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Rosie O'Donnell Interview -- Exclusive

Rosie O'Donnell Interview -- Exclusive

Rosie O’Donnell surprised me when I interviewed her last month. The 47-year-old former co-host on The View had such an interesting take on life, relationships and raising her kids.

Before we get to the interview, though, Rosie’s Broadway Kids is having a benefit performance this Monday, April 27. Be sure to pick up your tickets! And onto the interview:

JJ: Do you read blogs at all?

RO: Not too much – I used to when I was blogging, but I kind of feel like the internet has changed a lot since I started going it. There’s just so much negativity. It’s now a place where people throw spitballs at each other under the cover of the net.

JJ: How do you keep up with news?

RO: I read the NYT and NY Post. You know, both ends of the spectrum. We live in a culture where we’re saturated with media everywhere we go. When I didn’t know there was supposed to be a snowstorm, I kind of felt happy because usually you know everything that everyone’s talking about. And the media kind of decides what people should be thinking about. I’ve spent far too many minutes contemplating what’s going to happen to the Octo-Mom, and frankly, I don’t think I ever needed to know that story. I think that’s an example of tabloid journalism at its worst. And it’s on regular nightly news. You know, when the economy is going under and people are unemployed in Detroit, Katrina has not been cleaned up and people are living in trailers. And then you hear about the Octo-Mom. I don’t know, I kind of feel like the media has lost its validity.

(Click inside to continue reading Rosie O’Donnell‘s interview…)

JJ: Do you shield your kids from certain media outlets?

RO: All media. They go to a Waldorf school. There are about a hundred of them in the country. You have to sign a contract when your kid goes there and agree you won’t allow them to watch TV or go on the computer. So my kids don’t watch TV and they don’t go on the computer.

Now occasionally on Friday nights, we do family movie night where I get a movie and we all watch it together. My oldest son is in 7th grade, so he gets an hour of computer time on the weekend that’s monitored. But there are three other kids who are still in the school. We’re a media-free family, in most ways.

JJ: Do your kids have cell phones or Blackberrys? How do you keep in touch with your kids when they hang out with their friends?

RO: No, they don’t have cell phones or Blackberrys. They don’t really go to the mall and hang out – it’s much more 1970s than it is than 2009.

JJ: Do you feel that’s backwards in anyway? Did you do that when you were a kid?

RO: Well, some people do. I do it because I didn’t have parents – my mother died and my father wasn’t home. I had no one to talk to. I would much rather play rummy with my parent than sit in front of a video game, and when you don’t have the TV as an option, you’d be surprised at how much you can interact with your own kids.

JJ: What do you do with your kids?

RO: Craft stuff, play games, a lot of card games. There’s a lot of Uno, Rummy 500, football with a Nerf ball in the house, skateboard in the house. We have an big loft, the kitchen and the living room is all just one room, so we do a lot of physical activity.

JJ: How do you censure your children?

RO: Like [my son] Parker love War Hammer, which is a model series where you paint the models and then you go to the place and you have little wars with other guys with models. That’s the thing that he loves the most. Then with [my daughter] Chelsea, there’s her horse – she loves horseback riding, and with [my son] Blake, it’s snowboarding. So if they do something, their favorite activity is taken away. That’s usually the way that they’re reprimanded. Mind you, I’m not above occasionally screaming.

JJ: Is religion or spirituality a part of your life?

RO: Spirituality is a part of my life; religion is not. My kids are raised without knowledge of any specific religion but with the knowledge of almost all of them.

JJ: How does the Waldorf school prepare the kids differently than a public school or even a typical private school?

RO: Well there’s a spiritual context to the learning, and it’s a philosophy of how children learn and what’s important. You know, handmade material like wood and yarn? They all can knit, they all can play two or three instruments, they learn two languages in elementary school. It’s a different sort of system. It’s not a typical American system but it’s very popular in Europe. There are a hundred of them in the United States and it works really well for our family.

JJ: How do your kids interact with other non-Waldorf school kids? Is there difficulty meshing?

