EVEN THOUGH THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF NEW YORK CITY IS CURRENTLY BETWEEN SEASONS, SONJA MORGAN HAS NO INTENTIONS OF TAKING A BREAK FROM THE SPOTLIGHT.
Thus, the outspoken, brazen and wildly entertaining reality TV scene-stealer is currently starring in the Off-Broadway hit, Sex Tips For Straight Women From A Gay Man. And while Morgan is making her stage debut in the raunchy comedy, it’s far from her first outing as a professional performer. With a career in entertainment that spans decades, Morgan has done it all—from modeling to being a film producer to creating Caburlesque (her signature hybrid of cabaret and burlesque performance), and much more.
As she prepares to wrap up her run in Sex Tips on October 22, Morgan spoke with me about the play, her diverse and ever-evolving career, and her own favorite sex tips. She also reflected on the past season of Real Housewives and provided updates as to where things stand now with her Bravo cohorts.
ALEX NAGORSKI:Why is acting something you decided you wanted to explore?
SONJA MORGAN: I tried acting many moons ago when I was in Europe modeling. But I had gone to college for fashion marketing and, as it was my chosen field, I needed to return to the States and get to work in that area. After making good money modeling, experimenting in the acting field was a shock because you make no money at first. But I’ve always enjoyed entertaining and making people laugh, which I have continued to do over the years while developing my fashion lifestyle brand.
Tell me a little bit about your character, Robyn. How much (if any) of yourself do you see in her?
Even though Robyn is mousy and an academic, I still relate to her. At times, I have been awkwardly nervous and uptight like her – especially when I moved to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. But my three gay roommates really brought me out of my shell and boosted my self-esteem.
Are you infusing any of your Caburlesque techniques into this performance?
Definitely! I use it in the delivery of the sexy lines to Stephan. And just like in my Caburlesque, during Sex Tips I am making people laugh and feel better about themselves.
What do you think your own unique and signature brand of humor adds to the comedy of the show?
I have a very similar sense of humor. I like to joke about sex and use the double entendre.
What’s the best sex tip you’ve ever personally received from a gay man?
Do you think that gay men give better sex tips to women than other women do? If so, why?
Gay men are very open and honest. I think they’re giving people in general.
What’s the best sex tip you’ve ever given to or received from one of your fellow Bravolebrities?
I guess the best sex tip I ever gave Ramona was, “Never bring the boys inside the house when vacationing with friends. Keep them in the garden!”
What’s a sex tip you learned from doing this show that you had previously never heard before?
Well, I have a lot of experience at this point in my life, but I think the play has great advice. It’s funny, it’s sexy but it’s also a story of romance. I’m learning a lot from the experience itself – from working with the team, memorizing the lines, and seeing everything that goes into the whole production. After establishing Sonja Morgan New York, my new fashion jewelry collection, I’m really hitting my sweet spot – coming full-circle in my creativity center.
Your bio in the show’s Playbill is quite extensive. You’re listed as “an Entrepreneur, Luxury Fashion Lifestyle Brand, Film Producer, Writer, Performer, Special Event Creator, and Philanthropist,” amongst other things. Of all of these various responsibilities that you juggle, which do you feel most fulfilled and inspired by?
I am fulfilled and inspired by all of it. I am being me and expressing myself from the core – through design, humor, special events, performance and the charities I support.
How’s your prosecco line, Tipsy Girl, doing? Where can your fans buy it and what’s next for the evolution of the brand?
The venues are listed on the TipsyGirl.com website and the restaurant is currently being held up by permits. I have been through this before, so I know how my partners feel. It’s a laborious and expensive process upfront.
Filming on RHONY wrapped a few months ago. Which of the ladies have you stayed theclosest to in the time since?
As much as they tick me off, I’ll always be close to Luann and Ramona. I was happy to get back on track with Bethenny. I’ve always treasured our friendship. I felt my little “mom and pop” restaurant and prosecco venture was blown out of proportion by the press, exasperated by Dorinda creating a wedge, and Ramona was no help – adding fuel to fire. I’ve always felt Carol understood me, though she can have some bite in her snarky, yet very entertaining, blogs.
Have any of your cast-mates come to see you in this show yet? If so, what did they have to say aboutit?
Not yet. They always say they are so concerned, yet when I have something good starting up, I hear nothing. No tweets to say “Congrats.” I always support their new ventures. For example, I saw nothing re: my fashion and swimwear. Nothing. Why?
Looking back, what was your favorite moment of season 8?
Showing the viewers that I didn’t have a drinking problem by not partying at all. If I had a problem, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.
Out of all of the girls, who do you think was your biggest ally and your biggest adversary this past season?
I think Bethenny spoke her mind, in the usual fashion I am used to seeing, and she was very hurt. I think Ramona changed. She wasn’t herself. Though she never stands up for me, she is always there to hold my hand. Carol was neutral and there if I needed to talk.
Now that some time has passed, have wounds healed enough for you to attend Luann and Tom’s wedding this New Years Eve?
Yes. I’ve known Luann a long time. I know some things will never change. I’ve always said a man will never come between us.
[PHOTOS: ALLISON STOCK]
Click HERE to purchase tickets to see Sonja Morgan in Sex Tips For Straight Women From A Gay Man, now through October 22 at 777 Theatre in Manhattan.
Since making her television debut last season, Drescher has been hard at work writing her memoir, Leggy Blonde. And unlike her new tagline, her debut book is much more serious in tone about her life as an amputee. Amongst other things, the book chronicles how Drescher lost her leg in a freak barn accident as a child, and the various ways that both she and those around her have dealt with that loss throughout her life.
With a book hitting stores next Tuesday and the new season of Housewivespremiering on March 11, Drescher fans certainly have a lot to look forward to over the next few weeks. I caught up with the television star and new author about writing her first book, why her’s is an important story to tell, her plans to lobby in the nation’s capital, the juiciness coming up in Housewives, and much more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: February is a busy month for Real Housewives books. In addition to yours, this month sees the release of new books from Beverly Hills’ Brandi Glanville and from Carole Radziwill (check out my interviews with Brandi and Carole about their respective new books), your fellow New York cast mate. Have you already read either of these books yet, and if so, what are your thoughts?
