Never try to predict Lisa Rinna’s taste.
“I heard someone saying, ‘Hide those hideous boots! Lisa will hate those,’ ” says the actress, on the phone from LA the day after our Alexa shoot. “I was like, ‘What boots?’ They brought them out and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Those are the coolest things ever, they make the outfit!’ ”
It’s all part of her approach to both life and work, which is that “I say yes more than I say no,” the actress and “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star says. “Right now, in my life, I’m really very free. I’m not self-conscious, I’ll do anything. And that makes it easy.”
At 58, she’s kind of a TV Tabasco. If you want to spice up a show, just add Rinna. In the soaps heyday of the early ’90s, she joined “Days of Our Lives” as the new love interest of fan favorite Bo Brady (Peter Reckell). She moved on to the Aaron Spelling nighttime soap “Melrose Place,” and had a guest spot on Kristen Bell’s early aughts teen noir “Veronica Mars.” She competed on “Dancing With the Stars” and hosted the SoapNet show “Soap Talk,” not to mention writing three books and releasing a fitness tape and QVC fashion line, before finding a place on one of the defining reality shows of the last 15 years.
Her knack for stirring up trouble is widely credited as a key reinvigoration of Andy Cohen’s franchise. Because Rinna, more than most, understands how to court drama. And she serves it up weekly on “Housewives,” with a twinkle. “The person that’s on the show is a version of me for when people are, like, throwing s–t at me,” she says. “I do things on the show that I would never do in real life. My real life is very lovely and calm.”
Rinna will be the first to tell you she wasn’t always this secure in her career. “I don’t know how I got to this point, all I know is it’s really nice,” she says. “I don’t care if I look silly, and it’s super freeing. There were a lot of hurdles. I definitely didn’t have this way back then. It’s been over the last 10 or 15 years.”
One hurdle, since transformed into a central part of the Rinna brand, was scrutiny over her now-iconic big lips. As she revealed on “Today” in 2009, she got silicone injected into her upper lip when she was in her early 20s, on the front edge of the trend; gradually, those injections hardened into scar tissue, leading her to reduction and recontouring surgery.
Her over-the-top pout (even downsized) became one of Rinna’s trademark looks, along with her shag haircut. So naturally her makeup line, Rinna Beauty, kicked off with a series of lip kits and a plumper. “I mean, you see my name, you kinda know what you’re going to get,” she quips. “It’s not just about having big lips — it’s about having big, healthy, moist lips.” She’s quick to point out that her plumper doesn’t use the chili pepper-derived ingredient, capsaicin, that most plumping products do. “We use something that has mint in it. It’s an enjoyable experience, as opposed to, ‘Oh my god, my lips are really irritated,’” she explains.
“I really wanted to do this 15 years ago, but I couldn’t make a deal with anybody,” she says of Rinna Beauty, which launched in November 2020 after she eventually found the right company to partner with. “And then COVID hit, and we launched a lip kit right when everyone was wearing masks!” she says. “But it took off like bonkers, so now I feel like it’s meant to be.”
Rinna walks the walk, wearing her brand at every opportunity. “I’m wearing the ‘Notice Me’ lip liner, which everybody loves,” she says. “You cover the whole lip with it. And then I’m wearing the ‘Mrs. Hamlin’ lipstick on top.”
That “Mrs. Hamlin” shade, a pinky blush, seems an in-joke for Rinna and her husband, actor Harry Hamlin, whom she married in 1997 and with whom she has two daughters, Amelia Gray Hamlin and Delilah Belle Hamlin. (Along with a still-spicy marriage.)
“You know what? Harry does not like a red lip,” Rinna says with a laugh. “He thinks women become bitchy when they wear red lipstick. I think his mom wore a red lip. So I’m like, ‘OK, fine, whatever you need, sweetie.’ I never wear a red lip when I’m around him.”
But that resolution was tested when she and Hamlin co-starred in “Chicago” on Broadway in 2007. “Roxie Hart wears a red lip!” she says. “So I was like, ‘Honey, you’re going to have to get over it for the next three months.’ It was fine, but we always laugh about that.”
Hamlin, Rinna says, doesn’t have an Instagram account. “He’s completely living his life in a free way, and it’s pretty wonderful to watch.” But he’s always game to appear on Rinna’s feed. A reel earlier this month shows her dancing on their deck while he trims the foliage, both clad in floppy sun hats. “He reminds us all the time that whatever other people think of you is none of your business.”
And what other people think of Rinna is … a lot. Since joining “RHOBH” in its fifth season in 2014, she’s polarized audiences with her instinct for digging into social sore spots (a compilation called “Lisa Rinna’s Messiest Moments” from the show has 1.6 million views on YouTube).
“I just try not to pay attention to [comments], really. I mean, I’m human, so of course it’s going to get me from time to time. But I think at this point I’ve probably acquired elephant skin,” she says. “You have to get to a point where you’re like, listen, what I do is for entertainment.”
Rinna, a longtime gay rights supporter and fan of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” has recently embraced wigs as a way to lean into the playing-a-character aspect of her persona, both on “RHOBH” and the red carpet; she wore a dramatic, long mane to last month’s GLAAD awards. “What the wigs do is give me that characterization of being somebody a little different than myself,” she reflects. “To me, it’s like drag. I understand drag much better now than I ever have. You can express yourself differently, get out of your comfort zone.” She even names her wigs, and several Rinna Beauty lip kits after them.
But the newest season of “RHOBH,” which premieres May 11, wasn’t all cheeky fun for Rinna. Her mother, Lois, died in November, a loss she’s still working through. “I’m trying to just allow myself to feel whatever I feel,” she says. “It’s not just sadness. Grief is a long process. And you’re going to see it play out on the show.”
Around the same time, she came down with COVID. “It was bad — I lost my taste and smell. But it really did allow me to sit and grieve in that moment.” That is, when she wasn’t on video calls for the show. “They FaceTimed a lot while I had COVID. So I think you’ll be seeing that. It’s not always cute.”
Even through the hardships of the past year, she feels grateful to be at the top of her career game at an age when too many women are cast aside by the industry.
“I think I’m an outlier,” she says with her typical candor. “I don’t think this is happening for a lot of women. I wish it were more. Not many people I started out with are still in the business.”
She attributes her staying power to her superhuman work ethic, and “my huge narcissistic desire to have the world approve of me, probably,” but also says her 50s are much better than she’d ever expected. “You really don’t give a s–t anymore. If you’re healthy and take care of yourself, you feel great, because you’re smarter than you’ve ever been. I love my 50s. I think it’s the greatest era.”
Like her idols, Jane Fonda and Cher and Dolly Parton, Rinna plans to keep powering on for decades. “My husband’s working with Jane Fonda right now, and she said to him, ‘Harry, I’m 85 years old and I’m doing more movies than I’ve ever done in my career.’ I mean, if that doesn’t give you hope to keep going, and not sell yourself short, I don’t know what does!”
Editor: Serena French; Stylist: Ashley Pruitt at The Only Agency; Fashion Assistant: Laura Camargo; Photo Editor: Jessica Hober; Hair: Bryan Fisher at A-Frame Agency; Makeup: Steven Tabimba; Location: 1 Hotel West Hollywood; 8490 Sunset Blvd.