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In 2009, Alexis Neiers did a few things that would change the course of her life. First, she started hanging out with a new crowd of kids from a nearby high school. (She, meanwhile, was homeschooled with her sisters, Tess and Gabby.) Shortly after that, she nailed down her own reality series on E! called Pretty Wild, thanks to a comedian-turned-temporary-producer named Dan Levy — no relation to the co-creator and star of Schitt’s Creek — whom she met on the set of a movie called Frat Party. She was 18 at the time, she recalls. Or, maybe she was 17. Either way, she told Dan she and her “twin” sister Tess were 20— in reality, neither were; Tess was 19 — and eager to be introduced to America as the hippie alternatives to the Kardashian sisters, who were then in the second season of their reality show. Then, Neiers got arrested for robbing the home of actor Orlando Bloom with her new friends in the first of many Hollywood burglaries committed by high school kids, now known iconically as the “bling ring.” And finally, she gave an exclusive interview to Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales about her involvement in the crimes, and her aspirations to become the next Angelina Jolie. Alexis hated the ensuing story, which led her to utter the iconic, tear-filled, line: “Nancy Jo, this is Alexis Neiers calling!” again, and again.
But that was 10 years ago. Now, Alexis Neiers is Alexis Haines. She’s married with two daughters and recently published a memoir, Recovering from Reality: My Journey Back to Wholeness. She's currently sober after being arrested for possession of a controlled substance while on probation for her participation in the "bling ring.” She also runs the drug rehab facility Alo House alongside her husband Evan, who co-founded it in 2010. Haines says that her youthful mistakes have made her who she is today at 28.
“I could write 8 books,” Haines tells Refinery29 as she’s sending her youngest, Dakota 'Coco', out for the day. The first draft of Recovering from Reality clocked in at about 800 pages, and the version that she has ended up sharing with the public focuses mainly her path towards healing, from both addiction and abuse she suffered during her childhood. She dedicates the memoir to other survivors: “For those who have been told that their pain couldn’t possibly be real. For those who have been told that they are too much. For those who have stayed silent. For those who have been silenced. No longer. Your pain is real. This book is for you, this is for us.”
You may still think of her as the girl who believed in the teachings of The Secret (yes, she still does) and screamed at Sales (yes, she still can’t believe Sales wrote that she was wearing six-inch Louboutins when she was wearing Bebe kitten heels: “she painted me in a really hellacious way that you wouldn't depict the male — the actual bling ring leader. [Writing] she was 'wearing Louboutins and Dior' as if I was not taking what i was going through seriously, when it's a very serious thing. [She] wouldn't have described Nick Prugo in that same way.”) but her real story, the one she tells in her book, is much more wild.
Refinery29: Do you feel like a totally different person now than you did in 2009 when you were starring in Pretty Wild?
Alexis Haines: “On Pretty Wild, we were the laughingstock of the world. Every single week we were on The Soup or E! News, and people were constantly making fun of us. I was still a really broken child, who had dealt with trauma and pain, so I couldn't benefit anybody in the world. But if you now go and look at my podcast reviews or in my DMs, it’s all people like, ‘You inspired me to get sober. I'm only sober because I have watched your journey and decided to attempt to do this.’ So had all of those things not transpired the way that they did, I wouldn't be able to help people and the way that that I'm able to now.”
Recently I rewatched Pretty Wild, read your memoir, and listened to your podcast. A lot of your story is very dark. How do you manage to find humor and light-heartedness in the world?
“The memoir itself is pretty intense. The truth of my story is that I was being sexually abused throughout my life. This story is really about how sexual abuse and addiction go hand in hand. There are stages to healing. In the beginning, you have so much shame and embarrassment and then you kind of come into a place of pain and sadness, and empathy for the person. The final stage of that healing is not letting it control you anymore. I watched that entire clip of [myself repeatedly calling] Nancy Jo from start to finish many times and it is really sad. I was so traumatized and so scared. But the memes are actually funny. I just got one with the Star Wars intro, but with my entire script in it like that, you know what I mean? [Laughs].”
You and your family became a pop culture phenomenon. Did you guys really pitch yourselves as the “crunchy Kardashians”?
“We were the alternative to the Kardashians. Every other reality show that came before us was about a family that had like a lot of money. We really didn't have all of that. My sister said so perfectly this morning. She was like, “It was like we were having a Britney moment on every single episode.’ Literally like every episode was a Britney [Spears] meltdown moment.”
Did you ever hang out with the Kardashians?
