Season 4 of "The Real Housewives of Potomac" is a big one for Ashley Darby.
The original cast member of Bravo's most unsung, but highly-rated "Housewives" franchise (it's also, arguably, one of its best), went into this year's season with one extremely exciting storyline and one she'd rather not have to relive. Though she is currently seven-months pregnant with her first child, she will have to also live through watching the biggest scandal that "RHOP" has ever seen unfold on national TV: Her husband, Michael Darby, was accused of making an unwanted advance on a cameraman during filming, and he was charged with second-degree assault and improper sexual contact -- but charges were dropped a month later because of a lack of evidence supporting the claims.
"As for addressing the issues, I’m actually choosing not to really engage with it because it seems as though the people who are asking me and are interested, are doing so with not a positive motive," Darby exclusively told AOL. "If you ask me a genuine question, I will give you a genuine response, but a lot of these things are loaded. I get it. Michael is a very opinionated person and everyone wants to go ham on it, but I’m not going to engage with it."
"I’m making a baby, so let me focus on that," she added with a smile.
In addition to those huge highs and lows at home, the 30-year-old will see her friendships with some of her cast mates tested this season, too, especially those with Monique Samuels and Karen Huger.
During an exclusive sit-down interview with AOL's Gibson Johns, Ashley Darby opened up about all things "Real Housewives of Potomac" season 4: her efforts to get pregnant, attempting to make up with Monique, impending marriage and how the sexual assault allegations against her husband, Michael, made their marriage "100 percent" stronger.
Read our full interview with "Real Housewives of Potomac" star Ashley Darby below:
I can’t believe we’re already on season four of "The Real Housewives of Potomac."
You know what’s so crazy? Nobody had faith in us. Because "Real Housewives of D.C." didn’t last, there was so much skepticism about us -- even from people around us in our own community. Now that we are on season four, there are quite a few people who have become believers and all of a sudden love us.
We're only a few episodes in right now. How do you feel at the start of the season? What's your mentality?
I feel pretty optimistic. I’m coming off of having a miscarriage last year, and I took a bit of a hiatus to focus on my health and get myself in order. I took a step back from [my restaurant] Oz and reprioritized how our leadership is there, so I’ve been going through a lot of steps to get us a little baby Darby. That’s where my focus has been, and I’m a little nervous about it, because the thought of having another miscarriage is constantly in the back of my mind, but I’m optimistic. I’m really taking every wholistic approach.
Has it been a relatively easy pregnancy, other than that worry in the back of your mind?
I’m eight months pregnant, and I was very scared for a long time, to the point where I wouldn’t even acknowledge that I was pregnant because I didn’t want to get too excited. Michael is such an optimist and he’s one of those people who thinks that, “If I think it, it’s going to happen.” So, eventually, it just came into my being that I’m really having this baby.
So Michael's positivity really does rub off on you?
That’s marriage. That’s how he got through the Lehman bankruptcy and the recession. Michael has has quite a few hurdles that he’s overcome, so his optimism is one of the benefits that he brings to our relationship.
How has your outlook on the show or approach to the show differed or stayed the same through the years?
My approach is still the same. When I came into this, I vowed that it would be a disservice to myself and to people who invest in watching the show to not be authentic. My mom, Sheila, is a very special woman and she is all about authenticity. Even before conceiving the idea of doing reality TV, my mom was always transparent and that’s how I grew up. That’s what I know, so it would be wrong to mislead people who are invested in my life and who share my experiences and are motivated and inspired by me.
We've already seen you try out wholistic methods to try to get pregnant this season. What else are we going to see as far as your baby and pregnancy journey on the show?
That’s definitely the physical side of it, and obviously this house has to be in order before we can put the cake in the oven. Mentally and spiritually, I had to work on myself, because a big part of conceiving and fertility is the stress. We live in a modern society where there are constant stressers all around us, so I really had to re-invest in some of my relationships -- my friendships with the ladies, my relationship with my family, my husband and myself. I had to go through a little spiritual journey, and I went to Bhutan, actually, and did a whole Bhutanese "Eat, Pray, Love" kind of thing. There’s a fertility temple with a big penis made out of wood where you rub the head of the three-foot penis and people go there just to do that. So, I rubbed the penis in the mountains of Bhutan. [Laughs]
You said you re-invested in some of your relationships with some of the women. Which relationships in particular did you need to focus on?
My relationships with Karen and Monique have definitely been strained, and that was a challenge for me because Monique and I’s fallout was over a misunderstanding. However either of us chooses to remember the events that happened, the reality is that I really do care about her. She’s a great person, she’s very supportive of my marriage and she gave me incredible advice when my mom and I were going through it. She’s always been there for me, so it bothers me that we let that incident derail us so much.
As for Karen and I, it’s a challenge -- and I like challenges. While I may not necessarily succeed, I’m willing to try because, ultimately, Karen is a fantastic mom, so I’m like, "I want to make a great mom, too, and I should be able to find a relationship with Karen if we have that commonality."
You and Monique definitely had fun together before your falling out, and you have a lot in common. It’s nice that you’re trying to patch it up!
It takes some work, because this situation between us evolved into something so heinous. It wasn’t supposed to get to that point, so it takes a lot of compromise on both sides, but on my side especially because she feels like I violated her trust and I do understand that. I’m willing to have a conversation with her and try to get back to where we were. Our husbands are great friends, and Michael wants us to make up so he can hang out with Chris.
Candiace had a tough season last season during her first go 'round. How do you think her second season on the show went for her?