RO: Well, none of their cousins are Waldorf’s, and they love going to their cousins’ house because they get to play the Playstation 3 and watch a movie. But, you know, we’re not Amish. We don’t prevent them from using electricity but it’s just not part of the daily ritual in our house. And if you really think about it, [seeing] just how often your kids are sitting in front of the TV, whether it’s a game or a TV show. It’s startling when you take away that option.

JJ: Do you think your kids will be left out of experiencing a lot of pop culture growing up?

RO: I remember when people came on my show, and they told me that they had gone to a Waldorf school – Jennifer Aniston went to one and so did Julianna Margulies – I remember thinking that it was child abuse. And when some friends of mine had babies and kids and they wouldn’t let them watch TV, I thought that was insane. But when I left my show, my son was in first grade. He was coming home with a lot of homework and the public school system in our area was just totally not working for me. So, a friend of mine suggested I look into this. I did some research and for our family, our life, and it totally works. It’s not as if they don’t know who Hannah Montana is, but they don’t know common names that you’d think they know. They know when movies come out, I take them to the movies as a day out, but it just doesn’t happen in our home.

JJ: When you were growing up, what was your first memory of show business? You did stand-up at age 16, was there anything before that?

RO: Oh Streisand, my mother loved Barbara Streisand. It was on in my house 24 hours a day. Musicals. I went to Radio City with my parents every year to see the Christmas show in the third balcony starting from probably when I was three or four. My mother was very into musicals, so she really gave us a lot of love for theater and performing.

JJ: We’re both middle children of five, what was it like being in the middle for you?

RO: Well, my mother died when I was 10, and that sort of throws a hand grenade into the whole thing,. It wasn’t an easy childhood. It was a lot of kids and no supervision.

JJ: Who do your kids look up to for as a paternal figure?

RO: Well they have their grandfather, [my partner] Kelli’s father, and they have lots of uncles. I have three brothers and Kelli has two brothers and brothers-in-law, so they have a lot of guys around in their life and they’re all very close.

JJ: What do your kids call you, since they have two moms?

RO: They call me “Mama” and they call Kelli either “Mommy” or “Mama Kelly.” Or sometimes they call me “More Mama.” Once, when Blake was little, he said “Mama,” and Kelly turned around, and then he said, “No, MORE Mama!” and he pointed to me and the name has kind of stuck. Blake started calling me “Ro Ro” and I told him that I don’t answer to that.

JJ: How long have you and Kelli been together?

RO: We’ve been together for eleven years. We went and got married a few months ago, when it was still…illegal. When [Mayor] Gavin Newsom said he was going to marry gay people in San Francisco, and the war had just started, Kelli and I were home. George Bush was having a press conference that said that this was very important national news. I thought, “Oh no, we’ve lost a whole platoon or something.” And he said that we’re going to prevent gay people from getting married in San Francisco. I was so furious. So I was like, “Let’s get on a plane, honey, and go get married.” And we did.

It was like, remember, if you’re going to start taking rights away from people, you’re taking them away from me too. I wanted to be included in the list of people that raised their hands. I didn’t want it to be something that I had an opportunity to participate in but was afraid to, so we went and did that. We don’t actually celebrate that as our anniversary, and that marriage was annulled, because the first few were, but people did write us to say “Happy Anniversary!” which is how we remember, but our anniversary is in December…for sort of when we knew that we would be together…forever.

JJ: Billy Elliott is your favorite musical right now, but what is your all-time favorite Broadway show?

RO: Les Miserables. I’ve seen it probably twenty times, not just in New York, but all over.

JJ: How do you think theater is different in cities all over the world? New York, London, Paris…

RO: It’s such an American thing, the musical theater. And it’s such an art form that we kind of own. I love theater in the West End, I love that there are touring companies all over the US and that kids in…Indiana…can see a musical to get the experience, not just having to wait every year for the Tony’s.

JJ: You turned 47 recently. Did you have any big plans?

