you’re coming back for Season 10 of Real Housewives.

 DR: Everyone’s going to have to wait and see.

SK: Was shooting Season 9 what you expected from joining the show, or did any of the women surprise you?

DR: I actually had a lot more fun than I thought. When I signed on, some people were…[Laughs] Well, a lot of times, a Housewife doing a first season doesn’t go as — they’re not as open and receptive. But I had a really good time and all the women were really welcoming and I had fun with them.

SK: That’s great! How did Aaron feel about appearing on the show?

DR: He actually was such a good sport and a trooper! He was very supportive.

SK: You also mentioned that you asked Charlie Sheen about whether or not you should go on the show.

DR: Yeah, when I first signed on, I did. He thought it would be great.

SK: Does he feel comfortable with you talking about him and about your co-parenting on the show?

DR: I don’t know! We’ve never talked about it.

SK: You shared one co-parenting anecdote when you took away your daughter’s cell phone and then Charlie got her a new one. How do you get past moments like that?

DR: You just do. You pick your battles.

SK: Is that your advice for co-parenting with an ex, pick your battles?

DR: Yeah. [Laughs]

SK: How long do you think it took to get to this amicable place?

DR: You know what, I am so done talking about Charlie. I’ve moved on, I have a new husband.

SK: Totally get it! Did you have any big fears about appearing on Real Housewives? Any worst-case scenarios you were worried about?

DR: Not really. I am myself, and I have — Lisa Rinna’s a very good friend of mine, and she has so much fun on the show. I went into it just wanting to have fun and a new experience. I don’t think of it as a job, I think of it as me having these moments with these wonderful women, and people seeing a slice of life of my personal life. I really had a good time. I didn’t want to go in with any preconceived ideas of what things would be like or who was what or — you know, their personalities. I think that’s something that worked to my [advantage]. I wanted to just have fun with it.

SK: After the final reunion episode aired, you made some comments on Twitter that some of Camille Grammer’s remarks had been edited out. Can you share any more about that?

DR: Oh no — people can read between the lines. Moving onwards and upwards…

SK: Are you on good terms with her now?

DR: I haven’t seen her since the reunion. We’re all very busy.

SK: Everyone noticed that you brought such a calm, confident energy to this season of Housewives. What’s your secret? How do you stay so above the conflict?

DR: I think that life is short, and there’s — I think any time you get a group of women together with strong opinions, you can have a heated discussion and different voices about that, which I think is great. But then: resolve and move on. So, that’s how I look at everything. And I am a calm person, it takes a lot to make me not calm.

Especially on the trips — when we’re on trips together and having fun — you know, our kids aren’t there, our husbands are making sure everything’s taken care of at home, so why not have a good time?


This interview has been edited for style and length. 

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