Gayle King Shares Why Robert De Niro's Girlfriend Tiffany Chen Was Upset by Headlines About Her (Exclusive)

King speaks to ET about her interview with Robert De Niro's girlfriend, who revealed her Bell's palsy diagnosis after giving birth.

Gayle King is sharing her perspective on her recent interview with Robert De Niro's girlfriend, Tiffany Chen, who opened up to the broadcast journalist about the scary postpartum complication she endured after giving birth to the 79-year-old Oscar-winning actor's seventh child. 

On Thursday, CBS Mornings shared a preview clip of King's interview with Chen, where the 45-year-old reveals that she developed Bell's palsy, a medical condition that causes facial paralysis, after welcoming her and De Niro's daughter, Gia Virginia Chen-De Niro, in April. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, Bell's palsy is "a condition that causes sudden weakness in the muscles on one side of the face. In most cases, the weakness is temporary and significantly improves over weeks. The weakness makes half of the face appear to droop. Smiles are one-sided, and the eye on the affected side resists closing." The exact cause is unknown. 

"When I went home, I started to feel like my tongue felt strange. It felt a little tingly, just starting to get a little bit numb, and then I realized my face just felt weird," Chen tells King in the preview. "I didn't know what the feeling I was having, it just felt weird."

The new mother adds that she could see a difference in her face at the time, saying, "Everything was starting to fall down on itself, like, my face was melting on itself. A week after giving birth, that was when it all hit, and I called my doctor. I was trying to eat. I went to put a fork of food in my mouth and everything came out. I couldn't eat. And I was starting to slur. So I said, 'There's something really going on here.' They said, 'Go right to the hospital.' [They] admitted me, and I lost all facial function the minute I got into the hospital." 

Speaking with ET's Rachel Smith, King reveals that her conversation with Chen opened her eyes to many previous unknowns, including the connection between Bell's palsy and pregnancy.

"I didn't know that there could be a connection between Bell's palsy and pregnancy, and apparently it has happened to many, many women during the last phases of pregnancy and certainly after the baby is born," she admits. "My sister had it back in the day. It was caused by stress, but I don't quite know what the connection is."

King shares that the interview came to be thanks to a chance real-life meeting during which Chen revealed her diagnosis. "You can see it a little bit on her face. She said it was really a bad situation because both sides of her face dropped and she said it was hurtful and unkind that you read the headlines [asking], 'What's wrong with her? She's never smiling, she looks so somber, why does she look so mean?'" King recalls.

"She said, you know, people have no idea what women are going through. And so she just wanted to share the story of Bell's palsy and how this can happen in your pregnancy," the journalist adds, noting that Chen shared how acupuncture has worked for her case. "Her message really is, 'Everybody, can you just be kind and can you just understand that we could all be going through something?' I [asked], 'Did it hurt your feelings?' And she goes, 'No, I'm not gonna say it hurt my feelings, but it was upsetting to me that people just make assumptions when they don't know you. And as women, we just need allies to give us some grace and some understanding.'"

Noting how private both Chen and De Niro are, King points out that Chen even agreeing to the interview was a sign of how important the matter is to her.

"What was interesting to me about her was, she said, 'Look, I can take it, I have a very tough skin,'" King said of the award-winning martial arts instructor. "She's a badass, she's won many awards, you know? Don't mess with Tiffany. She said, 'I can take it, I have very tough skin, but what gets to me is other women who may be suffering [from] Bell's palsy after pregnancy, that don't want to leave the house, they don't like how they look. They're embarrassed, they think people will judge them.' She said, 'I just wanted women to know it's OK. Most times, you will get through it. Normally it's not permanent. It can take some time... I want women to know that. Please don't be ashamed, please don't huddle in your house, please come out, it's all right.' And I love that, she wants to empower and help other women with that message."

King goes on to share that Chen recalled meeting De Niro on the set of his 2015 film, The Intern, where she was hired as his Tai Chi instructor.

"She said it didn't happen right away, that they started off as friends and then [they] became friends, now [they're] really good friends," King says. "And she’s got a great sense of humor too, but its not like she was looking for something. But something about them together clearly clicks and clicks very well."

De Niro originally shared the news that he and Chen had welcomed a baby in May 2023, correcting an ET Canada interviewer at the time who said he was a father of six, sharing, "I just had a baby." 

A rep for De Niro later confirmed the happy news to ET. 

A few days later on CBS MorningsKing shared the first photo of De Niro and Chen's daughter. King also revealed that little Virginia is named after De Niro's mother. 

The actor was present for King and Chen's interview, although the CBS Mornings host says he didn't want to take the attention away from his partner.

"He did not want to be on camera, that’s also something, he [said] 'cause this is her story. He really wanted it to be her story told in her terms, in her way, but he came there to support her," King shares. 

Although some have voiced negative opinions on De Niro fathering a child at 79 years old, King notes that "it's their life."

"He can afford to take care of another baby and he told me earlier [that] this was no accident, they wanted this child," she says, adding that as long as parents are able to care for their child, that's what matters most. "That’s their decision, not mine. I have no opinion about that."

De Niro is also a dad to Drena, 51, and Raphael, 46, with ex-wife Diahnne Abbott, as well as 27-year-old twin sons, Aaron and Julian, with former girlfriend Toukie Smith. He also shares son Elliot, 25, and daughter Helen, 11, with ex-wife Grace Hightower. 

Chen's full interview with Gayle King will air Friday on CBS Mornings