RO: We went to Miami with the family. If I could, I’d be in Miami all the time. I have a home down there, it’s fantastic.

JJ: What was your favorite Madonna concert?

RO: The last one – I thought it was unbelievable. It was like watching an Olympic event! The fact that she’s 50-years-old and able to look like that and do that, and I remember thinking, oh now is when she’s going to get a costume change, and she wasn’t! She was kept going and going and going and going…and it’s stunning to think of that kind of energy and discipline that she has and is able to continue for years and years.

I think she’s absolutely…one of the best entertainers that has ever lived.

JJ: When filming America, you’ve mentioned that you had to go to dark places. What kind of memories did you have to channel for that raw emotion?

RO: Well, the whole story is about kids in need who aren’t taken care of. They are so hurt and wounded that they wound themselves. It was just an emotionally-wrenching film to participate in, and very rewarding at the end. I was really thrilled that I did it. But it wasn’t like a walk in the park or any other film that I had ever done because I felt like I could relate to it more than the other ones.

JJ: What was the most difficult thing in filming the movie?

RO: The breakdown scene, where we both cried and he told me what he was afraid of. Also, being in Detroit, and seeing how bad the economy is there. You see what it does to the spirit of the people and how amazingly resilient humans are in spite of such horrific circumstances there.

JJ: Do you have another projects coming up or that you are in the process of working on?

RO: Yeah, I have a documentary coming out with HBO and Sheila Evans about families. It’s about kids talking about their families and how all families are different, and what makes up an American family today. Different families are featured. I think it’s called Mom, Dad, Dad, Mom, Mom, Dad… something like that. I just saw a screening today, and it was really beautiful. I also have a book – co-writing – about auditory processing disorder, which my son Blake has had since he was nine years old, and how mothers can help their kids learn and listen.

JJ: What stresses you out the most these days?

RO: Menopause. It can be up to ten years, I’ve heard, and if it is, I don’t know if I’m going to make it.

JJ: What are your favorite TV shows? Do you watch TV at home because of Waldorf?

RO: Intervention, Big Love… The TV is in our bedroom, it’s not like TV is the enemy. My kids know I watch TV. It’s just that in the day that there’s no TV. But, for example, there is going to be a National Geographic special on the blue whale that we are going to TiVo and watch. It’s like we don’t ever do it, they just don’t sit and watch hours upon hours of TV. They don’t watch commercial television.

And it’s funny because whenever we go away to spend a weekend with our cousins and nieces and nephews, the kids always come home with things they want because they’ve seen commercials. You know, “Bendaroos,” “Polly Pocket?” And I’m just thinking, where’d you even hear of that? It just changes the whole perspective of things. And they also come back saying they’re bored, they’re bored, but only after they’ve spent a lot of time watching TV.

JJ: We’re sitting here at your Maravel Arts Center (a four-story arts school in the heart of New York’s theater district). Pat Maravel was your math teacher but was there an arts teacher that influenced you the most?

RO: She was the teacher that influenced me the most, even if she wasn’t an arts teacher. She came to every play that I did and encouraged me and made me believe I was worth loving and that life was worth living.

But I had some great teachers. Ted Kastrinos was my theater teacher, and every teacher whoever put on a play for their students. And I knew it was what I wanted to do as soon as I did my first one.

JJ: You’re four months sober now, how do you relax at the end of the day now?

RO: Yeah, December was my last beer. I haven’t really replaced it with anything. It’s not like I would drink every night, it was just when I came home and I was in a bad mood or stressed. Instead of having three beers, now I just…won’t. I just won’t. I didn’t really replace it with anything. I mean, I do paint a lot, but I don’t know that it’s replaced anything.

JJ: Do you sell or exhibit your paintings?

RO: Yes, at Etsy and the Wentworth Gallery. All the money from all the art goes to fund the school.


Don’t forget to pick up tickets for Rosie’s Broadway Kids: Benefit Performance for this Monday, April 27 at!

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Photos: Amy Sussman/Getty
Posted to: Rosie O Donnell

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