Rosie finds home with Oprah
WHO: Rosie O’Donnell
WHAT: The comic, actress, activist, and former daytime talk show host returns to the chatfest circuit with a new show for pal Oprah Winfrey’s OWN channel. She recently met with TV critics in Beverly Hills, Calif., with Winfrey keeping a watchful eye nearby, to discuss ‘‘The Rosie Show,’’ which premieres Monday at 7 p.m
Q. It’s been a while since you’ve done a talk show. Why come back now?
A. Why did I want to come back? Well, my mom died at 39. It’s a story I tell often, and now it sounds like someone else’s life. So I was going to make all my success and then retire at 40, and guess what? I did that. And then I went home. And every year I would have my mammogram and say, “Is it now?’’ And the doctor keeps going, “No. You’re healthy. You could lose a little weight, but you’re all right.’’ Every year. Then I finally realized, crap, I may live. So I needed a plan for Act 2. So when Oprah announced that she was leaving, all of the people who usually call my agent called and said, “Oh, please, now we’re really in need of you to come back,’’ and I kept calling my agent going, “Can you call the OWN people? Could you tell them, I would like to go back but I would like to go back for OWN?’’
With [Winfrey’s] whole team there, it’s been really an amazing work environment. And it’s going to be different from the old show. I have evolved and grown, and the show is going to be reflective of that. It’s not going to be your average show where three celebrities come on promoting something. It’s going to be one celebrity per show, and they’re going to have something to talk about and want to come and play and have a fun 60 minutes together.
Q. Your activism is part of who you are. Will that be a regular feature?
A. We’re going to have a controversy segment. No, we’re not. But as things come up in life and in the world, you know, if we were on in the last few months, I’m sure that we would have had someone talking with me one day, perhaps, about the fascination with the Casey Anthony trial, because as a child advocate my whole life and career, I don’t really understand why the media and the nation focused on this one child when there are many children killed and tortured every day. So we’re not going to look for controversy, but should it be germane to what’s happening in the world, I’m sure we will bring up current events.
Q. When all is said and done, what do you hope your impact has been?
A. I think anybody who creates art expecting the result of how it’s interpreted never can make anything good, so what you have to do is just look at that blank canvas and create something that’s real and authentic, and how people receive it, you can’t really be concerned with. So what I am hoping to do is make an entertaining, enjoyable show that people will want to tune in with multigenerations.
Q. The mantra from OWN has been to be aspirational. Do you just do the show you want to do or do you feel you have to fit somehow within that slogan?
A. I think the reason for my success is that I am really not aspirational, and I’m inspirational in that the people at home so relate to me. If I’m at a table with famous people eating dinner, inevitably, four or five people will come over to me as if I’m the E-ZPass lane. And they will come right over and go, “Oh, my God. You’re eating dinner with Martin Short and Madonna!’’ I’m like, “I know. Now get the hell away before they yell at you.’’ So they think I am the access. I can be standing next to really famous people, and they’ll whisper to me, who I am standing next to? So I am really more the audience. Nobody is at home going, “God, if I could only be Rosie O’Donnell, an overweight lesbian who yells too much.’’ Nobody is thinking that they want to aspire to be like me, but I’m very relatable.
Q. What qualities do you share with Oprah?
A. I think that we both have an insatiable curiosity for the nature of human existence, that we both know there are many ways to be in the world and that each person is worthy and of value, and they need to find that within themselves.
Interview was edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.