AVIVA DRESCHER: I’ve read Carole’s. I liked it very much and I think it’s completely different from her first book. It doesn’t have anything to do with her first book at all and I think it’s really courageous that she took a stab at writing a novel. I think it’s great.
I really enjoyed Brandi’s first book. Obviously, it was her trying to get revenge on her ex-husband, but I thought it was really good. I hope she does well with her second book too.
So if someone wanted to purchase only one Housewife book this month, what would you tell him or her about why they should pick yours?
Well, I think that Carole’s book is more of a beach read, whereas I think my book can really touch everybody. It’s not just for Housewives viewers. I think it can touch everybody because it shows by various examples how you can get through life’s trials and tribulations.
Everyone’s touched by anxiety, health issues, addiction, divorce, and marriage – whether it’s your own relationships, your parents’, or whoever else’s – everyone gets touched by these things and I touch on all of them.
So I feel like my book has a more of a serious/funny tone to it, but I do think that everyone can relate. Mine’s more of a serious book, whereas Carole’s is more of a beach read. And if you are a Housewivesviewer, I think that this is a good way to get to know me without an editing team involved.
That’s a really interesting point. How do you think that this book depicts you differently than the show has?
Well, I think that most of all, it shows that there was definitely a misunderstanding between the camera, the editors, the viewers and me. The show dwelled a lot on the bumps in the road that have happened to me. I think that the book really does show that in fact I don’t dwell on those things. And I think the viewers will see that. People will see it very clearly.
I also think that you see more of my sense of humor in the book. I think that when the camera’s around, I tend to get a little bit, you know, more uptight. But with the book, I have more control. I can be more myself to a certain extent.
There’s a point in the book where you discuss turning to fashion as an outlet to draw attention away from your prosthesis. Fast-forward to today, and you’ve published a memoir that goes into great detail about what its meant for you to be an amputee for the majority of your life. What made you decide to finally want to share your story and why is now the right time to tell it?
Well, I turned 40, and I think that at 40-years-old, you start to think about a lot of things in your life and you get a certain kind of sense of security and maturity about yourself – especially if you have children. It’s a time where you really start to officially grow up, and my growing up meant that I was done hiding. I’m done being ashamed of wearing a prosthesis.
There comes a point where you come to full acceptance – hopefully – in your lifetime. I felt ready at 40, and with the show falling in my lap, I felt that was an opportunity to do it. And I couldn’t just put it out a little bit because everything is so full force on the show.
It was a combination of being 40, having 4 children, feeling like a mamma bear, and feeling like a real complete grownup who was self-aware and secure. So it was important for me to come onto the show without really having anything to be ashamed of. Because I think that when you go on a reality show, you can’t really have any skeletons in your closet.
Yeah, I imagine that wouldn’t be very easy to do.
Yeah. So it was kind of a whole combination of like, “Okay. I’m going to go on a show. I’m 40. I am who I am. This is who I am and I’m not, and I’m going to be proud of it, and I’m going to use whatever obstacles are in my way to help other people.” And the helping other people part really helps me to not worry about any sort of uptightness that I had about my leg or my accident.
One chapter that really stood out to me was the one in which your parents took you to India at 15-years-old to see someone that they believed was the “avatar of a healing spirit” and could grow your foot back. You, however, did not share your parents’ faith in this man’s alleged abilities. What type of effect, then, did this trip have on you as a teenager when your parents obviously didn’t get the result that they were hoping for from it?
It just made me realize that parents are certainly not perfect. As children, we look up at our parents and we think they’re gods. Even when we hate them, we still think that they are all knowing. And I think that that was really my first step towards adulthood and separating from my parents.
In some ways, my parents were overprotecting, and in some ways, they were very, “get on with it, move on with it, do everything like everybody else.” I think that as a teenager, you begin to separate from your parents. So seeing this craziness that they brought me into not come to fruition definitely led me to being more independent. I think everybody’s parents are a little bit crazy in their own ways, but maybe my parents were a little bit more crazy than most.
Speaking of parents, the book also discusses your mother’s alcoholism and how you dealt with the tragedy of her early passing. What advice would you give to someone experiencing a similar type of grief today?
You know, they say alcohol is as addictive as heroine. And to live with someone who’s an alcoholic is so enraging and so painful. The extent where my mother went with it was just one of the most horrific things in my life. Alcoholism took my mother’s life from me and deprived my children of her, my father of her, and my family of her. Every day that I raise my children, I think about my mom. I think that the only way to deal with alcoholics is with a very, very severe tough love and that would be the message that I would get out.
I always second-guess and say, “Well, if we were tougher, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten to that point.” Now look, rationally, I don’t think that we are responsible at all for her death, but the message that I would say is, “throw them out of your house. Take away the keys. Take away their money.” Make them hit rock bottom before it’s too late, so that the alcoholic can want on their own to get the help that they want. Because the drug is so strong and unless they are on the floor naked and aware of it, they’re not going to get help. And by the time my mom was so bad, her brain was already going from the alcohol. She didn’t even know she was hitting rock bottom. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Someone else going through this needs to really, really get knowledge and get in there. Don’t sweep it under the carpet. To someone who lives with someone with alcoholism, I would say, “don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault.” We’re all responsible for our own actions, we all have to deal with the consequences of them, and only alcoholics can really help themselves.
This disease really affects and seethes into everybody around it, not just in the way that an alcoholic is disruptive and not a functional person in society, but it psychologically affects the people around you. So I would say don’t feel guilty and just remember how that person was before they got lost in the alcoholism. Remember them for the great person that they were, not for what they became.
I really loved the theme of survival throughout the book. You write about a great amount of loss – not just in terms of your leg and your mother, but also of past relationships (including your first marriage, Harry). Each time, you learn from your experiences in what seem like very universally applicable ways. Is there any particular message or experience that you want your readers to take away with them after they’ve put the book down?
