Life couldn’t be rosier for Rosie O’Donnell.
And, in her words, “it’s about fucking time!”
Last year, the former queen of nice wed the “love of her life,” consultant Michelle Rounds, in a private ceremony. The couple punctuated their union by adopting a baby girl named Dakota earlier this year. Yep: the O’Donnell brood keeps on growing with no signs of slowing down.
But before her happy ending, the Commack, Long Island, native had suffered – and survived – a string of misfortunes that could rival any soap opera.
Let’s rewind: her titular talk show on fledgling network OWN was cancelled after less than a season by her bestie, Oprah Winfrey. Her fiancée was diagnosed with a deadly disease. And O’Donnell endured a heart attack. Needless torture and newfound love is not a cocktail for the weak.
Xtra sat down with the comedian and actress for an exclusive interview during a recent visit to Toronto, where she was filming her recurring role on hit period TV drama Bomb Girls (which begins April 8 on Global).
Xtra: Tell me about your role, Dottie, on Bomb Girls.
Rosie O’Donnell: She’s a New Yorker reporter married to a Canadian. She comes to Ontario and exposes the fact that all these women are doing so much for the war effort but not really being paid and compensated the way they should for risking their lives on a daily basis. She’s sort of a pre-feminist feminist with a sense of humour and a little bit of moxie. Bomb Girls is such a beautiful tribute to the history of Canada, which you know is one of my favourite countries in the world. [Just before President Obama was reelected], I was thinking I could quite possibly become a resident! But I’m safe for yet another four years.
You’re a fantastic interviewer, actress, artist and comedian. Do you have a favourite vocation?
I’m very interested in ingesting all forms of art. I do so many different things so I can consistently marinate in art. If I had to have a favourite, I would say acting, because you can lose yourself totally in a role.
Why do you marinate in art? Because it heals?
Yeah, it’s constant. Almost to the point where at some points my shrinks have said, “You have to stop.” Studying the human condition fascinates me.
Do you miss your talk show on OWN? Why was it cancelled?
Yes. Initially, Oprah wanted my talk show on OWN to have more levity, but what I originally envisioned — which it became towards the end of the run — was very different. I wanted it to be serious, thought-provoking. I never thought my old show, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, was something to redo now. But they didn’t have the finances to keep it on the air. I had a great contract so it all worked out for me. If I could have helped OWN make its mark, it would’ve been a wonderful thing.
You suffered a heart attack. What did that scare teach you? To slow down?
At 50, my wife, Michelle [Rounds], had been very sick during the summer. She had something called desmoid tumours, which they could not diagnose. They’re very rare and painful. It was the most emotionally terrifying event of my life. To finally feel a union with someone the way you are promised in a love song and then have it threatened to go away . . . because there was a time it was very touch-and-go . . . was terrifying. The stress of that ordeal contributed to my heart attack. There’s a new discovery in cardiac research called broken heart syndrome, where women, mostly, who have suffered a tremendous emotional pain suffer a heart attack similar to the one I had, but the damage afterwards is minimal. So, I’m very lucky. Although I had a 99-percent blockage in my “widow maker,” for some reason I didn’t have any damage. It’s very odd.
How did you manage to keep your wedding a secret for all those months?
Michelle was so sick. The doctors wanted us to cancel it, so we married in the hospital with just one witness.
You’ve pretty much interviewed all the greats. Is there someone you still haven’t done yet?
Olivia Mary de Havilland, who is still alive! Of course, I wanted to do Johnny Carson, which I never got to do. Now I would like to interview Lady Gaga.
Are you still BFFs with Madonna?
We talk to each other frequently. Our kids are the same age, so we go through the teen drama together. She’s a great mother, especially when you see her with her kids outside the public eye. When she did the Super Bowl, I hung out with her at rehearsals and all you could see was Madonna with her three babies and the other two climbing on her and Lourdes in the background doing wardrobe. She mothers those kids herself. I know she has nannies . . . but I go over to her house sometimes and the kids are in the tubs and she’s there with the towel. I think because she grew up without a mother she values those intimate moments with her kids. I often say to her, “Can you believe we met over 20-something years ago?” She’ll respond, “I know . . . we’re so fucking old!” Then I say, “But you still look good, so there you go.”
Did you see her concert?
Yes! I loved her concert. But can you believe, at her age, she’s still doing that? Honestly! She looks amazing. She worked out for four hours a day when she was younger, during the A League of Their Own days. At 54, to be doing all that, it’s astonishing. She’s in her element, I guess.