Friday, February 18, 2011

Rosie O'Donnell - A Lot of Irons in the Fire

Photo by Peter Morrison/NBC 

Rosie O’Donnell is a busy lady these days. Tonight she’s featured on Lisa Kudrow’s genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?, tracing the ancestry of her mother who died when she was just a child. And she’s preparing to relaunch her talk show career on OWN in September. In a recent conference call interview she told us, “I’m thrilled to be going back to do a new Rosie show for the Oprah Winfrey Network. And you know Oprah Winfrey is an epic talent and for her to ask me was a huge honor, and I can’t wait to start.”

Rosie will be taking a page out of her new boss’ book when it comes to the style of her series. She divulged, “It’ll be much more like [Oprah’s] show than it is like my old one. So it’s not going to be a bunch of guests coming in to promote a movie. It’s going to be a single topic, one hour, similar to hers. Although nobody can come close to doing what she actually did. That will be the format that we’re copying… We’ll do single topics and one hour delving into social issues and Broadway shows and some celebrities and books and movies and documentaries. But it won’t be four or five celebrities an hour.”

Luckily Rosie has TV to focus on considering that she doesn’t really see many movie parts in future. “I would love to but acting roles for women who are 50 and older are hard to come by and they’re hard to come by for Kathy Bates and Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon. So I don’t have any illusions about the desire for me to run back and get these huge parts that are simply waiting. There really aren’t any parts like that… I think that when I get to be in my 60’s there will probably be a lot of roles for me as the grandmother or older mother of the Geraldine Page kind of Trip to Bountiful roles… And that’s what I think I’m waiting for. So until then if they need me for anything they call.”

She does plan to return to comedy at some point, which is obviously still near and dear to her heart. She admitted, “Sometime in the future I would love to be able to do stand-up again. I toured with Cyndi Lauper for a couple summers opening for her and playing the drums and doing stand-up, and it was really so thrilling and so much fun. And I enjoy live performance probably the most out of all forms of entertainment.”

That’s not to say she hasn’t done the impromptu gig in recent years. Rosie noted, “I do stand-up sometimes. I walk by a comedy club in New York and go in and sometimes they say, ‘Hey, you want to do ten minutes?’ And I get up there and try and I remember how hard it is and how it’s like being a boxer and you need to be in shape. You just can’t sort walk into the ring and expect to not get knocked out. So I would eventually like to do stand-up again, have another HBO special. But it takes the kind of dedication and nightly performance ethic that right now is not possible for me.”

There is a project that she’d be willing to commit to if the opportunity presented itself. She revealed, “There’s talk of James Lapine directing Annie on Broadway in 2012, and I have let it be known rather loudly that I would like to play Miss Hannigan. So if they go on tour… I would definitely do whatever they need to do in order to get that show up on Broadway.”

In the meantime Rosie has another theatrical undertaking on the horizon. She described her very personal venture , “I’m working with a playwright, Dick Scanlan, doing a show about my mother to do a one woman show.”

She added further detail, “Michael Mayer’s set to direct and [Tom Holtz] is producing… We’ve been working on it for over three years and we have no idea when we’re going to do it. We just had a reading a few months ago and we need to work on it some more. But these things take a very long time to do and I’m hoping one day in the next year or so we’ll be able to do our first public [backers] reading and see how that goes. But that’s an amazing team of people. Dick Scanlan wrote Thoroughly Modern Millie. And Michael Mayer, Tony Award winner and [Tom Holtz] is [Tom Holtz], who’s phenomenal. And so I think I’m in good hands. And hopefully someday soon we’ll get to put it up on the [boards]."

In addition to the facts she gathered about her Mom during her Who Do You Think You Are?, Rosie’s also unearthed info working on the play. She explained, ‘[Dick]’s been pretty good at finding some people that she went to Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School with and some friends that she had when she was younger. And so I’ve been able to sit down and talk with some of them and that’s been really interesting to try to see her through adult eyes as opposed to… a child’s eyes.”

The experience has helped her evaluate her own relationship to her mother. Rosie admitted, “I think it’s been helpful. It’s weird for me to be 49 years old, a decade more than she lived. In March I’ll be 49 and she died at 39 in March. So it’s very odd to me to have lived ten more years than she got to. And get to do things that she never did like raising teenagers, which she never had to go through and in some ways she’s lucky. But to get to experience all that now and not have a mother to call and talk to about it and then to just think of how sad it was that she never got to live to see it or to do it.”

Rosie can connect with other people who lost their mothers at a young age. She remarked, “People will come over to me and tell me that their mom died… and the devastation is just as raw and real. I think no matter what age, when you lose your mom, it’s your mommy… That’s the bottom line is that everybody has that kind of natural base primal wound connections, and if it’s severed it becomes a wound, right, the mother-child connection? And when you do something like this show it does help… heal it a little bit. But I’ve found that the most helpful thing I could tell anyone to do who’s lost their mother is to get the Hope Edelman book, ‘Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss.’”

O’Donnell connects to the material so strongly that she said she regrets not being a part of Edelman’s project when she had the opportunity. “When she wrote that book in ‘95 she had written me and asked if I would do an interview. And I remembered thinking it was going to be a violin story, violin background music… poor, poor celebrities whose mothers died when they were young. And had I known what the book was really going to be, I would have participated and I would have begun my healing so much earlier.”

Instead, she continued, “I had to wait until the book was out and published, and then I bought the book and I bought the workbook. And it was probably the most healing thing that ever happened, in terms of losing a mother and to have all these collected stories of women who had survived it, and the feelings that are so similar and learning that you’re not alone. That’s what I would advise to anyone who lost their mom.”

Perhaps Rosie learned a valuable lesson by passing on the Edelman book. When Lisa Kudrow came knocking for her to appear on Who Do You Think You Are?, she didn’t let the experience slip away. And now she has her own tale to tell. “I almost feel as though I’m carrying all of the stories of my mother’s family that brought her to this country and brought me here as a result.”

And in turn, she wished that everyone could have a similar experience. “I hope that people look into their ancestry. I never thought it would change anything about me. I thought it would almost be boring and, I don’t know, I did not expect the emotional impact that the show had on my life.”

Watch Rosie’s journey when she appears on Who Do You Think You Are? tonight at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. Central on NBC.

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