Ariana Madix knows firsthand that some dreams take a little longer to come true. Last year the Vanderpump Rules star went from reality-TV personality to household name in the wake of Scandoval, the scandal that ended her nearly decade-long relationship with VPR costar Tom Sandoval when it was revealed that he was cheating on her with fellow cast member Rachel Leviss. Madix took her broken heart and turned it into art, parlaying her very public breakup into endorsement deals, a plum role in a Lifetime movie, and a celebrated run on Dancing With the Stars, which saw her come in third place.
Now she’s following in the footsteps of celebrities like Pamela Anderson, as well as Bravolebrities like Erika Jayne, as she prepares to play the most dangerous woman on Broadway, Chicago’s Roxie Hart. “I don’t know that I ever thought that I would be able to play Roxie,” Madix said shortly after her final costume fitting for the show, which marks her Broadway debut. “You almost think the dream is too big, right? That it’ll never happen for you.”
Before she became the patron saint of women scorned, Madix dreamed of the Great White Way. A Florida native, she graduated from college with degrees in theater and broadcast communications. From there, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in theater, but, like so many actors, she didn’t find overnight success.
“My goal was always to be a working actor,” said the 38-year-old. “It’s something that took, for me, outside of Vanderpump, between 10 and 20 years to have steady work.” For the woman who made her VPR debut as a nameless backup dancer during Scheana Shay’s performance of “Good as Gold,” starring on Broadway as Roxie Hart is as unexpected as it is full circle. And while the road to the stage may have been paved by heartbreak, Madix is at peace. “You know how in movies when you go back in time and you change something, and then everything else is different?” she said. “I wouldn’t want to change anything.”
Vanity Fair spoke with Madix about making her Broadway debut (beginning Monday, January 29), season 11 of Vanderpump Rules (which premieres Tuesday, January 30), and still sharing a house with her ex-boyfriend.
Vanity Fair: This must be such a surreal moment for you as someone who grew up loving theater. Tell me about your theater journey.
Ariana Madix: I moved to New York after college. I wanted to pursue acting and theater, and I started doing more on-camera stuff—that was around the time that Katie Holmes actually was in Chicago on Broadway.
I started to learn a lot more about the business of entertainment, the showbiz. Not to say that I’m not the best actor—I would never knock myself like that—but it’s a combination of things. You can’t just be the best dancer, the best singer, the best actor. You have to also be able to make it make sense business-wise. That was something that I realized riding the audition grind after college. The feedback from all these auditions is, “Oh, my gosh. You were so great.” My manager’s getting calls like, “We’d love to have her back for something else. We have an offer out to a name.” That was always the thing. And moving to LA, I wanted to do more TV, more film, to try to build that résumé and to be able to be taken seriously. That led me down, obviously, a very different path—one that was very unexpected. But one that I’m ultimately grateful for because it brought me full circle, because it brought me back here.
It’s not just about talent or sheer natural talent; there’s a business element too.
With Dancing With the Stars, there was an opportunity that was put before me because of a level of notoriety, but then it’s my job to take that opportunity and show people that I deserve it and to prove my worth. I feel like I did that with Dancing, and I feel like that’s what I’m here to do on Broadway as well.
I love that you used the word notoriety. You didn’t murder anybody, right?
But you’re not that dissimilar to Roxie Hart. This last year you’ve reached a new level of fame, and a man’s character has been assassinated along the way. Has your personal experience helped inform your take on Roxie Hart at all?
Oh yeah. There are elements of Roxie that I really connect with—some of her dialogue, specifically; saying things like, “If life is a game, I’ll play it the best. I won’t give up. I won’t give in.” She literally is never down and out. And if she is, she’s not there for long. That is something that I’ve related to because this past year, this isn’t the first time that I’ve been through shit. I am 38 years old. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been knocked down. This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled. This isn’t the first time that I’ve had to try to lift myself up. I think that that’s something with Roxie—that she can’t be counted out.
What were some of your favorite roles you played growing up?