I would say as long as there’s breath, there’s life. Life is very short and you’ve got to get as much joy out of it as you can. You just can’t know what’ll happen from one day to the next, so you gotta keep on loving the best you can and taking the high road – which, by the way, brings great pleasure. Enjoy every day to the best of your ability, and just remember that no matter how many times you get kicked, if you’re breathing, you can enjoy this life. You can find enjoyment out of this life. That’s what I would say.
And obviously when I say, “take the high road,” remember that on television I’m not being paid to take the high road. So I can’t really always do that on television. But in life, I do believe in taking the high road as much as possible.
What have you personally found to be the most common stigma about amputees?
When people say things like, “are you okay?” or “can you walk?” The most common stigma is that we can’t physically do what two-legged people can do. And that’s just entirely untrue. It’s just untrue. I mean, granted sometimes wearing six-inch heels is a little bit more of a challenge to me than, you know, it is for a two-legged person, but I can still do it. So I think that’s the most common stigma –that we can’t physically do everything that everybody else can do. And we can.
Another thing you mention in the book is your array of phobias, which was also the focus of a few discussions on last season of Housewives. What’s one that your fans might be surprised to read about?
They’ll probably be surprised about my passion for health, which to some degree, I guess, translates into a little bit of fear of things that are unhealthy. I’m definitely trying not to be fearful of things that are unhealthy, but I do avoid them.
Like, if I walk into my apartment and my babysitter’s making chicken fingers and she’s putting aluminum foil into my toaster oven, I’ll say, “Can you please not cook it in aluminum foil?” Listen, maybe it’s a phobia and maybe it’s a little kooky. But by the same token, over the past few days, there’s been a dangerous chemical found in many bread ingredients.
Oh right! It’s in Subway bread.
Yeah, but it’s not just Subway. It’s also McDonald’s. It’s also bread that you buy in the store. There’s a chemical in that bread that when heated up, it’s a carcinogen. End of story. My oldest son loves Subway and so on one hand, it’s like, “yeah, I’m really crazy and a phobic and I’m so health-obsessed,” but on the other hand, every day they’re coming out with a new plastic or a new ingredient that you can’t eat and you can’t use because it’s a carcinogen and everyone’s wondering why cancer’s on the rise?
On Housewives, my phobias were mostly isolated to flying and heights. But in my book, I just think that it’s more really about fear of death. Also, these other fears trace back to fear of death. I think that I have a right to be afraid of death because it kind of stared at me in the face at a very young age. I was six-years-old, so you know what? If I’m a little more afraid of bad things happening to me, I’m allowed to have that. But I think the viewers will definitely see in the book that it’s more than just flying and heights.
In the book, you talk about the various financial pressures that come with the maintenance of a prosthetic. You mention that, “Just as reconstructive surgery after mastectomies is paid for by insurance, artificial limbs for sports or aesthetics should be paid for by insurance companies.” How are some ways that you believe that goal can be achieved?
Well, right now in healthcare we’re really going backward. But when I’m done doing the show, I plan on going to Washington and lobbying for insurance companies to pay for prosthetic limbs that are needed for sports, and for activities and also for cosmetic needs. I think that it requires a voice and I think that now with the Boston Marathon tragedy that happened, amputees are actually coming more into the forefront. I think it’s something that can be attainable.
I think one way is by people who are amputees who are in the public to go and bang on the door of the government to assure that insurance companies pay for these limbs. That’s one way to do it. Another way to do it is to circumvent the insurance companies by raising money and paying for it ourselves, and that’s what I do.
There’s nothing more heartbreaking than to see somebody who’s lost a limb. If that’s not bad enough, these people are fighting to walk again and to get their clothing on again and to figure out their shoes. Some of them are always on crutches and it’s hard enough to go through that whole … I don’t want to call it a tragedy, because I don’t see it that way, but that challenge, and then for insurance to say that they are not going to pay for all the limbs and skins that we need is an insult to our intelligence, in my opinion. It needs as much attention as reconstructive breast surgery.
As someone who received their Masters in Literature from NYU, coming out with a memoir must feel like a total dream come true. Do you have plans to continue publishing books now that you’ve gotten a taste of it?
I love to write. I’ve always loved writing and I’ve found it to be really cathartic emotionally. To go back and to think about all of those experiences that I had, that I lived, and bringing them back up, has been so rewarding. I would love to write again. I really am hoping that this is just the beginning. This was not meant to be a preachy book or a self-help book. This is just like a “here is the story and here is how it happened” kind of book. I’d love to write children’s’ books about differences, and maybe even write about fashion or even a book that’s a little bit more self-helpy. So yeah, I would love to write more books. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity.
So switching gears a little bit to talk about the show, what have you found to be the biggest difference between being a new Housewife and being a returning cast member?
I think the greatest thing that brings people fear is the unknown. Housewives was such an unknown when I began, so I was very fearful about what would happen. I had no idea. What would happen to my family? Would people be following me down the street? Would there be stalkers? Would people hate me? Would people love me? Would I be able to raise enough money for amputees? Now, kind of in the same tone as my book, it’s sort of like: it is what it is and I kind of don’t give a shit. There are pros and there are cons and now I just sort of don’t give a shit. I don’t care as much. Last year, I cared so much more. This year, I really, really don’t care.
As I said in my book, I really feel bulletproof in terms of all the silliness. Last year, I was like this sort of virgin that could be prodded and pulled in different directions. This year, I feel like I just would never get too vested in the positive or the negative. It’s just a job and I hope I did my job well. Last year, I was more concerned about how I came off, whereas this year, I’m more concerned about people feeling entertained and if what I do on the show in my life can give people a moment of escape from their lives. I feel so happy also because of hopefully all of the people that I can help who are facing physical challenges. This show is just a little piece of entertainment, and if I can bring some people some distraction from their own lives and issues, then I’ve succeeded.
What do you think the addition of new cast member Kristin Taekman will add to this upcoming season?
You know, I haven’t … I think that she is a very beautiful addition, that’s for sure. And I can tell you that she throws a good punch.
I don’t mean that literally. I mean that figuratively. But we’ll see!
So I don’t know how much you can say about this, but ever since the trailer for the new season was released, fans have been dying to know: what is your leg doing on the floor in that final shot?!