“I mean, you do the parties and all of those things.”
Looking back, did it feel like E! and the producers were taking advantage of your family?
“The producers signed [us] up to do a reality show that took a complete 180 when I was arrested on this second day of filming. None of us expected that. It made for great reality TV. I kind of wish that my parents would've stepped in and been like, ‘Okay, you just turned 18. This is crazy.’ The show instantly got green-lit and there were things that were done that I felt like were....I could never do their job. With my moral compass, I couldn't do it. I couldn't plant fake pills in the bathroom [for] someone who's clearly struggling with drugs and then have the entire family freak out on them. I couldn't hide the dog and make the girls think that they have lost their dog. But I understand they had a job to do, and I was so naive. I don't think anybody who signs up for reality TV at 18 years old knows.” (Editor’s note: Refinery29 has reached out to E! for comment, but did not hear back before publication.)
What’s your relationship with reality TV like now?
“It’s hard as a consumer to even know: Am I watching something that's funny cause it's supposed to be? Or ‘cause it's sad? You can't really tell. People ask me all the time, ‘Would you ever return to reality TV?’ And I joke and say the only show I'd ever returned to would be Real Housewives just because it's great.”
A lot has changed in the 10 years since you were on a show.
“The difference between then and now is that people are looking for more authentic content. Whereas before it was like really overly scripted because the beginning era of was coming off all of these years of sitcoms, right? People want to see you without your makeup on. They want to see your struggles. They want to be able to relate to you. It's why YouTubers like the Tanas [Tana Mongeau] have 6 million subscribers. They're giving you a real look into somebody else's life. ”
What is your relationship like with your mom and sisters now?
“Gabby lives just 10 minutes down the road, so that's really nice and she's married now. I love having her around. She's really, really helpful with my kids, which I'm so appreciative of now that I'm back to work. My mom and I are doing really well. She's just such a riot. Our relationship healing has had highs and lows. I think that breaking the curse of generational trauma is something that does not happen overnight, and that's a really challenging to do.
“As far as Tess goes, there are relationships in your life that are there for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. It's been hard because just in the last couple of months I had to evaluate our relationship, and it’s not where I want it to be. It's not ever going to be where I want to be. And I think that it's just because we are on two very different paths, and that's okay.”
What do your kids know about Pretty Wild and your past?
“My [younger] daughter sometimes hears me editing my podcast and she asks, ‘Mom, are you famous?’ We're definitely getting to that age where she's interested in YouTube and all of this stuff, so there will be a time that comes where we will have to have that conversation. Regarding drugs and alcohol, my oldest knows that mommy and daddy don't consume substances. We own a drug treatment center [Alexis’ husband, Evan, co-founded Alo House, where she currently works as a recovery advocate] and she has grown up in this environment, so we will continue to be — what I call — age-appropriately transparent.”
Do you have any new perspective on the “bling ring,” now?
“There are so many misconceptions, is what I'll say. I still get people who message me like you, “You robbed Paris Hilton!” and that literally didn’t happen.
It sounds like you don’t like to talk about it.
“No, I just didn't want to write a “bling ring” book. [It] was a moment that changed the trajectory of my life, but it saved my life. So, it's not something that I didn't want to talk about, it's just that I feel like there's been so much media coverage. There's a chapter about [it] in the book, but the whole book is definitely not a “bling ring” book at all.”
You've always said you believe in karma. How do you feel about karma now?
“Karma has a negative connotation: Something bad is going to come to you because of past actions. But our soul karmic journey is made up of many, many, many lifetimes, if you're following the Buddhist philosophy, which is where karma comes from. It's a cycle of cause and effect, and it can change based on your choices. People ask me a lot: ‘Do you regret your path? And my answer is always no, because I wouldn't be here today.’ I probably wouldn't be alive had all of that not transpired the way it did. Obviously what happened to Orlando Bloom and the other victims was horrendous. And I can only speak in regards to the Orlando Bloom part because that's the only house that I was at. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. But at the same time, had that night not happened, and had I not gone to jail, I probably wouldn't be here today doing the work that I'm doing and saving lives by helping people get sober, and helping heal families. It's a really tricky thing. In the recovery world, we have these things called ‘living amends.’ It's when you can't make an actual amends to the person that you've harmed, but you go around the world with the intention every time you do a specific action to make a living amends. This work that I'm doing, putting myself out there completely owning all of my flaws and all of the chaos and all of the parts of me and using that to help other people, that's my living amends. That's the best that I can do.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.