NeNe Leakes emerged as one of Bravo's most popular Housewives when her Atlanta season premiered in 2008, but she continually shot down their requests to star in a spin-off -- until now. I Dream of NeNe, which premiered on September 17, chronicles NeNe's reconciliation with ex-husband Gregg and the planning of their "remix" wedding. It turns out, the fans that made NeNe so popular are the very reason she agreed to finally star in a spin-off.
But anyone expecting smooth sailing as the couple heads back towards the altar doesn't know NeNe! The first two episodes have been drama-filled as she dealt with public perception, combustible bridesmaids and the enormous task of bonding with Gregg's kids from his first marriage. ETonline caught up with Leakes to talk about the pros and cons of being a reality TV star, and the next steps on her plan to world domination!
ETonline: You'd been asked to star in a spin-off before, right?
NeNe Leakes: Yes, Bravo approached me several times about doing a spin-off, I was the first Atlanta Housewife they offered a spin-off too, but I never said yes because I felt like it was a lot of work. Then Gregg and I got engaged last year and they approached us last year about a wedding special. I said I would do a two-hour special. So they tossed that back and forth and wanted more. Initially they said it would only be three or six, but it kept growing and now we have eight.
Leakes: Gregg and I had broken up on Housewives and the viewers saw that, so we wanted to show those viewers us getting back together. But it was a hard decision. I had just come off doing The New Normal and Glee, so I was exhausted by the idea of going right into shooting this show. Plus, you get judged so much being on a reality show. Especially since we're talking about our marriage and our kids. We decided that we'd take the leap of faith and I'm glad we did.
ETonline: You've dealt with personal problems on and off camera. Do you find that these situations are made tougher by having the cameras there?
Leakes: [laughs] Oh yeah. Emotions run higher when the cameras are around because the camera brings out the worst or the best in people. The cameras bring out a lot more emotion.
ETonline: At the same time, you're trying to bond with Gregg's kids from his first marriage, who you say hold you responsible for their parents split. Does trying to connect on camera make them more inclined to want to participate, you think?
Leakes: That's very true [laughs]. Very true. It's hard to talk about, but Gregg's kids were never seen on RHOA, and that was an issue with his kids. Once I Dream of NeNe cameras started rolling, we wanted to bring them on, but that was one of the issues we had. There were people who wanted to come on camera, but we didn't feel like it was for the right reasons.
ETonline: How much do you think reality TV has impacted the kind of people who want to be in your life?
Leakes: To be honest, it's a blessing and curse. It's a blessing because reality TV has opened up so many doors and opportunities for me, but it's a curse because I neglect my husband and my children while I'm working so hard. Plus it breaks up friendships and marriages. You also have so many people trying to come into your life because people think they know reality stars. I really need to take a step back from a lot of things and a lot of people right now to re-center myself. I have girlfriends that I love and try to walk to the door, but I can't walk them through the door of opportunity. So many of them feel like if I don't shoot with them one time, then I'm not their friend or I'm not cool. I mean, I can shoot with them a million times, but if I don't shoot with them the one time they want, I'm backstabbing them. It can be a lot to deal with.
ETonline: What about professionally? Do you think reality TV has impacted your ability to get acting jobs?
Leakes: I think it helped me. I haven't experienced a negative yet. Ryan Murphy, my fairy godmother, he has given me these jobs. He wrote these characters for me, so I didn't have to audition for Glee or The New Normal, so I haven't felt that struggle yet.
ETonline: Are you planning to start auditioning for roles?
Leakes: I'm going to be in LA this February, March and April for pilot season and actively auditioning for jobs. I'll do it like any other actor. I love that kind of stuff. I'm also an executive producer on I Dream of NeNe and am working on a scripted series that I would write and produce. It's not just acting and reality shows, I like being behind the scenes as well.
ETonline: The I Dream of NeNe sizzle reel features you breaking down on your wedding day. What are we seeing there?
Leakes: What happened is that I really had been going and going for days. I was exhausted and my wedding started at 8 p.m., but at 8 p.m. I was in my suite with no makeup and my hair wasn't done. People were still knocking on my door to get their hair and makeup done even though I had a ton of hair and makeup people throughout the hotel to do their hair. We had over 400 guests and a large wedding party, so lots of people needed hair and makeup. Then, a bit before 8 p.m., Gregg's daughter knocked on my door and she didn't have makeup on! So I had my hair and makeup team work on her, so when time came to start, I wasn't ready and the guests were waiting, but I still needed a full hour. So my wedding planner told me to take a deep breath and the guests would have to wait. I don't know if you'll see that on camera, but when I got downstairs, I just emotionally broke down. I had done everything to get to that moment and it was just so emotional.
ETonline: You've spent the last six years having your life taped in one way or another. And I Dream of NeNe features a lot of flashbacks to RHOA season one. What do you think when you see NeNe, circa 2008?
Leakes: Usually when I look at that woman, I scream [laughs]. They did not have to show some of those clips, honey. But I think, "Wow, we have come a long way." It's amazing to think about how far I've come. My wedding is one of the great moments in my life and I'm so glad we have them saved forever.