Courtenay Semel: Hollywood's Most Wanted
Photos: Tony Donaldson
She’s standing in the middle of the photo studio, wearing black stilettos and a man’s button-down oxford shirt and very little else. With her toes pointing inward and her arms swinging out, she looks a bit like a young girl playing dress up for the first time. This is her big debut, her coming out—both literally and figuratively, and Courtenay Semel is happy, carefree, courteous, thankful, sexy as hell and, well, nothing like her public image.
Many articles about Semel, the celebrity heiress turned actor, author, entrepreneur and, yes, social butterfly, start out by talking about her in relationship to others. Her famous friends (several of whom—from the Kardashian girls to Brittny Gastineau—American viewers know from their reality TV shows); her famous father (former Yahoo! CEO and Warner Bros. studio chief—the man Forbes put at No. 5 on their 2007 list of highest paid CEOs); the women the press has—rightly or wrongly—linked her with romantically.
In fact, if you believe the tabloids, Semel—who had her film debut as a bratty 12-year-old in Hudson Hawk and, in 2005, starred on the E! reality show Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive—is the epicenter of all lesbian passions in Hollywood. She’s lesbian X, the woman who has reportedly bedded all the Hollywood girls we know on a first-name basis: Lindsay, Paris, Tila, Casey, Britney, Jasmine, maybe a girl from The Hills and certainly someone from 90210. For many a curious dyke—including one intrepid magazine editor—Semel’s name conjures up the idea of girl-on-girl action almost as much as The L Word does.
On the heels of her new reality show, Semel spills the beans on her love life, the rumors of broken hearts, her wild ways and whether rehab has really changed her.
What made you decide to go to rehab?
I definitely saw my life flying out of control. It wasn’t my fault, but I was kind of thrown into a life I wasn’t used to at all—and was trying to stay away from for a lot of years. I went through the whole, “Who do I trust, who are my real friends?” A lot of people selling stories and a lot of people walking out of my life. And the worst part was my family walking away from me. When they walked out of my life—because my father didn’t agree with my lifestyle, I guess you could say—I kept spiraling [out] of control, like, further and further, and it came to the breaking point when I got cut off. I know they talk about tough love, but it doesn’t always work so well, you know? People think money is so amazing and you can do everything with it, but I’m here to say that money does not buy you happiness.
What parts of your lifestyle didn’t your parents agree with?
Well, I think it was the whole press thing, when my father’s name is being brought into it. He’s a businessman, you don’t see him and what he does in his personal life in the press. When your father is a rock star or your mom’s an actress, it’s a whole different type of nepotism. When your father is a businessman, he doesn’t want to be reading about all of my little scandals that are going on. But, at the same time, neither did I. I imagined myself coming out in Variety or the Hollywood Reporter, not as [just someone’s] girlfriend. He didn’t ever want that for me.
You have to take the tabloids with a grain of salt.
Exactly. I did Cattle Drive, one, for charity and two, because I wanted to break away from being Terry Semel’s daughter. But once I saw what was going on with my friends and the paparazzi, I just didn’t understand how they dealt with it.
Especially because things turn into personal attacks.
Yeah, like Perez Hilton wrote about me and put [up] a picture, “Separated at Birth,” and it was me and Amy Winehouse and—not to be rude about her or anything—but…it really hurt. Then I kind of got over it and…I dressed up as Amy Winehouse for Halloween, and it was like, “Thanks, Perez, for my Halloween costume.” That’s kind of my way of saying, “Say what you want to say, but you’re not going to affect me anymore.”
Do you think some of that came out as anger?
Yeah, I guess I am known for having some serious anger issues. But you can’t always believe what you read, and the interesting thing about me is, I didn’t have anyone on my defense. I just kept reading and reading, and I didn’t have a publicist, I didn’t have anyone to stick up for me. So, it was just me sitting around reading stuff about me and, at the same time, having my father get more and more furious about these little antics. So, I’m not really an angry person. I’m not. I just was dealing with a lot in my life.
Yeah, I think that would make anybody go off the rails.
And that’s were Tila comes in. She was my best friend. She was the only person who could understand what I was going through.
According to the gossip blogs you’ve slept with all the most beautiful women in Hollywood and everyone—even women who aren’t lesbians—want to be with you.
I think you fall in love with the person, and I always did look for the best friend that you can do everything with—from lunching to waxing. And I guess—let’s just say, yeah, I guess I’m kind of blessed. I don’t know if you should believe everything you read but…I’d like to say that I’m kind of like the Don Juan of the lesbian world.
In all the barbed comments about you, I wonder if there isn’t just a tinge of jealousy there.
I can’t even have a best friend because I guess I’m going to be linked with them next. I read Brittny Gastineau and I may be dating now, and Brittny is as straight as they come. So, I guess I’m going to have to stick with my gay BFF in public, right? I would like to say that Lindsay and I would make a really hot couple but, unfortunately, we were best friends and the media kind of ruined that friendship.
The media turned it into a relationship?
Let’s put it this way, it’s kind of like another one of…my little frenemies out there was protecting their own self and their own relationship and threw us under the bus. But, for me, it was like, I would go to an event and they would start to say, “So, you and Lindsay aren’t friends anymore,” and I’m like, “Oh, really? That’s news to me.”
