Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles may have undergone several key changes since its first season in 2006, including cast and location shifts, but one thing has remained consistent: the presence of Madison Hildebrand, the diplomatic, hunky blond agent whose sexual orientation remained something of an enigma for a couple of seasons. Officially he’s shifted from “polyamorous” to classic old “gay,” and just like his now-out castmate Josh Flagg, he’s living a visibly homosexual existence in front of the cameras. And yes, he looks blithe and sandy-haired while doing it.
We caught up with the 31-year-old Bravolebrity to discuss the upcoming season (featuring season four’s cocky newcomer Josh Altman), the process of coming out on TV, and what it’s like to oil up your body for Bravo’s summer advertisments. The new season of Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles — the show’s new name since Million Dollar Listing: New York premiered in March — premieres tonight.
AfterElton: The show has had a number of different casts and forms in its five seasons. You’re the only cast member who’s been a part of it since the beginning. What do you think of the show’s shift over the years?
Madison Hildebrand: It has had a few forms! With all the changes, I personally think it gets better. I think the drama moves around between the characters, and the real estate’s always really good. The drama behind the scenes gets better and better every year.
AE: You began working in real estate only a couple of months before joining the show. Could you ever see yourself working in real estate without the TV element?
MH: I’d be bored if I were just doing real estate. [Laughs.] Every day is so different, especially with the TV element there. I won’t say it makes it exciting, but it takes it up a notch for me.
AE: Do the cameras inspire you to be bolder with clients? Do they make you better at your job?
MH: I don’t know that it makes me better at my job. I think I’d be me regardless of the cameras, whether they’re there or not. I don’t really change much for the cameras. I think the cameras may change some of the clients, and the clients are maybe more apt to make decisions on a quicker basis just because the cameras are there. I think it might benefit me that way.
(L to r) Madison Hildebrand, Josh Altman and Josh Flagg of Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles
AE: Can you tell when the camera is compelling a client to make a decision? Do you use that to your advantage?
MH: Sometimes, yes. I don’t like to manipulate anyone, especially if they’ve never been on camera or something, but — well, usually the decisions they’re making on camera are small, things they wouldn’t necessarily feel uncomfortable making so quickly. But sometimes I don’t know what they’re thinking.
AE: Broadly, what can we expect from this season?
MH: The drama has escalated. Throughout this process, you see that there’s a lot of emotion and anger. I feel betrayed and hurt, and those interactions are as vulnerable and as intimate as it would be without the cameras. It’s going to make for a good season, because it’s pretty raw.
AE: Your former castmate Chad Rogers caught a lot of flak for being obsessed with his looks. Josh Flagg garnered bad press for allegedly stealing artwork from clients. On Million Dollar Listing: New York, one of the cast members is a former porn actor. You’re a pretty low-key reality star. Is there any pressure to be a bigger personality on and off camera?
MHL: I mean, sometimes. I try not to get wrapped up in making up a personality that people want me to be because a lot if it is sensationalism. I’ve found for me that the best way to survive in this business and uphold my reputation and a real estate career is to make all decisions based on my intuition.
AE: Do you feel competitive with Million Dollar Listing: New York?
MH: I’m competitive, period. If there’s another show that’s similar to mine, of course I want mine to do better. Am I competitive against any one of that show’s three agents? Not necessarily. But as a show as a whole? Yes.
AE: Your show is interesting because although viewers are supposed to relate to you and the other agents, you’re living a pretty glamorous life and making big money. Do you ever worry that viewers won’t connect to what you do?
MH: I feel like Bravo’s demographic, the demographic that watches our show, is some of the highest income-earning households. Of course it’s TV and they make it look like it’s a lot easier to close these deals, that the money comes fast and furious, but the reality is there’s a lot more work behind the scenes. There’s a lot of time spent and a lot of failures. I think that still affects me as a person, and if anyone wants to believe that we make that much money that quickly, then we’ll just have to be off the same page in reality.
AE: Is it annoying knowing that, due to time constraints, the depth of your work will be misrepresented on TV?
MH: That part is a little weird. Sometimes you’re like, “This makes it look so quick and easy and fast.” There’s simply no time to air the inspections, the nitty-gritty, which I understand. But for people who don’t know anything about real estate, how should they know that those things are taking place? I get why people think the way they do. But if you sit down for a minute and think about it, you have to know that it’s not that easy.
AE: Your coming-out was basically a saga spread out over two seasons. Is it exhausting to look back on?
MH: It is! And it was. I mean, “looking back on”? To live that experience as “polyamorous” and finally being gay was very interesting because I had incidences and experiences with people who approached me, and it was different. I don’t know how to explain it. When you come out on TV and you’re unsure about your sexuality, people who relate to you are the ones who are reaching out to you at that time. The ones that don’t agree with you? They send their opinions. I was hearing a lot more negativity and I was attracting a lot of weirdos — I shouldn’t say “weirdos.” I was attracting a lot of other confused or transitional people. And when I officially came out and made that claim, there was a huge welcoming from the gay community. The in-betweeners stopped reaching out to me or sending me emails or calling me. So I think I went through it — living it — not just while it was on TV, but after that, living it in public.
AE: Wow, people called you on your personal phone? That’s pretty direct!
MH: There were a few people who personally reached out. In my own office, I never answer my own cell phone. That’s just the rule because we get what we call “a freak of the week,” and we get all sorts of interesting voicemails and messages from people who aren’t mentally healthy and are just crazy. We have a screening process. Luckily social media has allowed for people to feel connected and not have to necessarily be in my personal business space.
AE: Josh Flagg came out last year. You guys get along, but you don’t have all that much in common. Do you have more to talk about now that he’s out?
MH: That’s definitely true. We don’t have a lot in common, but I think he’s hilarious and entertaining. We can certainly be in the same room and laugh and have a conversation. But do we hang out and make an effort to do that? Not so much.
AE: Your Playgirl spread a couple years ago was a bit of a coup. Would you ever do something like that again? Or was it one-and-done?
MH: Did you see the Summer By Bravo commercial?!
AE: I did. You’re in a Speedo in it!
MH: And then online, there’s a Bravo “making of.” It’s a two-minute thing of me in my Speedo and this whole funny thing they made without me knowing. I guess it goes in the same category. I have fun with it! You live once. I’m not here to judge anybody, and hopefully people aren’t judging me for it. It is what it is.
AE: What’s your relationship like with the Bravo family? I feel like you guys all know each other. Who’s awesome and who’s not?
MH: Now it seems like I see everybody once every quarter for sure, but lately it’s been one every month. I really get along with most of the housewives! They’re fun in their own way, and they put so much of their lives out on TV that — and I do understand what it’s like, I feel like I know them — and they feel like they know me from my show. So it’s kind of like this weird bond thing we all have at Bravo with each other. There are a couple personalities who are very strong, and they’re unwavering even within the Bravo family. So there’s just some people I avoid. I won’t give any names, but some people are not my family.
AE: Hmmmm. Jeff Lewis?
MH: No! I actually get along with Jeff Lewis! I personally do.
AE: I actually think he’s hilarious, but I always wonder if that translates to craziness or meanness in real life.
MH: Oh, I think he is just fine. And fun. He’s got his quirks, but he’s cool.
The new season of Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles begins tonight on Bravo at 9/8c