You know, what is my leg doing on the floor in that final shot? How, I mean, I don’t know. I can’t answer that. I’m sorry.
That’s okay! So what was your favorite scene to film for the new season?
Oh, my favorite scene to film was with Heather Abbott, who’s one of the survivors of the Boston Marathon. I took her to my prosthetist and I’ll let the rest unfold from there. That was my favorite scene to film because I love her, and seeing her first in the hospital after the marathon bombing, and now seeing her run, it’s just amazing. Having been in the hospital room together right after the bombings and months later being at my prosthetist doing what we were doing was just so wonderful on so many different levels.
That sounds really inspiring. Is there anything else that you can tease that fans can look forward to this upcoming season?
A lot of my cast mates are going to surprise you. You’re going to be very surprised by the changes in relationships and changes in characters. People change.
Yeah. People change. The ones that seen normal become crazy. The ones that seem crazy become a little more normal. The villains stay the same. Mostly it’s a lot of changes.
Well, thank you so much for your time, Aviva. Is there anything else you’d like to add about anything at all that we didn’t talk about?
You know, the one thing that’s not in the book is that one of the things that I’ve done to help manage my anxiety is that I have a product coming out called Vivacalm. It’s an all-natural powder supplement that you put in a drink, and it really just calms you down and it can even help you sleep if you’re having trouble sleeping. It’s also really healthy for you.
When is that coming out?
That’s coming out in March. It will be in GNC stores exclusively for three months.
Very cool. Well, it was truly a pleasure reading your book and chatting with you about it.
You’ve really made my week. You have obviously read this book with such a fine-tooth comb and I’m eternally grateful for your time and kindness and you’re obviously super, super smart and thank you so much.
Leggy Blonde will be available in bookstores everywhere on February 25th.
Last week, Glanville and I sat down together after her book signing in Brooklyn, and chatted all things Drinking and Dating, her thoughts on Valentine’s Day, what fans cans expect from the upcoming Real Housewives reunion special, and more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: How do you feel you’ve grown as a writer between your first and second books?
BRANDI GLANVILLE: I don’t know that I’ve grown as a writer, to be honest. I think I’ve grown as a human being. I’ve moved forward in a lot of ways that have made me a better, stronger person. I always find humor in everything and that’s just how I roll, because if I didn’t, I would be in a straitjacket. And I honestly think that if you’ve grown as a person, it reflects in your writing.
Absolutely. Is there an added element of pressure now that you’re a #1 New York Timesbestselling writer?
No. I mean, honestly, not for me. I know I do the right thing 97% of the time. There are things I do that I fuck up a lot, but I know that I’m a good person. I would have stayed here [at the book signing] until midnight if there were people here until midnight. I want to make sure everyone that comes to support me gets a personal experience, you know? I’m not just going to say goodbye once it hits 9:00. I’m not drinking my own Kool-Aid. I’m very blessed to be here and I’m very thankful.
Can you walk me through your creative process? How do you go about writing – do you have a set amount of pages that you like to write a day, do you have to listen to any specific music, etc.?
You know, my book agent – or my “gaygent” as I call him – calls it a brain dump. I sit there and I just write and I write. Then I have all of these pages that don’t make any sense and I send them to my co-author, Leslie Bruce. And she’s, like, “Okay, this can go in this chapter, this can go in this chapter,” and so on. I just write, and it is really what I feel. I have a recorder in my car so I can remember when I think of something slightly prolific, because otherwise I can forget. I make myself laugh all day long, which I think is so important in being happy. There was a time where I was unable to do that. That was a very dark time in my life and I’m just really happy to be back where I am.
As the subtitle suggests, the book goes into this in a lot of detail — but I was wondering if in a few sentences, you can explain why you feel that social media is ruining romance?
Oh, gosh. I think that we’ve lost the mystery. I can find out what everyone’s doing at any time of the day. If they don’t text you back and they said that they’re busy, you can check their Instagram, their Facebook, their Twitter and see for yourself. If you have time to tweet, you have time to text the girl you went out with last night. So it’s just ruining the mystique. And if you go out anywhere, people stop and they want to Instagram and take pictures and we’re missing the experiences. Social media is making us unsocial.
I completely agree.
It is! Everyone’s saying “oh, let’s do this,” and I just want to be like, “ok, but let’s have a good time and fuck the pictures,” you know? My girlfriends and I have started a new thing where you put the phones in the middle of the table and anyone who touches their phone first has to pay the bill – because like, let’s have a real experience! Let’s go to dinner and let’s hang out and do what we used to do before this took over our lives.
I really like that idea.
No, it’s true. Seriously.
Some of my favorite things about the book are the many (and often hilarious) stories of outrageous dating mishaps you’ve had over the years.
Oh my god, they’re all going to murder me. They’re going to know exactly who they are in there. I will never date again.
What’s one in particular that still resonates with you as a big “WTF moment” when you look back on it?
Oh, well, there’s one that I call “The Criminal” in my book, and that was definitely one. Everybody deserves a second chance. We all mess up. I’ve messed up a gazillion times, so how can I judge someone for that? But there really are so few men to pick from in LA.
In New York, too!
No, there’s a lot of hot guys here! I used to live here. There’s way more hot guys here. I go out and I’m like, “Ooh! Ooh!” I get distracted. It’s like glitter for a gay man.
But in all seriousness, you want to give people the benefit of the doubt. The LA dating pool is so small and everyone that is anyone is dating a twenty-year-old supermodel and it’s difficult. It’s not easy to say, “Oh guess what, I’m over 40 and I have kids.” You know what I mean? It’s like, “Oh, welcome … and I’m an asshole on TV, so do you want to hang out?” And I’m an asshole in general, in real life, as you saw tonight – but I think it’s a fun thing. I always want to have fun, and that is the number one thing that I think keeps you young. It’s important to know how to laugh and make fun of yourself and not take yourself too seriously. It’s like, it is what it is.
So what’s something that you think readers of Drinking and Dating will learn about you that they don’t already know from the show and/or your first book?
