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The GoPride.com Interview

Rosie O'Donnell

"The fact that she [Oprah] asked me to do it was the biggest vote of confidence that I could ever have received in my life."

by Jerry Nunn
Roseann "Rosie" O'Donnell started in stand-up before landing roles on television movies. The Rosie O'Donnell Show won Emmys and launched her into the talk show circuit. She came out of the closet two months before her show ended its run. As moderator on The View she showed her strong opinions and caused some controversy. Since then she has been raising children, blogging and running Rosie Radio on Sirius XM Radio. She now starts a new endeavor on the OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network with The Rosie Show. We talked the week before the show debuted about its first guest, comedy and the big O.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Rosie. How was moving to Chicago?

RO: (Rosie O'Donnell) When we moved here in the summer, I had looked around for places and didn't know anything about Chicago at all, although I had filmed "League of Their Own" here for a couple weeks, and I had done standup here throughout my career, mostly at the Improv, which is no longer open, in the heart of Chicago. I wasn't really familiar with the city or where anything was in relation to Harpo. They put me up at a residential hotel, the Elysian, which is actually beautiful, gorgeous and lovely. When we figured out that my 14-year-old daughter would be living here with me and that my other children would be coming back and forth all the time, the two little ones, we realized it really wasn't big enough and that we need outdoor space. Sitting in a hotel room with them for a four-day weekend was a little bit much. Luckily one of the presidents of Harpo, Erik Logan, had a house for sale. I went and looked at it, called him up and said, "If you will leave it furnished, I mean, like down to the toilet paper and some of the nightshirts, I think we have a deal." It was a beautiful place that he had just really finished renovating about two years ago, and it was turnkey ready.

JN: How did Oprah ask you to do this show?

RO: I was very overwhelmed at just being in her presence when she called me and said, "Is it true?" And I was like, "Is what true?" She's said, "That you would want to do this for me." I said, "Yes, ma'am." So she flew to my house, and we had like a four-hour conversation. And at the end of the conversation she said, "Why is it that you'd rather do it for me than the network you're about to sign with?" I replied, "Because you're you." I think she doesn't quite get the effect that she's had on most of the country, if not the entire world.

JN: Did she give you advice?

RO: She said, "Be yourself and don't resist anything." That's all she told me. She's been unbelievably supportive. The fact that she asked me to do it was the biggest vote of confidence that I could ever have received in my life. She made me believe that I possibly could. I was actually debating. I had the contract from NBC for about a week, and my agent kept saying, "You gonna sign it?" And I kept going, "Aw... aw..." Then literally out of the blue, I got a phone call, and she was there the next day. As she left she said, "Let's do this." And that was all I needed. She made me believe that I could, and I've told her when I was on her show a year ago in January, I said, "You've played a starring role in the story of my life, only it's a part you don't know you've been cast in." Like many women in America she is a very influential part of my daily existence only she hardly even knew me. Now to get to actually know her, to be on her team, to go to dinner with her and to see her as a real human being has been a huge gift. She's been nothing but supportive and encouraging and I'm tremendously grateful.

JN: When did you start working on The Rosie Show?

RO: Well, when I signed on, it was over a year and a half ago, and I knew that she still had her final season to do. We had discussed sort of not really focusing or interfering and just allowing her to finish out through May 25. That's sort of what I did. I, along with the rest of the country watched every episode of the last season. When she was done, she took a vacation, and that's when we started. So I didn't really start here until after Fourth of July weekend, by then she was already back to work. Although she was going to take a large break, she only took a small break. They launched the network in January. I think to take advantage of the fact that she was still on every day, but truthfully she wasn't available, because to try to end 25 years of the number-one show in daytime's history is a pretty big endeavor. So now that she does have the ability to focus on the network, it's almost as though she's just beginning now. So I think for Oprah and for the network, we do start on Monday. We begin the actual real launch. It was sort of a soft launch in January, and now we begin again. I have tremendous faith in her ability to do almost anything. I think when she puts her mind to anything it gets done.

JN: How is working for a cable network different than a major channel?