There was the big report that you came out afterward and said “I was Lindsay Lohan’s first lesbian lover and Samantha Ronson stole her away from me while she was in rehab.”
Yeah, I heard about that. And to be honest…none of that was actually true. They didn’t even get my age right. So it’s just been hard. I do want to be a voice for teens and it’s hard, especially not having my own voice this past year, which is why I want to set the record straight on a lot of things.
Is it true that you bedded Paris Hilton?
That would be false.
How about your relationship with Tila Tequila?
We did have a really fun relationship; she was with me during a time when I really had no one.
Was that a love relationship?
Yes, it was.
Why did it end?
You know, people kind of go their separate ways.
You’re back together with Casey Johnson now. Is she the one?
Look, I have a tattoo on my arm that says, “Love is friendship set on fire”…we actually got them together. She’s the love of my life.
Professionally, what do you consider yourself?
I think I’m a mini-mogul…a medium-mogul’s spawn.
Where do you want your career to go? Who do you want to be?
I want to be the next Oprah, if that’s possible. I really want to dedicate my life to helping teens. I always said you’ll never see me get a DUI, you’ll never see me falling drunk out of a club, you’ll never see me get arrested, you’ll never see that side of me and, unfortunately, it did happen. I did take responsibility for my actions…but, at the same time, I think, you know, everyone scrutinizes Lindsay for everything she went through, but they should thank her, because it shows you exactly what not do to and how to get through it.
I wrote a book…called Adolescent University and it is basically my struggles through all adolescent issues and teen issues that you go through. So, it’s like the Go Ask Alice for this generation. It’s very real. It’s very raw. It’s straight out of my diary. As for helping teens and stuff, I’m doing an advice column with Hollyscoop which is called “Hey, Courtenay,” and it’s basically “ask me anything.”
Are you prepared for tough questions about things like sexuality?
There isn’t a place or a person out there who is willing to be honest about everything you’re going through, and I wish I[’d] had someone to talk to that was young and cool. It’s like when you’re in school—you’re not really listening to the teachers when they’re talking to you, but, say I walked in and told you my story, you’re going to listen way more. I’m ready. It’s like, “Bring it on, any question.”
People who are teenagers now are not necessarily thinking, “Am I gay, am I straight, am I a lesbian?” They’re thinking more about falling in love with the individual.
I agree, and I think that all labels need to just go away forever. It’s not fair to put a label on a person. For sexuality, it’s like, I never thought I was going to have a girlfriend, ever, but it just kind of happened and whoever makes you happy, that’s who you need to be with.
You’ve said you’ve dealt with esteem issues.
It started, I think, when I was in sixth grade, actually. My ears stuck out a little bit, which, I think they’re cute now. But some kid put balloons by his ears and called me Dumbo and that was it for me. I think that having such low self-esteem issues, I think, you know, alcohol, drug, eating disorders, all the different issues teens have, all stem from the way you feel about yourself. So, until you overcome that and you find yourself and you love yourself…it’s just not going to work for you.
When did you begin dating women?
I did a little experimenting in college, but honestly it just kind of happened. Girls are more nurturing, they’re—like I said, double the wardrobe, and if you have the same size shoe, even better.
Did you have to come out to your parents?
I didn’t have a coming out, actually. A coming out kind of happened for me in the press and, it’s kind of like, I’m almost happy it happened because, God, if I did have a girlfriend, then guess what? My family’s not going to be so pissed off after all, they’ve already dealt with it.
One rumor says you posed for naughty pictures while at Syracuse and that there’s a secret Courtenay sex tape out there.
It’d be interesting to see both of those. I’ve heard the rumors about this so-called sex tape and I have heard the rumors about these pictures, and I just remember when I got a call about these pictures it was years and years ago, and I just broke down. It was not cool back then. Nor did I know what this person had or what they were talking about. I’ve actually wondered, if these do exist, when on earth they are going to resurface?
Why do you think there is so much interest in your sex life?
I have no idea. There is way more to me than just my sex life. I don’t think it’s that exciting. [Laughs]
Well, there are a lot of people that disagree.
I know. We’ll see, I’ll try and stir it up a little more, I guess. But I also have a show that I’m shopping right now. Everyone dreams of having a second chance at life and this time around I’m going to be the driver of the ship and I’ve made a decision that money doesn’t exactly buy you happiness—it only buys you a higher thread count. So I am going to go out there and make it on my own. It’s like, if I can do it on my own anyone can. It’s like I’m a failure to launch. I’m 29 and I’ve always been supported by my family and it’s time to grow up, already. And I’m terrified, but I think I can do it.
How is your relationship with your parents since you left rehab?
Obviously, me going away brought us back together because, for once, I was taking responsibility for my actions. Except that I have made a really bold move, I guess you could say, and my money was given back to me, but I’m just not going to take it.
What else do you have on the horizon?
I’m going to start to do…once a month, maybe once a week, girl parties. And I’m going to call it “Courtenay’s Candy Shop.” It’s for lipstick lesbians, bi-curious sluts—guys bring your girls…you just don’t know what could happen. But really, you know, the pull is it to just get millions of hot girls there. I want to make it the coolest girl party in the world. Katy Perry and “I Kissed a Girl”…made girl-on-girl cool, so I’m going to make it even cooler.