Linnethia Monique ( or "NeNe" ) Leakes is not scared of controversy. She has built a career with the franchise The Real Housewives of Atlanta on the Bravo channel that has possibly outgrown the drama. A health scare this season led her to not attending cast member Phaedra Park's birthday party in the Philippines.
The reality show documenting women in Atlanta even spawned a spinoff with I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding, which had impressive ratings. Celebrity Apprentice then catapulted her into stardom; then, she spun circles in the 18th season of Dancing With the Stars. Producer Ryan Murphy took a shine to her casting her quickly on his Fox hit Glee then into the award winning gay sitcom The New Normal.
Currently, she is in rehearsals for Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway, playing the wicked stepmother. Her clothing line is taking off on the Home Shopping Network, showing her eye for style.
Windy City Times rang the statuesque diva in New York while in rehearsals for that musical, living the life of someone taking a big bite out of "The Big Apple."
Windy City Times: First off, NeNe, I wanted to check in about your health.
NeNe Leakes: Well, my health is very good, as far as I know. I take regular medication every day. I am in New York so the climate change from Atlanta to here has made us all try to stay healthy. It was cold but then it got nice here so I don't know what it is like today. I haven't been out yet. It rained yesterday and got chilly.
WCT: You were recently in Rosemont speaking at a women's expo. How was that?
NeNe Leakes: It was so amazing. I was so overwhelmed. The emotion was just too much. When I finished speaking, women were chanting, "Take over Oprah's studioit's right up the road!" I had the best time and did so much that I just sat down on the stage because I was tired of standing in heels. So many women came up and wanted help on launching their careers. I just loved it.
WCT: That must be the rewarding part of all of thisto do things like that and inspire people.
NeNe Leakes: It is so rewarding. When I am told I am speaking to women I can't wait. I get the best feedback. It is amazing to me. I am so inspired by the women that I inspire. The women are just looking up to me and I try not to put too much pressure on myself.
WCT: Your biggest fan base has to be your gay fans, though.
NeNe Leakes: The gays are insane. They do it all and tickle me. For Halloween, they were all dressing like me. I posted them on my Instagram and Twitter because they are so funny.
WCT: I saw that.
NeNe Leakes: They are diehard fans.
WCT: You were so emotional on the Housewives show a few seasons ago at Gay Pride in LA.
NeNe Leakes: It was very emotional for me. First of all, I had never been to Gay Pride before. Who knew it would be that big? I didn't even know that it would be like that. I couldn't believe the number of people that were out there. I hadn't seen something like that since I was a kid at the damn Christmas parade!
Really? All of these people are here and screaming that they loved me. Oh my goodness, I was so overwhelmed with them saying that then I would see some of them while we were driving that were dressed as me. Then they say the shit that I say and it is so funny to me. I cannot believe it. They memorize the stuff that I don't even remember I say. It kills me every time I see it.
WCT: We had more than a million people at the Chicago Gay Pride so you need to come to that one.
NeNe Leakes: I cannot believe how many people come out. That is so unbelievable to me. I am like, wow, they are so looking forward to this parade. I love parades because I was in the Christmas parade every year growing up. I hadn't been to a parade in forever so to see everyone having fun made me love it.
WCT: How is Cinderella going?
NeNe Leakes: We are in rehearsals right now, so every day we rehearse from one to five. That doesn't seem like a lot of hours but all of the information we are taking in during that window of time moves very quickly. You have to learn fast. You have to learn dance, singing, and acting all at the same time. You have to know when to change clothes. I asked if there would be someone to direct me to when I get in each outfit and they said no.
With Cirque Zumanity [in Vegas], I had someone with me all of the way. They stood there with me and told me when to walk out. They never let me go. With this show basically they were saying that we need to do it ourselves. I am hoping I get out on that damn stage! They better be watching me and saying, "NeNe you need to go out there."
WCT: A Broadway show has a grueling schedule. Do you have a solo?
NeNe Leakes: No. I don't sing a solo but I have certain parts in the song that I sing by myself. There are people around me who are singing.
WCT: After watching the first episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta this season, Zumanity is a big part of your role on it.
NeNe Leakes: I haven't even seen the first episode. Zumanity was amazing. They treated me so good. They have never had a celebrity on the show in 30 years and they chose me. Out of all of the celebrities they could have chosenand trust me, they paid very wellthey decided to use me. It was a great experience and I loved it. I would go back. I am still in contact with them all of the time.
WCT: How are things with Kim Zolciak? That was touching when she came to your wedding.
NeNe Leakes: Kim and I are in a very good place. We talk and text all of the time. She's a mom of six now.
WCT: How is it going with the cast of the Housewives this season? It seems like you are doing your own thing.
NeNe Leakes: Well, I am. I do the Cirque show, Broadway and my clothing line. I am mixing with the girls a little bit this season. People will see me and Cynthia's relationship dissolve for good.
The cast is very divided. While I am over here doing my thing, they are over there doing their thing. We are not friends. It is a real negative place to me.
WCT: Have you had a favorite moment from the show over the years?
NeNe Leakes: My favorite moment is always me doing my business. That fulfills me. I am very good at what I do. That is the best thing when I am out selling my clothes, acting or at an audition. Sitting with a bunch of nasty women does not fulfill me, it doesn't. I have been on the show a long time and the only original housewife there.
They bring a lot of new girls on the show. Most of them are not Georgia peaches. They are from somewhere else and just got to Georgia. I feel like a lot of people come for me because I have been there the longest and I do a lot of things. It is just not a good place. The negativity is just not good.
WCT: Talk a bit about your new clothing line.
NeNe Leakes: Well, I have a clothing line at HSN. It is an affordable luxury line that is for every woman, at every age, at every sizethat's size is two to 24. I try to make things that a woman the size of 24 and a size of two can both wear and feel good as well as sexy. We are very creative, my whole team work very hard. We have been very successful at it. It has been very fulfilling to me.
I'm a dreamer. I love to dream of big things. This is one of my dreams that is coming true. The line is doing very well on HSN. I also sell the clothes in Canada on a shopping channel there. We do the same things there with the same clothes and sizes. I am really enjoying this and love fashion. I love making women feel beautiful. That is why I love doing all of these talk show rounds and being out there speaking to people.
WCT: Having a strong opinion must be helpful when running a clothing line.
NeNe Leakes: Yeah, I do have a strong opinion. I also have a team so I have people working together with me on this. Together we decide what goes on air and what doesn't work. This really works. I promise you that I cannot be more fulfilled when I am doing it.
WCT: People were talking about you replacing Joan Rivers on Fashion Police.
NeNe Leakes: Yes, but I don't know about replacing Joan Rivers. I don't think anybody can replace Joan. She was a legend and very different. I don't think they will be looking to replace Joan Rivers at all.
WCT: How was filming the last season of Glee?
NeNe Leakes: It was really different because everyone knows the show is going away. There were people on that show who have been on it for a long time who want to do other things that they have planned. The mood was it's a good thing but also kind of sad because it's going away for good. I enjoyed Glee and working over there. I love Ryan Murphy. He's my fairy godmother. He's given me many opportunities that I love. So it was good and bad and a little sad.
Follow Leakes' projects @NeNeLeakes on Twitter.