I think everyone knows everything about me but I hope that through this book, they’ll see a little bit of a vulnerable side of me. I do share with them my trust issues and the fact that I sabotage things because of the heartache and the hurt and the mistrust that I’ve had in the past. And so, I want to share that with people, because all my friends and I, we sit around and talk about it, but no one puts it down on paper because everyone’s embarrassed. Like, listen, I’m sharing about my HPV — although I talked about that in the first book, so I don’t know why everyone’s so excited about it this time.
I honestly just want people to say, “guess what, it happened to her, and I relate and I’m not embarrassed anymore.” It’s a really big deal for me. Just look at Michael Sam, that football player who just came out. I get the chills every time I hear about it. That news has been out for nineteen hours, and I’ve already seen like eighty-five stories about it. I truly think that honesty really heals the heart, and that’s all we can ever give people. It’s the second that you become a fucking liar that you start to suck.
That’s not very prolific, but mama’s had two glasses of wine now. Maybe three.
I’m on my third, too, don’t worry. You’ve now written two books, both of which have titles beginning with “Drinking And.”
Right, Tweeting or dating.
So if you were to write a trilogy, what would the third installment be called? “Drinking And” what?
Drinking and being in love.
No, that would … that’s hopefully my endgame.
Well, that actually leads in well to my next question. Your first book acted as a tell-all about what happened between you and your ex-husband. This book, in contrast, chronicles your dating life after your divorce.
I was very angry back then. I even read it now like, “Ooh, yikes. Mama was angry.” But listen, breakups are breakups. Heartbreak is a universal thing. It’s a disaster. It’s a universal …
Yes. Thank you. It is. It affects everyone. You can be Anna Wintour, or you can be like, a person that does your nails. No matter what walk of life you come from, we are all affected by heartbreak in the same way, and that’s what makes us all human, you know? Listen, you don’t think that the biggest movie star in the world is not devasted because of heartbreak? They are. It’s something that we … it’s a universal epidemic, you’re right.
Generally speaking, what are the main things you look for today when selecting a potential new love interest? In other words, how would you describe your dream guy?
Hotness? No, I mean, I definitely have had a problem that I’m attracted to the hottest boy in the room and that’s always been my problem. Because everyone likes pretty things. And all my friends are gorgeous. I like pretty things, I can’t help it. But really, I try to find beauty in everything, and if I can’t, it’s hard for me. I don’t want to move forward in life with that person as my friend or in my life. Because there’s a little bit of beautiful in everyone … even in the shittiest people.
I’m curious as to how writing a guidebook on romance has impacted your personal love life. Was there ever any point during your writing process that you thought to yourself, “wow, I should take my own advice more often?”
Oh, absolutely. I give the best advice to my girlfriends. I can tell anyone what to do and I’m dead spot-on, but do I follow it? I don’t. If I did, I would be on cloud nine. But I don’t. I follow my heart and my heart is generally wrong. My brain is generally right. Generally. It is what it is. It’s a learning curve. No one’s perfect. I was listing … no, that’s awful. I won’t even get into that but I have a whole ‘nother story for you at some point.
Well I’m definitely looking forward to that! Both in the book and the on the show, you talk about how you don’t have a desire to ever get remarried, but that you would still like to settle down with “Mr. Right” someday. That being said, do you have someone special to share your Valentine’s Day this weekend? The way your book ends, it seems like you might not be celebrating alone this year …
Well, I’m here until Thursday night, and then I fly home on a red-eye and then I get my little babies. I’ll be with Mason and Jake on Valentine’s Day, the loves of my life, and we’re flying to see Nana and Pap-Pap in Sacramento. We have a book signing there. But I think Valentine’s Day is an asshole day.
It puts pressure on people. A lot of my friends break up before Valentine’s Day – especially the guys. They do it so they don’t have to buy a gift … and then they get back together in a week. Having male friends has taught me so much about dating and social media and the internet. Like, they’re all on every dating website that there is and it’s a smorgasbord for them. And they all say that they want relationships now, but then they’re like, “I like her on Monday, she’s Tuesday, she’s Wednesday, she’s Thursday.” I think we’re ruining ourselves with everything that is available to us.
You’ve had quite a busy few years. In addition to writing two books and starring in a reality show, you’ve also designed your own dress line, started a weekly podcast, and have even forayed into the acting world by filming a small role on 90210 and in movies like Missing at 17and The Hungover Games. Is acting something you’d like to do more of?
I don’t act. I’m just saying. The people that have asked me to be in their movies have been amazing, and I said, “yes, but I can’t act.” I’m not an actress but I do love making fun of myself, and if people want me to come in and don’t want me to necessarily say my lines right, then I’m happy to do it. I feel blessed to be asked to do anything.
My podcast is so fun and so amazing. Like, I just fan out. I had Bret Easton Ellis on it and I had a Backstreet Boy, I’ve had Robin Antin, Beth Stern’s coming … I just feel so lucky. I’m interviewing them! While at the same time, throwing myself under the bus. But I’m learning. No, I’m not an interviewer. And I’m also one of those people that’s like, “bleh, here you go.” So it’s gotten me in a lot of trouble but I can’t change who I am. So I can apologize when I fuck up and that’s really all I can do.
So what specific creative itch does writing scratch for you that none of these other outlets do?
Oh, my gosh. Writing is my literal Xanax. When I go to write, everything I’m thinking just comes out onto my computer when I type. I like my nails to be long stripper nails when I type. I took them off for a while and then when I started typing, I didn’t hear the click and I was so upset, so I got them back. I know that sounds weird but …
No, no. I get it.
It’s the truth. I need that. It’s such an outlet for me. I do it and it’s like, ok, I can go to sleep now. I don’t have to take a Xanax to go to sleep.
Last year, you were a fashion correspondent at the Oscars – but it was your dress that actually seemed to be the headline generator. Will you be returning to the Oscars again this year? And if so, what will you be wearing?
Well … that’s a great question. I’ve been told that if I come back, they have to approve my outfit, so we’ll see. I’m so very blessed to be very busy and I would like to go, but I want to still be me. I don’t like to be censored, and when people tell me what to do, I want to do the exact opposite. So if they say, “You have to do this,” I will do the … you will see everything, you know what I mean?
