Ryan Serhant comes across as the prototypical Manhattan master of the universe, a mover-and-shaker catering to the whims and wants of New York’s fabled one-percent.
Brash, ambitious and assiduously well-groomed, the prematurely graying 30-year-old seems born to his role as a real estate agent to the wealthy on the Bravo reality show Million Dollar Listing New York and as the deeply rich but intellectually shallow Hedge Fund Dave in the new fictional film starring Ben Stiller, While We’re Young, which opened Friday in North Texas.
But beneath the Upper East Side surface beats the heart of a Texan.
Though raised in Massachusetts, Serhant was born in Houston and he has family — including a biological dad and two sisters — in Dallas and Keller.
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“I used to come at least twice a year, and when I was a kid I used to come all the time,” he says during a recent visit at the NYLO Dallas South Side hotel, where he’s wearing his customary dark suit even though it’s barely 11 a.m.
“So I’m very familiar with good ol’ DFW Airport, baggage claim C4,” he continues. “Now, not so much because I live in New York and everyone comes to New York. Everyone is like, ‘Don’t come to Dallas. Let’s go to New York, see the movies, go to plays.’”
It’s New York where Serhant — who moved to the Big Apple from upstate New York, where he studied theater at Hamilton College — became a star, though not the kind he had imagined when he was making home movies with his family or doing his own adaptation of The Odyssey as a kid. He’s now a “Bravolebrity,” a distinct brand of stardom that has its own Urban Dictionary entry: “a wannabe celebrity from a Bravo show.”
“[After college in 2006] I came down to New York, and did a soap opera [As the World Turns] and they killed me off,” he says. “I have a friend who still works in real estate and he was always telling me, even when I first moved to the city, ‘You’re not going to be acting all day, every day. Get your real estate license. It’s awesome.’”
So, with unemployment looming, Serhant took his friend’s advice, though his first day in real estate in 2008 was not fortuitous. “Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy the day I started,” he says with a laugh.
A couple of years later, Serhant — who’s now an agent with Nest Seekers International — came across a casting notice looking for real estate agents to participate in a reality show that would be a spinoff of Bravo’s successful Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles. This offered him the opportunity to fuse his longtime dream with his lucrative newfound profession.
Both require the same skill set, he says.
“It’s sales, so you have to be on when you’re selling,” he says. “You’re memorizing scripts, talking about features and amenities. We took improv classes to train in all that, and with every client you meet, you’re improvising. You’re figuring out different situations, you’re piecing human puzzles together. That’s really what real estate is and that’s what acting is.”
The real world?
But just how real is the reality of Million Dollar Listing, the new season of which starts Wednesday? Serhant says that everything, from the deals to his feuds with co-stars and fellow agents Fredrik Eklundand Luis D. Ortiz, is authentic.
“It’s all real. They follow us for eight months,” he says. “I would say the only thing that feels different when you watch the show is that we’ll sell the property in the one hour but it took us six months.
“There’s so much reality TV out there where it feels forced. [Someone] got up and went over to her at a party and said that thing because the producers told her to or because she felt she needed to make a scene so she could get more screen time. … We’ve never been asked to do that and it’s all pretty organic.”
It has also meant putting his personal life — such as his relationship with his girlfriend, Emilia — out in the open for all to see and tweet about.
“I’m kind of numb to it now. I don’t care what people say. I will care when they stop saying anything. Haters gonna hate,” he says. “But to see Emilia take some of that and my parents read them, it becomes a personal thing. … It has been difficult for sure, but I have a thick skin and we’re very confident in the way we’re portrayed.”
It’s through his small-screen persona that Serhant has made his move to the big screen for While We’re Young.
“I got an email from the casting directors saying, ‘We love you on Million Dollar Listing New York. You’re so funny.’ … I didn’t even respond. … People send me crazy emails all the time,” he says. “They emailed me again; I responded, went in and read.
“The big difference from when I was acting [before real estate] and now was that every audition [then] felt like do-or-die to me. … When I read for this, I was between 10 showings. If I don’t get this, I’ll live.”
Serhant’s brief but memorable performance as Hedge Fund Dave, a self-absorbed, monied young philistine, is a riff on the image he has crafted for himself on Million Dollar Listing. But he’s not concerned that viewers will see this as representative of his entire personality. He approaches it all with a bit of a wink.
“I think I have a sense of humor that I’ve embraced over the years,” he says.
Now, other film and TV roles are being entertained, but he has no intention of leaving real estate.
“I love real estate, and the job of acting, while it can look fun and be exciting, is such a fleeting moment,” he says. “My ideal world is to do both, sell real estate and run my business. And where some brokers go to the Hamptons on their down time, I make major motion pictures.”
Even though he doesn’t get back to North Texas as much as he used to, there are some things he misses — like the seafood chain Joe’s Crab Shack, and the simple smell of the place.
“This was the first time Emilia and I have been to Dallas together, and we were coming out of the airport last night and just the feeling of the air, the humidity, and the smell,” he says. “You could immediately just put that around me, like in those Febreze commercials, and ask, ‘Where are you right now?’ I’m in Dallas. I know exactly where I am.”
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571
Million Dollar Listing New York
▪ 9 p.m. Wednesday