When Kelley Wolf was first approached about reuniting with the cast of MTV’s “The Real World: New Orleans,” she was, she says, “extraordinarily skeptical.” While Wolf has remained somewhat of a public person as the wife of actor Scott Wolf — they met in 2002, two years after “New Orleans” first aired, and married in 2004 — she was deeply unsure she wanted to step back fully into the spotlight.
“You know, we are middle aged people,” she says. “I’m a mom. I don’t usually put on makeup in the day. It felt like a lot of things to kind of compartmentalize. The emotional side of it is massive. It’s a lot of vulnerability. And if I’m going to do something like that, I want to do it in my full self with my full truth — no masks, no pretending.”
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After talking it over with former castmate Danny Roberts — the only “New Orleans” alum Wolf stayed in close contact with after the show — Wolf finally agreed to shoot “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans” over roughly two weeks last fall in a mansion in New Orleans. (It is currently streaming on Paramount+.) As a life coach and author, Wolf has spent much of her adulthood developing a thorough emotional vocabulary, and when she spoke with Variety about the reunion, she was not afraid to go deep.
As such, Wolf detailed the immediate tension between Julie Stoffer and Danny and Melissa Beck (née Howard) over how Julie had treated them on the lecture circuit after the show; her surprising connection with castmate David Broom, who now goes by Tokyo; and why she saw herself as a “supporting character” in Danny’s story.
Had you watched any of the “The Real World: New York” or “Los Angeles” reunions before you did this one?
We’re living in Canada right now. My husband’s an actor. He’s been up here filming. And I don’t think Paramount+ has been available in Canada for quite some time. They sent me maybe one of the New York episodes, I think — like, a link to watch it. So I did watch that one. That’s it. Can you tell I don’t do a lot of homework?
Your season of “The Real World” was my favorite, and when I heard about the first reunion shows, I was very hopeful your cast would do it as well. How much were you hearing from people in your life about whether you were going to do a reunion?
OK, here’s where it gets kind of meta. I was probably the least visible person the first time around, in terms of how much I was there and on the show. And subsequently, maybe it was subconscious or conscious or probably a little bit of both, I have completely pulled that away from my world. I am a life coach. I just wrote a book. Most of my audience — which is a small but mighty audience, we’re a tight community — they didn’t even know I had been on “The Real World.” That sounds wild. But it has been so far from the conversation that I don’t think people even knew. It just didn’t occur to me. I guess I also thought like, you’ll go consecutively, right? So this isn’t even going to be a thing for quite some time. I didn’t have a lot of people that even mentioned anything to me. Isn’t that strange? As you’re asking me, I’m thinking, this is so weird.
I know you’ve kept in touch with Danny, but how up to date were you on the other castmates? Were you even following each other on on social media?
Obviously, Danny and I are really close. In fact, he and I went to Paris on a trip the beginning of 2020. I hadn’t talked to Melissa until maybe a month before we started filming. Didn’t talk to anybody else. I did a Google search, because, you know, that’s apparently what you do. I found absolutely nothing. Like, where are the people? I think I have the bigger social media following, which is hysterical because I was by far the more quiet of the group. But really, they’re elusive. I got some basic information — I was able to see, oh, this person lives in Chicago. This person has two kids. That’s all I had.
So who who was the biggest revelation for you?
I’m going to sound corny. Melissa. I’m in love with her. We didn’t have a deep connection the first time around. We found each other at a unique time. We both have three kids. We have a lot of things in common. And I just adore her. I mean, I’m a weirdo. I think we talk like every other day. And it’s not even about the show. She turned me on to Crocs. Now I’m into Crocs. It’s my mission to make all of Canada wear Crocs.
In the first episode, Tokyo — who went by David on the original show — explains that he came into the reunion with some anxiety because of how distant he was the first time. When he first stepped into the house, you gave him this huge hug, and he said that really put him at ease. What do you remember about that interaction?
I felt this the first time around. We have some kindred spirit connection. You know, I love that man. He’s one of these onion people where you just are never gonna get to the center. It’s layer after layer. Even the first time around, he and I spent a lot of time together that was never aired. I think people saw more of us arguing at work or whatever. But we’re a lot alike, in some ways. I just enjoyed him so much. And the second I saw him, I don’t know, maybe there is that kindred thing where you go, I’m scared and I know you’re scared, so let’s just make sure we make that connection, so you don’t have to feel scared. I mean, I still text him. Anytime something comes out, I just go hey, just checking in. Just like, if we need to talk to each other, let’s make that okay.