I’m a middle child, and my mom said to me, “I hope you have a daughter or son just like you.” And then she met Jakey, my son, and she was like, “good luck with that.” It’s true! I have a little Brandi and his name is Jake. And then I have the sweetest boy in the world. His name is Mason. He’s ten. They’re the loves of my life. They’re both amazing.
I bet. Speaking of having more Brandi, what I’m really dying to know is when are we going to get your spin-off show?!
Well, I mean, I’m not allowed to say. But …
I will be watching!
Yes! Thank you!
I understand that the reunion for the current season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was filmed a few days ago. How do you feel about how everything went down that day?
There’s a lot of crying, a lot of screaming, and, ultimately, I think, besides Jacqueline’s outfit, it all went well. She had her ice skating outfit on and I’m like, “Sochi’s calling, bitch.”
Was it that one that she wore earlier in the season? It had like, giant rhinestones and the, like …
No, no, no, no … You will see. Six weeks, you’ll see.
What else can you tease that viewers can look forward to in this special? Are any of the conflicts resolved?
I have to be very careful what I say here. But there’s, you know, a lot of emotion. I mean, we’re a modern family, to be honest. We are very similar to that, and we love hard and we fight hard. It’s kind of like Survivor meets Housewives.
Are you and Lisa (Vanderpump) on speaking terms again now after the reunion?
We … you know, she’s an amazing woman. I love her hard and I have issues with her hard. She’s fucking perfection. I love her, you know? But we definitely have our issues.
Cool. Well, thank you so much, Brandi. It’s been a blast chatting with you. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the book or the show or anything else that we didn’t talk about?
This past week, the last part of that tagline became an actual possibility, as Gorga’s first book hit shelves. A guidebook to happy marriages, Love Italian Style: The Secrets of my Hot and Happy Marriage provides a different type of behind-the-scenes look at Melissa’s life with her husband, Joe Gorga, than does the show. Here, she shares intimate stories from throughout their marriage and offers advice to her readers on how to keep things spicy, loving, and exciting with their spouses.
As this season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey winds down, Gorga dished to me about why she decided to write this book, her relationship with her husband, her music career, the show’s upcoming reunion, her thoughts on Caroline Manzo’s just-announced spin-off, where her relationship with sister-in-law Teresa Giudice currently stands, and more.
ALEX: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you and your husband meet and how did he propose to you?
MELISSA: How did he propose to me? He actually proposed to me on my 25th birthday. He put rose petals all over the room and it was really, really sweet. He surprised me. He sent me off for my birthday to this spa day, and got me like every treatment the spa offered, and at the end of the day they told me to go into one of their hotel rooms – because it was at the Short Hills Hilton. They told me to go into one of their hotel rooms to change for dinner because Joe was going to meet me downstairs for dinner. And when I opened the hotel room door, there was rose petals all over the room and champagne and he was on his knee in the room, so it was really cute.
We met … actually we were on spring break with our friends years before we actually got together. He said he saw me walk across the bar and walk across the pool actually, and he pointed to me and said, “That’s gonna be my wife.” So, it’s kind of crazy, but then we met at a beach club a couple of years later and we ended up, you know, getting together. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
(Joe Gorga flexing in his teens)
At what point in your relationship did you realize that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with him and how did you know?
It was pretty much right after our first date. We just had the same views. We both were done, you know, kissing frogs and dating and we were just ready to settle down. We are both really hard workers, and we both just wanted a family, and we were young and that’s it. We wanted to just start our life and build the life that we have now, and that’s what we did.
What is it about your marriage that you think makes it so exemplary?
You know what, I think Joe and I are very loyal to one another. We back each other up no matter what, and I think that’s so important – just the respect and the loyalty aspect. And we’re also very passionate, and we compliment each other a lot which I think, you know, it works. By making him feel special, and making him feel like the man of the house, he in return treats me great, and he treats me like, you know, the woman of the house, and he puts me on a pedestal. So I think when it goes back and forth, you know, it trickles down to your kids and to everything else, and it just makes a happy place. A happy house.
So the overriding principle of your book is to treat your husband like a king and in response you’ll be treated like a queen.
Can you elaborate a little bit about what you mean by that?
Sure. I actually mean exactly that.
Just like when he comes home and he feels like the man and he feels appreciated and he feels like he went to work all day and came home to a loving home to people who really respect him and appreciate what he did all day, well then he’s gonna be happy to get up the next morning and go to work again because he knows he’s doing it for the right reason.
He doesn’t come home to a house or a family that’s like, “Oh hey, you’re home, find something to eat in the refrigerator,” like he comes home, I respect him, I, you know, give him something to eat, ask him how his day was, greet him at the door. Things … little things like that that are just so easy make a man want to come home, and they make him want to treat you like a queen because they feel like they’re the king of the house.
I see. So how did you celebrate your last anniversary?
Our last anniversary I think we just went to dinner. I think we went to dinner our last anniversary.
And how many years were you celebrating?
What inspired you to write this book?
You know I think it was just a, a bunch of things. I think my family values are pretty strong and obviously, I think it comes through the screen on TV.
A lot of people would approach us and just say, you know, they love the, the fresh, playful style that Joe and I have, and, and I think it’s where we shine, and so I decided to write about it.
What do you think is the key to a healthy sex life?
Usually I … three times a week. Three times a week you need it. You need to keep your sex life the way you were with a boyfriend. The way you would when you first got married. The way you were when you were dating.
You can’t get married and just drop everything and get lazy and stop doing the fun things and stop the flirting. You need to continue to flirt. You need to do the foreplay, like not so sexual, that’s more like flirting and wearing what he likes and giving him the look.
And I still do that with Joe and Joe appreciates it. He feels like, you know, it’s still fresh and I think that’s what a lot of women forget to do. You have to act like you’re still dating because we’re human and if you don’t get it from someone you’re gonna start looking other places to get it, you know. So you want your husband to get that from you at home.
What would you say is the biggest obstacle that you and Joe have ever faced as a married couple and how did you overcome it?
I mean there were plenty of obstacles.
I think when 2008 hit, it was very hard financially on us because we’re in construction and everything took a dive, so it was stressful for us.
