Reality star Alexis Haines on the complicated legacy of the Bling Ring
Reality star Alexis Haines, previously Neiers, received an intriguing call on one sunny California afternoon. This time it wasn't from Nancy Jo Sales, Vanity Fair journalist and author of "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" but instead from Netflix, asking her to recount the details of her fleeting involvement with the infamous Bling Ring burglaries.
In Netflix's newest docuseries The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist, streaming now, we hear from Haines and Nick Norgo, previously Prugo. As two members of the infamous Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch or the Bling Ring, they've taken a decade to reflect and are ready to share their story. From 2008 to 2009, this ring, a group of fame-obsessed teens, broke into various high profile homes, and stole about $3 million worth of clothes and personal items from the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox and Rachel Bilson.
Lawyers, LAPD officers, reality show producers, and even Patridge herself also recount their memories of the crimes and subsequent trial in the show. "I think the docuseries is so great because in the media reporting up until very recently there wasn't really a space for the nuance and the complexity of what happened in the crime," says Haines over a Zoom call. "The story became sensationalized and there wasn't space to talk about addiction and mental health. We still have a long way to go, but we're so much farther than we were in 2010."
Series executive producer Larry Walford and series producer and director Miles Blayden-Ryall say they wanted to explore the complexities of this story that happened at a perfect crossroads of culture. "At a time when three new worlds were colliding — reality TV, celebrity obsession and social media — what was it that drove these teenagers to commit these crimes?" asks Walford. Blayden-Ryall adds, "The impression I got from the existing media from the time of the crimes was that they had been committed by 'spoiled, bored and celebrity-obsessed teens', however this narrative felt far too reductive and lacking any nuance. This story was much more complex than the press around the crimes would lead you to believe."
Haines and her family, mom Andrea Arlington and sister Gabrielle Neiers, who are both featured in the Netflix docuseries, and sister Tess Taylor, were the stars of the reality TV show Pretty Wild, which aired on E! in 2010. It was pitched to the network as a "hippie" version of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, but quickly shifted to a show about partying, living a lavish L.A. lifestyle and attending court dates, as Haines was arrested for her involvement with the Bling Ring on only the second day of filming.
Her arrest was recreated and filmed for the show the day after. In a later episode we see Haines being interviewed by journalist Nancy Jo Sales of Vanity Fair for a feature that her lawyers hoped would clear her name in her impending trial. Instead, the piece painted a fame-hungry picture of Haines. And thus we received the now forever viral (and hilarious) scene of Haines reading and reacting to the feature in real time and calling Sales to voice her grievances, all while hysterically crying and yelling at her mother.
"It wasn't all real," says Haines about the scene. "It was real in the sense that I didn't expect that narrative. It was real in the sense that I was having a f---ing meltdown. I was on drugs and for reality TV, you're doing things over and over and over, the same scene. And I just got to a point, I don't even know how many takes into it, where I was just like, I can't f---ing do this one more time. If everyone doesn't shut up and do their role, I'm gonna lose my s---."
To truly understand the impact this endlessly quotable clip had on pop culture at the time you may have had to be an avid Tumblr user. "It's amazing that it's still so infamous online, I hope '29 dollars' goes on my mom's grave," jokes Haines. Watch the clip here to understand the references. "I used to say getting our reality show was a one in a million shot," recounts Haines. "It was a mix of a number of things that led to us getting our own TV show, and now everyone has their own show on TikTok."
When asked about fame as it relates to modern influencer culture and the rise of TikTok, Haines sees it as a double-edged sword. "We're all addicted to our phones and we're all constantly checking out," she says. "I think it's dangerous and dysfunctional. But at the same time, I think it's great. I think social media can have a positive impact. This like super computer that's in our hands can literally save the world. But we're not gonna use it to save the world, right, because we're so toxically obsessed with ourselves."
In 2013, while multiple cases in the real-life ordeal were still being investigated, the Sofia Coppola film The Bling Ring premiered at Cannes. It starred Emma Watson as Nicki, a character heavily based on Haines but grounded in little reality, as the character was involved in multiple burglaries and Haines was only involved in one.
This was an odd, yet admittedly entertaining choice on behalf of Coppola, the sole writer of the screenplay. The film was written with great attention to detail, featuring an almost line-for-line recreation of a scene from Pretty Wild involving dream boards and an almost shot-for-shot recreation of a video Norgo made on his computer webcam dancing to "Drop It Low" and smoking weed. Coppola had the actors put their hoodies up and walk backward in the robbery scene at Orlando Bloom's house, just like the real teens did... the list goes on.
But where the film lacked was in giving the audience insight into the teen's psyche and how they became a product of celebrity culture in the early 2000s — not to justify their actions but to give all of the information needed for the audience to form their own opinions of the group. Haines says she's never seen the film.
"I'm a busy mom of two kids," she says. "If I'm gonna sit down for two hours, it's not gonna be to watch The Bling Ring. When I was filming this documentary, they had me watch bits and pieces of the movie and asked me my opinion on it. It's just too easy... That's the thing that's so frustrating when you have someone that's as brilliant as Sofia Coppola and as wonderful an actor as Emma Watson working on a movie together. You have this opportunity to do something really great and to dig deeper and to look at the complexities, but it's just lazy."
In the decade since the burglaries, Haines has described in harrowing detail the trauma she endured as a child, the addiction to OxyContin and heroin she experienced for years as a teen, and her journey to sobriety through her book and podcast Recovering From Reality. It's all quintessential to her story and why she was involved in the Bling Ring in the first place, but it was not included in Pretty Wild because Haines didn't go public with her addiction until 2011 and not included in The Bling Ring because the script was based off of Sales' article, which she claims she wrote unaware of Haines drug use.
"My involvement with the Bling Ring was ultimately the thing that helped me get sober," says Haines. "I'm sorry that it had to happen at the expense of someone else or lots of other people, my family, obviously the victims [of the crimes]. But I'm so grateful."
When asked how she thinks society would treat the members of the Bling Ring if it happened now, Haines references a recent podcast she'd been a guest on.
"The host of this podcast was like, you would be a f---ing hero today. Gen Z is like, f--- the rich, eat the rich. Scandal and sex really sells." Haines says she believes teens are more obsessed with fame now than they were a decade ago. "With social media today, that's all wild really," she says with a laugh. "That's actually pretty wild."