When Amanza Smith first started filming season 2 of Selling Sunset, she was just excited to start a new chapter of her career in real estate — she'd been a designer for many years, but had just gotten her realtor license. Her personal life was the same it had always been — 50/50 custody of her kids, who would spend a week with their father and a week with her.
"It had been that way for the past eight years since we had gotten a divorce when my kids were 1 and 2, and we never missed a step," Smith told Refinery29 via phone in early August. "He was an amazing dad and he was very much in love with the kids and vice versa."
A few weeks into filming, however, her ex-husband, former NFL player Ralph Brown, seemingly dropped off the face of the planet.
"Had this happened before I signed the contract, I don't know that I would have been so willing to be a part of a reality show because it was so personal. However, it happened about, I don't even know, maybe a month into filming, maybe two weeks into filming is when he just went off the grid," Smith explained. "In season 2 you don't really see a lot of it because I wasn't sure how much to share, because I was still trying to figure out exactly what was going on. Still, I'm trying to figure out what's going on."
When it became clear that her ex's behaviour would require her to legally obtain full custody of her kids, and that being a solo parent 100 percent of the time would have a major impact on her ability to do her work, she made the decision to open up more on camera in the show's third season.
Season 3 even includes a sweet scene with both of her children, who encourage her as she starts a new professional chapter.
"I wanted to say a little so that people didn't just think I was this scatterbrained, tardy, whatever human. I'm trying to establish myself as an agent at the most successful brokerage in West Hollywood and now I'm late all the time. So it was important that I shared something so people knew what was going on," Smith said. "It was such a huge part of our life that there was really no way to even hide it. So I just kind of leaned into it. I mean, I still didn't share everything and the depths of it. I'm sure it'll come out because everybody's a little bit concerned or interested to know what's going on."
Even deciding to film near the courthouse downtown was a nerve-wracking decision, because Smith didn't want it to seem like she was courting attention or paparazzi while also dealing with a very serious legal matter, on which she won't elaborate beyond what she's already said. But Selling Sunset creator Adam DiVello assured her that he only wanted to film the real-life experiences she was having, and he wanted her best friend, costar Mary Fitzgerald, to be able to support her.
All that said, Smith doesn't want to say anything bad about her ex. "I definitely didn't want to, in any way, bad mouth him or say anything bad about him because he was an amazing father up until he disappeared," she said. But she is glad that she's been able to be open about the struggle of single parenting and to inspire women who are considering career changes later in life. "I guess it's the best worst case scenario. If it's helping others, then I'm happy to share."
The hardest scene for her to watch? The one featuring Noah, 10, and Braker, 8. "I think I cried through five of the eight episodes this season," she admitted.
But that scene alone should be proof that Selling Sunset isn't scripted. "When people ask us, I'm like, 'Okay. My kids are not Oscar award-winning actors,' you know? So yeah, it was really sweet. They're awesome. I don't want to involve them in the show a ton, but I was glad that people got to see me as a mom and not just talking about being a mom."
Another season 3 revelation for Smith: Clearing the air with costar Heather Rae Young, with whom she butted heads after making a comment about being careful around her then-new boyfriend's kids. Young and HGTV star Tarek El Moussa have since announced their engagement — and Smith and Young have long put the issue behind them.
"We have a girls trip planned soon. We're all hanging out. We're getting the kids together. Now we're thick as thieves. So it is interesting how everything has kind of flipped around," Smith said. "I think that when I made that comment to Heather in the office, that she was very fresh into her relationship and she was very defensive of it because people were giving her so much crap like, 'Oh, it's only been a month and you guys are this and that.' So she was already on hyper-defense mode anyway. And I think that was the straw that broke the camel's back."
Young even reached out to Smith after watching season 3 to apologise for her reaction, saying that she had no idea how much Smith was going through. But Smith, cool as ever, told her not to worry about it.
"We've been close since before we even stopped filming," said Smith. "We had squashed that stuff months ago."