We were building a home that you see on the Housewives and we had plenty of properties for sale, and we just had a lot going on and we hit a hole where we were, you know, not doing well financially and it, it takes a toll on you. And you have three children and a lot going on, so I think that’s definitely one of our harder times. And you know, there’s been times when my son Gino was in the hospital for a couple of days, and that’s when you see how much you love each other and you stick together and you’ll back each other up, no matter what. So, there’s been plenty of trying times for Joe and I.
I think it’s a big misconception when everyone thinks it has just always been easy, and we just walked right into it, and it’s like a Cinderella story, because it’s really not.
Totally. What is your advice to someone who’s struggling with not getting along with their spouse’s family?
My advice is to hold on. I think that time kind of cures everything, and in time you learn how to cope and deal and it’s sometimes tricky because when it’s family they’re not going anywhere. You have to keep trying to find forgiveness in your heart and keep finding things make it seem better or feel better and it’s always a challenge because it’s family and so, I just say to keep trying, don’t give up because, you know, you got to just keep on trying.
When you signed onto this show, were you worried about thrusting your family issues into the public and how do you think or hope that this book will change the pubic perception of your family?
You know what, I wasn’t so worried about it.
I guess you never know what you’re gonna get yourself into when you’re doing it and then, you know, you think, “oh this will be fun, it won’t be bad, how bad can it be?” and then when you get on you’re like, “wow, it’s bigger than me,” you know, you understand what I mean?
It’s definitely something where we don’t have a lot of control in, but you put your life in TV’s hands which is always scary, but I think that in the end, people see how passionate we are, and how much we love each other as a family. Or else, you know, we wouldn’t argue the way we do, and we wouldn’t have the issues we have. We have it because we’re passionate.
We love one another and I think that people appreciate and can relate to us a lot.
How did you cope with the rumors that you were cheating on your husband while you were working on this guidebook to happy marriages?
You know what, I really didn’t cope with it. It wasn’t like a big deal in our house because it just was so kind of ridiculous. It was just one of those like ridiculous rumors where you don’t pay much attention and you kind of just laugh at it, so it really wasn’t a big deal for us in our life.
It was more to me … it wasn’t about the rumor. It was more about like, well where is this coming from and who was starting it.
A few of the Real Housewives – like Brandi Glanville, Carole Radziwill and Lisa Vanderpump – have already published books as well. Have you read any of them and do you have a favorite?
Brandi has a great book. Her book was fun and fresh and exciting. I really liked her book a lot.
So did I. So as both a published author and a recording artist, do you feel more passionate about your writing or your singing at this point in your life?
I mean I’ve always loved performing the best. It was always, you know, my favorite thing to do. But I have to say it was very fulfilling to write down my whole life in this book and be able to pass it on, so I love them both. But I think performing is always going to be something that, you know, it will always tickle me forever, but I have to say I really did enjoy this whole writing process.
It was very fulfilling and to have the actual book in front of me, to be able to pass it around to my family, it really is amazing.
I bet. Do you have an album or any new music coming out soon?
I have a new song out right now. It’s called “Never Let Me Go,” and it’s on iTunes.
We’re working on an EP right now. I started working with Johnny Wright, who is, you know, amazing, so, yeah we’re working on an EP and we’re working on getting “Never Let Me Go” on the radio and it’s all good from here. Good things.
Awesome. Well I know that you recently filmed the reunion for the current season – what can viewers look forward to seeing?
I think this is going to be a different reunion than what you’re used to from The Real Housewives of New Jersey. You’re going to see a lot of support and you know, there’s definitely gonna be some twists and turns that are unexpected, but it’s gonna be different than what you’re used to.
Do you get closure with figuring out where all the rumors about you were really coming from?
You’ll have to watch and see. Yeah.
Earlier this week, Bravo announced that Caroline Manzo was getting her own spin-off show.
What are your thoughts on that and have you talked to her about it yet?
I have. I told her how excited I am for her. I think it’s so great. I think she’s got such a great family and they have such a bond and I really, really wish them the best, and I’m happy for them.
Cool. Well you don’t have to tell me the details if you can’t, but are you and Teresa currently on speaking terms?
Yes we are.
Good! Well that’s it for me unless there’s anything else you wanted to add about the book or any other upcoming projects you may have?
No – it’s just the single is out right now and the book, and I have a bunch of book signings coming up. You can go to www.melissagorga.com for all my signings, and I just really love meeting the fans, so I can’t wait to meet everybody!
Her first book, What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love, spent over twelve weeks on the prestigious bestseller list. The incredibly moving memoir chronicled Radziwill’s impressive career at ABC News, her marriage to Anthony Radziwill (the only son of Polish prince Stanislas Radziwill and Jackie’s younger sister, Lee Bouvier), and her close friendship with her husband’s cousin John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. Tragically, in 1999, John and Carolyn were killed in an airplane crash, and three weeks later, Anthony lost his battle with cancer.
As a journalist, Radziwill has received three Emmy Awards for the work she’s produced all over the world – including places like Cambodia, Israel, and Khandahar. Her latest endeavor, however, finds Radziwill exploring an entirely new form of artistic expression: fiction writing.
Radziwill’s debut novel, The Widow’s Guide To Sex And Dating, hits shelves this fall. The book follows the charming self-rediscovery of Claire Byrne, a young woman who unexpectadly becomes a widow when her famous sexologist husband dies in a freak accident. The book’s witty humor and Didion-esque raw language provide for a gripping read that triumphantly announces a profound new voice in literary fiction.
Currently in the midst of filming a new season of The Real Housewives of New York City, Radziwill chatted with me about The Widow’s Guide To Sex And Dating, how she’s grown as a writer, teased what Bravo-holics have to look forward to, and more.
NAGORSKI: Claire’s late husband, Charlie, was notorious for stating that sex and love can’t co-exist. It wasn’t until after his death, however, that Claire was able to explore this theory and draw her own conclusions about it. Why do you think it took so long for her to step out of his shadow?