And then there’s Julie, who takes up a lot of the time in the first two episodes. How aware were you of what had transpired between her and David and Melissa after the show had concluded?
Zero. In fact, I was a little — I don’t want to say I was mad. But I was confused as to why Danny hadn’t shared that with me from back in the day. It’s so hard to remember what was happening, but Danny was shot out of a cannon into the world. I’ve never seen anything like it. My husband’s a known person — doesn’t even come close. He said, “I was so surviving that I triaged it as that sucked, that person really hurt me, but I need to keep pressing forward.” Which makes sense to me, given what was happening at that moment in time. So I didn’t know about all the things [with Julie]. It’s overwhelming. And frankly, I don’t think it’s OK. Good or bad, I’m a person that defends my friends. And if you hurt a friend of mine, I’m standing right there with them.
Were you surprised it came up so fast?
There was like an eighth roommate, right at the beginning, because there was a vibe. Danny’s like a labrador, you know — he is literally the sweetest, never-seen-a-stranger-in-his-life kind of person. And he had a thing happening that I was sensing. So maybe it had to come out right away. It was kind of like, we need to acknowledge whatever this weirdness is. I don’t think we had a choice. Like, it was there. It was like an entity or something. It was weird.
Given your experiences as a life coach and everything that you’ve been doing since the show, when you saw that kind of confrontation happening, how compelled were you to step in and mediate?
I had to make a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power not to do that. It’s not my job. I do not have consent. It’s not what I’m supposed to be doing in that room. So I was trying really hard to catch myself. But these are also strangers, too, so it kind of feels weirdly familiar in terms of my work, that we’re going to go into the space and talk to people we’ve never met before and work through problems. So I’m like, “Oh, I know this,” but then: “Don’t do that.”
I really focused as much as I could on first taking care of myself: Do I feel okay in all of this? And then I’m looking out for Danny next, because, you know, he’s my brother. After that, I just felt like, I don’t want this whole thing to feel icky. It did seem like coming out of the gates, oh my gosh, there’s already weird dynamics. We’re not all just clean slates of random people that live in random states.
What was one of the biggest surprises for you about shooting the show?
I did enjoy getting to know most everybody a little bit deeper. But I think my biggest revelation was that I am committed to taking care of myself in a way that I need to — spiritually, physically, whatever that is. I was happy to know that the work that I’ve done for 20 years — I go to therapy, I also give therapy — it was there. It was in me. I was aware enough to do what I need to do to make sure that I’m OK in this process. And somehow — who knows, I haven’t seen the show yet — I’m still OK. I don’t feel untethered by it all, because it can untether people.
It was really striking to me, at least in the two episodes I’ve seen, to observe who felt like their emotional self had been set in stone by the show, versus people who moved past that.
I mean, I can go down a massive psychological rabbit hole when it comes to this stuff. There’s arrested development, there’s how we see ourselves versus how we are perceived, and then how we then behave based on those two metrics. That’s a whole other interview that’s probably a lot longer. But I also think that it’s really hard sometimes to bifurcate those two worlds in your mind. Where the world sees me this one way: Am I a character, or am I my autonomous self? Am I being asked to return to the character? I can see it all playing out in front of me. And, like you said, some people feel a little more drawn to that fire, because it is seductive in some ways — “Oh, this is what I’m expected to do. This is the character that I’m playing.” But it’s not, you know? This is the mind game of these shows. You are supposed to suppress reality and be yourself, like there’s not a camera and you’re not a character. I’m telling you, it’s really hard. And I think back on our young selves, and like, man, we had no idea what we were walking into.
The second episode is partly structured around Danny’s relationship on the show with Paul and how it became a huge moment for awareness of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But I really felt for Danny, watching him relive it, because I don’t think he realized he was going to have to confront that so quickly.
When we were talking about doing the show, I said to the executive producer, “If I had an ultimate goal to do this” — I’m gonna sound like his mother or something — “it would be to tell Danny’s story in a fuller way.” He’s talked about this publicly, his being HIV positive — I’ve traveled around the globe doing interventions with that. So it’s super close to my heart, how we have that conversation. There’s so much that has happened. I think we all know that this is really about Danny in a lot of ways, you know — that it needs to be, in fact. So we’re going to be the supporting characters to this situation, or that’s what it felt like to me. But man, he’s been living in a cabin in Vermont. This is a lot to take on. So I think it’s going to be interesting to see what the whole thing looks like.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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