Oprah Talks to Rosie O'Donnell About Reentering the Spotlight
Rosie: You know what I missed? The staff. I loved them. Whenever there was a goodbye party for someone who was leaving, I'd always sneak away because I don't like endings. I want everyone to stay around forever. So I miss the people. But I didn't miss—
Oprah: The day-to-day.
Rosie: Right. All of a sudden I had time to do the things I'd been too busy for. Of course, there are some things I'll never get back—like the normality of life pre-fame. I've had to come to terms with the fact that fame is like a tattoo—it doesn't go away. For a while, I was able to keep it separate. I'd see a magazine cover and go, "Oh, there's Rosie O'Donnell." Then I'd go home to my bubble where no one knew I was with Kelli, and we had these kids. I loved it. But eventually my world opened up, and it took some adjusting. The problem is, fame is held up as the brass ring, the place you want to get to. Any kind of critique of it—
Oprah: Nobody can hear.
Rosie: It sounds like sour grapes. But I'm telling you, you're missing the real moments of your life while craving this thing that doesn't allow you to have them anymore. And you should cherish them while you have them. Those real moments.
Oprah: So why did you make the decision to come back to television?
Rosie: After I divorced, I didn't have my kids half the time. Which was horrifying to me.
Oprah: Because you share custody.
Rosie: Yes. I remember sitting in my house going, "I need something to do." I tried radio. I enjoyed it. Then I did your show in January 2010. I thought, Oh my God, I remember why I love it! The excitement of building up to it, your staff, the whole vibe there. I was actually on the verge of signing a new deal with NBC, and—this probably sounds kiss-assy, but it's true—just before I was about to sign, I remember saying to my agent, "Doesn't Oprah have her own channel? Can we call there?" If I was going back to entertaining, I wanted to work with you.
Oprah: Thank you for saying that. I'm so happy you chose OWN. On your show, what do you want to be different this time?
Rosie: It's already different. I'm different. When I started the last show, I had a baby who took his first steps in my office. I had never met people like Tom Cruise or Barbra Streisand. Since then, they've both stayed at my home in Miami. It took a while for me to get a grip on the idea that, Oh, wow, you are in the club. Everyone I know who's in the club feels they're not a member—even the biggest stars you can name.
Oprah: Interesting, isn't it?
Rosie: When I finally realized that, I cut myself a break. I'd always been able to see that everyone else's success was merited—but it seemed like mine must be a fluke.
Oprah: When did you get that yours wasn't a fluke—after your show?
Rosie: Totally. I got that people liked me.
Oprah: Newsweek called you "The Queen of Nice" on its cover.
Rosie: They must have never seen my stand-up act! Because comedy is based in rage, you know. Anyway, I was only nice because someone had been killed after being on The Jenny Jones Show the year before I started. And somebody broke Geraldo's nose. You were the only one not hurting people. So compared to most people on TV then, sure, I was nice. But I never felt it was a label that fit. And it's funny, because when I was first on TV, people would see me at the mall and go, "What's the matter?" I was like, "Nothing, why?" "You look like you're mad." "That's because you're used to seeing me like this [plasters on a smile] on the show!" Whereas my normal face—ready, I'm about to give it to you!—looks pissed off, doesn't it?
Oprah: We call that your resting face.
Rosie: My resting face.
Oprah: So what did you think when you saw that Newsweek cover?
Rosie: I remember holding it up on my show and saying, "This is going to bite me in the ass." What, exactly, is "nice"? For someone to be innately kind or empathetic is one thing. But nice?
Oprah: What does it really mean?
Rosie: So I dissociated myself from it. I didn't participate much in my own celebrity—I tried to downplay it. I study with a spiritual woman, and she once told me, "You like to say you shop at Target and this and that—but you're a millionaire." There was a noncongruency, in other words. When you start approaching your 50s, though, you get congruent. The life you're living becomes more reflective of your reality.
Rosie: I didn't really know who I was. When I divorced and my plan fell apart, I had to reframe the picture.
Oprah: Exactly. So your show will be different because you are different.
Rosie: Yes, but that's not the only difference. Since I've been off the air, television has become saturated with celebrities. In America we're addicted in a way that's embarrassing. So it's not going to be all about celebrity. It'll be a celebration of humanity, of connection, of authenticity and love. Because it's on at 7, we're going to do a hybrid between a late-night show and a daytime show. We'll incorporate the audience. We've come up with a new kind of talk show that mixes the old single-topic format with fun and social media. So it will have a reality feel. We'll have to get the kinks out, but the same way I knew the first one would work, I know this will work.
Next: Making the transition to Chicago—and learning how to be un-famous