Candiace definitely had a moment of growing up getting married. When you form a permanent relationship with another person like that, you have no choice but to morph and grow. I will say that I think she’s learning how to understand other people’s point of view, too. The reason why Candiace had a hard time when she first came in because she can be fairly abrasive, and that doesn’t work in any situation: business, romantic relationships, friendships. You really do have to be approachable and understand that it can take a while for people to warm up to you. She didn’t seem to get that: She just threw the bucket onto us with the cold water and was like, "Hey! Be my friend!" So, it took a minute, but she got it eventually.
Does she win people over this year?
She and Gizelle, apparently, as I learned on "Watch What Happens Live," have started to form a friendship, which I love. Gizelle is a hard egg to crack, but once you do she is a very good friend.
You and Gizelle had your issues earlier on, but she was there for you in a hard time last year and you seem to be in a better place right now. You said on "Watch What Happens Live" that she gives you baby advice. Do you agree that you two have come a long way in your friendship?
We have. We’ve had our hiccups, even this last year that you’ll see, but ultimately I do like Gizelle and I have so much fun with her. Maybe it’s me, I don’t know. I really am trying to be a peaceful person -- everyone says it's because of this baby. Even my pain receptors… I feel no pain anymore! Like, anything. I got my lip waxed the other day and I didn’t feel a thing.
So even just from being pregnant, you already feel as though this baby journey has changed you?
I’m a calmer person. Monique did say it. She said, "Ashley, you’re going to change so much! Your outlook is so different and the amount that you want to engage with people negatively is slim to none." And I discounted that, and now I’m in it and I just want to hug everybody. I really do. No matter what issues we’ve had, I do.
At the end of the day, you all want to be supportive of one another.
I don’t want anyone to not succeed. Even if I don’t love their personalities or we have some sort of misunderstandings, ultimately, I don’t want them to not do well. I don’t want to put that out there because the boomerang comes back much harder.
The season started with a flash-forward that acted as a preview about the sexual assault allegation levied against your husband, Michael, this season. I'm sure it's been tough having to address this on the show, as the cameras are obviously rolling when that was going on. Was there any part of you that didn’t want that to be aired or shown on the show?
Because I feel so comfortable around the people we film with -- the crew -- I felt like our trust had been violated, and I think Michael felt the same way. We had let these people into our home, it was very hard to come to terms with what this guy in particular was proposing against Michael, which actually had no basis and [was] immediately dismissed. So, that was the challenging part for me. It’s so hard, because I love these people and they’re my family.
I guess we’ll see this when it’s addressed on the show, but did you feel support from the other women when this was happening?
Surprisingly, there were some shifts in relationships. People who I thought would’ve been more supportive of me weren’t, and vice versa. It is what is is, you know?
You’ve previously been very open about the obstacles that you and Michael have faced every year. How does this compare to other issues you’ve overcome in the past?
This wasn’t true. That’s the hardest part for me. Everyone has issues: Karen’s tax issues, Robyn and Juan, all of those things were challenging and hard, but those were true and actually based in things that were proven, whereas this was a lie. In the court of public opinion, that was the hardest thing for us. I will own things that are true about me and I will tell you if something is true about me and have no qualms about me. But it just make us much stronger.
Did this scandal bring you closer together?
100 percent, because I have his back. I know that, unlike some of my castmates, like Karen, who threw poor Ray under the bus during his tax issues, I would never do that to my husband. I would similarly never do that to my husband in this instance, either.
You mentioned the court of public opinion. We’ve seen this a lot in the #MeToo movement: An allegation is still out there and, regardless of whether it’s true or not, not everyone is going to keep track of a story past when it first breaks. How much of you wants to respond to every comment on social media or every story about this, perhaps correcting people on what they're saying? Or how much do you just let people think what they think?
No one’s asked me that question, and it’s interesting because I haven’t quite thought about a strategy for that. I have been a victim of sexual abuse, I sympathize with the #MeToo movement, I have been sexually harassed at work, so I take that very, very seriously. As for addressing the issues, I’m actually choosing not to really engage with it because it seems as though the people who are asking me and are interested, are doing so with not a positive motive. If you ask me a genuine question, I will give you a genuine response, but a lot of these things are loaded. I get it. Michael is a very opinionated person and everyone wants to go ham on it, but I’m not going to engage with it. I’m making a baby, so let me focus on that.
Yes, you're eight months along! Are we ready? What's gone into the preparation?
There’s so much that goes into this that I didn’t know. I have to find a new OBGYN, I have to have a birthing plan, I have to make a birthing bag, I have to figure out if I want to cut the umbilical chord… there are all these things that I never thought about and I only have a few weeks to think about them. The baby could also come early! I could go into labor right here. [Laughs]
A lot of this you won’t know until you're actually a mother, but how do you think you and Michael will be as parents? Have you taken any classes? What have you guys talked about in that regard?
It’s the scariest thing ever! We are doing Hypnobabies and part of that is communication exercises -- it’s very crunchy. I’m trusting this process, because I’m trying to have a natural birth. I just want the baby to walk out.
You have a really tight relationship with your own mom. In what ways do you want to emulate that relationship with your own child when he or she arrives?
My mom was a single parent, so I was very independent and that independence taught me so much and taught me to appreciate her hard work even more. What I am really hoping is that, even though I have more financially to give to this child, I can still instill those same things in my child that my mom instilled in me about valuing what I have, handwork, gratitude and those types of things.
Finally, what can you tease for me for what's to come the rest of the season?
It’s more vulnerability this year. It’s just a natural part of it. As we become more familiar with each other and ourselves, there’s more to share. There are some surprising things that are shared, and it’s just so crazy how much relationship dynamics change in friendship groups. It happens in all my groups, including this one.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tune into "The Real Housewives of Potomac" on Bravo, Sundays at 8 p.m. EST