RADZIWILL: Well, she married him very young. She was just out of college and he was almost 20 years older than her so his shadow was all that she knew. It was big, and she was safe there, and it was only shortly before his death that she’d begun to feel dissatisfied in it. Claire is a woman bound to loyalty — to friends, lovers, psychiatrists. She tried to loosen her own inhibitions at one point while Charlie was alive, and explore her own boundaries around love and desire but she found she wasn’t capable of it.
When looking back on her and Charlie’s sex life, Claire noted that she “felt like a control subject in his research” and that she “was more lab assistant than intimate.” Do you believe that Claire would have been less lost following Charlie’s death had they kept a passionate and genuine sex life? Or was their relationship just too toxic for that to have made a difference?
It may have been much more devastating for her had they shared a passionate physical relationship. As it happened, Claire understood that she had this chance to start over, but Charlie had been the only serious man in her life. It’s difficult to uncouple, regardless of the circumstance or the nature of the relationship.
To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the book was its commentary on gender. “A husband dies and the world gets another widow. A wife dies, and a star is born,” Claire proclaims to her gay best friend. Why do you think our society is more apt to embrace a widower getting back into the dating game than it is a widow who does the same?
I think there’s a different expectation of loyalty for women than for men, and it’s very primal. Deep down, we still want someone to be in charge of the home fires, and that’s still a role we often associate with women. I don’t think men have the same expectation of loyalty, so it’s not surprising or upsetting when they are out dating the month after they lose a spouse, or remarried within the year. I see it all the time.
It doesn’t strike me as a coincidence that two of Claire’s main romantic interests, Charlie and Jack, are also international celebrities. What do you think it says about our fame-obsessed culture that we idealize these types of self-involved misogynists?
I think people are just drawn to a good narcissist. I mean, a really good one, not your average cocktail party hack. There’s an art to it. A good narcissist can make you believe you’re the two most interesting people in the world. They’re shiny, and the little magpie in each of us finds that hard to resist.
The book also presents the idea that women often feel threatened around their widowed friends because a widow can be desired for being someone’s lost treasure, as opposed to a divorcee, who can be viewed as another man’s unwanted baggage. Do you think this stigma can be deconstructed on an impactful scale? Or are humans too naturally territorial?
I think of it more in the sense of challenge. Men like a challenge, they like to win, they tend to — stereotypically — be more competitive in romantic pursuits than women. So I think of them as intrigued by the idea that another man left something behind that, theoretically, he still wanted. It seems more like a prize. Charlie had no intention of giving up Claire, but now he’s gone, so pursuing her is sort of a karmic win for his rivals.
Another facet of the book that I was very drawn to was its exploration of what happens when you’re given the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Claire thought she had already chosen her life’s path, but the death of her husband forced her to re-examine her choices and truly question whether or not she was ever sincerely happy. Do you think it’s possible to achieve this honest degree of self-evaluation without the catalyst of tragedy?
Certainly, it’s possible, but it takes a lot of courage. People maintain unhappy lives all the time, because they’re familiar and therefore safe. Routine often trumps happiness.
Tell me a little bit about the book’s title. The Widow’s Guide To Sex And Dating sounds more like a self-help book than a novel. Did you write Claire’s story as a way of helping others navigate their way through the various stages of this kind of loss?
The title is tongue-in-cheek. It came out of a conversation I was having with my longtime friend Christiane Amanpour. We were talking about dating and I was telling her some of my stories. She suggested I keep a journal and call it “The Widows Guide.” I kept the title, but not the journal.
Some of the scenes and situations I wrote in the book are over-the-top, for comedy. (In real life I didn’t fantasize about my funeral director in bed!) So I certainly don’t want women who are struggling through the very emotional process of widowhood to take anything at face value. It’s been 15 years for me, and it’s much easier to laugh now at some of the absurdities.
I found your 2005 memoir, What Remains, to be such a beautifully written and poignant story. With The Widow’s Guide To Sex and Dating, you’re publishing your first work of fiction. How were your creative processes different while tackling these two genres, and how do you feel you’ve evolved as a writer since your first book?
Thank you, that’s such a nice compliment.
It’s funny, I expected the fiction to be a nice break from the heavy emotional work of writing memoir. But writing fiction was a lot harder, from a technical standpoint. The creative process was fun — dreaming up scenarios and characters and giving them whatever little habits or quirks I liked. But once I put it all down in a first draft, I just had a lot of creativity. I still needed pacing, plot, structure, character development. While those things are important in memoir, too, the canvas didn’t feel quite so blank. One of the words my fiction editor wrote frequently in the margins was “unpack.” She’d write, “unpack this,” in places where I had a scene or a detail that wasn’t developed. My memoir editor, on the other hand, marked up my manuscript with the word “coy,” in places where I was guarded around a detail or scene because I was hesitant about how much to reveal. I’ve had to learn how to “unpack,” just like I had to train myself not to be “coy.”
I enjoyed the brief wink to Real Housewives of New YorkCity in the scene where Claire’s friend Sasha confesses that she has a habit of drinking alone in her bedroom while she watches the show. What can your fans and viewers expect from the series’ upcoming sixth season?
Ladies who lunch, brunch and walk and talk. Drama.
Has becoming a reality TV personality impacted your writing in any way? If so, how?
Yes, mostly in terms of time. The show is very consuming during the months of filming and also during the months that it airs. And writing has to be consuming, too, if you’re going to be any good at it. I need to write every day even if I’m not working on a specific project, or the quality suffers and then it takes time to bring it back up again. Also, the show is very structured with strict time commitments and I like a long lazy flow of time to write in. I’m working on a book of essays right now, while filming the show, and it’s very challenging to find the creative, unstructured space that I need.
Last season on the show, you mentioned that The Widow’s Guide To Sex And Dating was being considered for a television pilot. Have there been any developments on that front that you can share? And is the idea of seeing your work being translated to another medium something that excites you?
Television is still an option, I’ve had a lot of interest but haven’t found the right fit yet. Scripted television is so dynamic and creative right now that, of course, yes, I’d be thrilled to see Claire Byrne’s adventures come to life on a screen. I have so many great ideas for her.
Anything else you’d like to add about the book that we didn’t discuss?
These were great questions, thank you! I just want people to have fun with it.