ET sat down with the 'Real Housewives of Atlanta' star for a candid conversation about the series, its legacy and her co-stars.
NeNe Leakes isn’t handing in her peach anytime soon.
"This is my baby," the Real Housewives of Atlanta star tells ET's Kevin Frazier. "I feel like I birthed this baby, and I need to see it all the way through. [Though], there are times when I get frustrated with it, and I wanna give the baby up for adoption."
NeNe is noticeably absent from the first two episodes of RHOA's just-launched 12th season, NeNe's 10th as a full-time cast member (she was absent from season nine, and only made a guest appearance on season eight). When filming started earlier this year, it was rumored NeNe wanted out, as she wasn't seen with the other ladies, either in public or on social media. But then, in June, she confirmed she was coming back.
"After talking to my family, talking to my friends, and my team, you know, they encouraged me to go pick my baby up and rock my baby," NeNe shares. "So, Housewives is my baby. And I really do wanna see it stay around for 10, 15, 20 years if we can."
Fans speculated that NeNe didn't want to return to Real Housewives after Bravo broke the news that Kenya Moore, NeNe's one-time friend turned foe, was coming back to the series after taking off season 11. But now, NeNe tells ET, that wasn't the case.
"I wouldn't give her that much credit," NeNe deadpans, saying she "doesn’t have a feeling" or "a thought" about Kenya, even though Kenya has slammed NeNe repeatedly in interviews promoting her return.
"Well, very good for her," NeNe says, in response to Kenya’s media tour. "Continue to speak openly."
During a recent appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, Kenya claimed NeNe tried to spit on her while filming season 12 and suggested that NeNe is not the "top biller" of their series anymore.
"These girls, to me, all seem to want to be the queen or the one that everybody thinks of when they say, 'Housewives,' and I don't think that that's possible," NeNe offers. "I think there's one queen and there's a lot of princesses."
While she doesn't outright call herself the queen, she does note that "I’ve been here since day one."
"There are a couple that try, and it's OK, though," she says of co-stars coming for the proverbial crown. "They can try, they can do whatever they do. I don't own this platform, you know what I'm saying? I honestly want to see the show stay around, so, do whatever you do, 'cause a lot of things I'm not gonna do."
NeNe notes that a lot has changed since they first shot the RHOA pilot back in 2007 (she claims the 'Wives made just $5,000 for the first batch of episodes; salaries today are rumored to be as high as $3 million for a season); but, as they say, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Drama is still at the center of the series.
"I fight with my words, but I get why people mostly think that I have gotten physical because I can say something that makes you feel like you've been hit," she notes. "I can say a word and you'll be like, 'Ah! God, she hit me in the head,' but I'm not physically jumping on anybody."
"I actually try a lot this season to listen to what people are saying," she continues. "I really did listen to a lot of things that people were saying, and then I learned that they weren't talking about nothing, they just talk just to be talking, and it was stupid."
It seems safe to say NeNe finds herself delivering verbal blows to Kenya this season, though it may not be what fans expect. In recent weeks, gossip blogs have claimed that NeNe has intel on Kenya's now-estranged marriage with Marc Daly, with some reports alleging she has proof that Kenya and Marc's relationship was just a "business deal," which Kenya has denied.
"I'm not even interested in her marriage," NeNe says, firing back at the speculation. "I wouldn't even care to get any dirt on her marriage, that's not who I am. Now she, on the other hand, would probably care to get something on me, but I don't care about her marriage, I wish them well."
Viewers will get to see Kenya's marital struggles play out onscreen during season 12, as well as NeNe's ongoing feud with formerly close pal Cynthia Bailey. In the trailer, NeNe tells co-star Marlo Hampton, "Cynthia has a side to her that you guys do not know about." This comes after the pair had an intense falling out over Kenya making a surprise appearance at a party Cynthia threw on season 11.
"I think a lot of people over the years have felt I was the more aggressive one in our relationship, or she was following me around or something to that effect, and that's not the case," NeNe shares. "Cynthia definitely has a side to her that, for whatever reason, Bravo has not shown that side of her."
"I think there's another side to her that isn't that kind," she continues. "Yes, I honestly think that she -- not honestly -- I know that she has a side to her that is not a kind side."
When asked if finding love with sports reporter Mike Hill has softened Cynthia at all, NeNe immediately shuts the notion down.
"What's that got to do with it?" she asks. "Who you are on the inside is really who you are. It doesn't matter who you're with. You can cover it up for a little while, but that little side thing, little person, is going to come out and show up at some point."
"That person shows up," NeNe teases of Cynthia in season 12. "I'm not saying that she's a bad person, I'm not saying she's not a nice person, I'm just saying that there's a side to her, just like there would be a side to anyone. I think there's good and bad in everybody."
Viewers saw that mixed bag of good and bad in NeNe herself last year, as she publicly struggled with being a caretaker to her ailing husband, Gregg, who was battling colon cancer. Today, NeNe says Gregg is in remission — they’re now ambassadors for the American Cancer Society -- and their marriage has bounced back, too.
"Our relationship is great!" she gushes. "I mean, we've been together forever, but I'm with Gregg because I want to be with Gregg, don't get it twisted. If I did not want to be with Gregg, I would not be with Gregg, and I would tell Gregg very openly. You know, I don’t hold my tongue about stuff."
That includes discussing open marriage, which the couple explores on the new season, albeit briefly.
"We're just really having a grown-up, adult conversation about open marriages," NeNe explains, cautioning that she and Gregg do not actually have an open marriage. "Of course, I wouldn't want to have an open marriage and, if it really got to that point, I'd probably give Gregg the peace sign, but people have had a lot of things to say about our relationship."
NeNe joined ET at the Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas as co-host earlier this week. Check out the video above for more with NeNe, including her thoughts on Phaedra Parks returning to RHOA one day and if she ever suspected Donald Trump would one day be president after working with him on The Celebrity Apprentice. And, tune in to ET on Friday night to see fellow Bravo-lebrity Bethenny Frankel take on co-hosting duties. Check your local listings here.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Bravo, though NeNe won't appear until episode three, airing Nov. 17, which also happens to be the weekend of BravoCon, Bravo's first-ever fan convention. Make sure to download the ET Live app on your mobile device or smart TV to stay connected to all the highlights!
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