RO: I think for children as well, for kids under the age of 18, they don't know the difference between network TV and cable TV. My children think that Animal Planet is as big of a network as NBC or CBS. They don't have any idea how to differentiate between the two, and I think that that's the vast majority of people now watching or consuming entertainment in any form. So I think it's a whole different world, it's a whole different game. To be back in the game with an Oprah Winfrey jersey on is inspiring for me, to be on her team, to be playing for her side, to know what she's about and that she's not simply a corporation with a bottom line of financial gain. She's a woman who has spent her life trying to enlighten, encourage and teach. I agree with who she is as a public figure and what she has done with her power and ability. It's an honor to be in the game on her side.

JN: I heard you have Russell Brand on your show.

RO: Well, we do have Russell. We have Russell for the first day. On Monday, he'll be here, and that was a thrill for me. I met him early in the summer and just told him how much I admired him. We got together in Miami, and we've been email buddies. I met his wife and her sister. I admire the man so much. And I didn't want to put him on the spot, but I did tell every interview person when they said "Who would be your dream?" that it was him. He wrote me an email and said "If I'm your dream, honey, I'm there." And true to his word, here he will be on Monday, so I'm thrilled about that.

JN: Comedy will be a part of the show of course.

RO: Well, I've been going out to the local comedy clubs here in Chicago and doing standup. We have a great writing staff, which I never really knew how to utilize on my other show because I didn't do a monologue. But we have a writing staff who we sit together every day, and they say like, "What happened? What'd you do last night? I just tell stories, and they actually form them into monologues, and it's sort of amazing for me to watch. So they leave the room, they come back five hours later, and they hand me bullet points in order. Here's an example, this true story happened that my daughter and son were in the car. They're 11 and 8. They said, "Mommy, what kind of show are you doing in Chicago?" And I said, "Well, it's kind of a new kind of show." And they said, "Is it like iCarly?"

"No." "Is it like Hannah Montana?" "No." "Is it like Survivor Man?" my son says. I'm like, "No." They go, "Well, what is it?" I said, "I'm just going to talk." They both had this look of total confusion, and they said, "You think people are going to watch you talk?" They couldn't fathom that this is what I was going to do. They have no memory. Vivvy wasn't even born and doesn't know of me being on television, right? So when I told them that story, they went out and they came back with literally a five-minute monologue on that, with some jokes that they put in, and then some parts of the story that I said that they "punched up." That's pretty amazing.

JN: Do you want to have a game segment?

RO: I was obsessed with "The Price is Right" my entire life. In fact, when Bob Barker was getting up there in 2006 when I signed with "The View," I had a clause in my contract that said, should he retire, I'm allowed to leave the show if I get offered "The Price is Right." And when he announced he was leaving, I practically begged for the job. I had meetings with every person at that company, told them all my ideas, and they didn't go with me. They went with Drew Carey, and my heart is still broken. However, I'm going to have a game element at the end of every show, which has turned out to be, I think, more fun than anyone imagined. When they did the focus groups, people loved the game part. Like most of the games I did on my old show, I cheat so that everybody wins, but it's still fun. And that's going to be the show. We're going to hopefully give you an hour of uplifting, entertaining laughter, family-oriented, multi-generational, kick back, relax and get ready for your evening.

JN: What has been your biggest challenge with this project?

RO: My biggest challenge is, I think, to just be authentic, you know? That's the goal for every human being, no matter what your job is. It's sometimes hard when showbiz is so full of pretense that to remain your authentic self is difficult while you're being recorded. There are some scientists and sociologists who are doing studies saying when you observe anything, it changes its essence. So to try to maintain who you are while performing, and trying to be conversational, not presentational, that's the biggest challenge. But luckily, I think, my age is on my side for this. When you're in your thirties, I think you still don't really quite know who you are, but as I'm approaching 50 in March, I think I have a much better understanding of who I am and what I'm doing and why.

JN: How do you like the city so far?

RO: I love it. I have to say I didn't really know anything about it to tell you the truth. You know, like a lot of New Yorkers, I didn't really have an idea of what Chicago was about. And I had heard "Second City," but I really thought it was just an improv group, and now I get it.

Visit oprah.com/own for details and listings on The Rosie Show.
 
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