Former The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Dina Manzo made a surprise exit this season, right before the hair extensions hit the floor. In tonight’s episode, the designer-turned-event planner returns for goddaughter Audriana Giudice’s baptism. EW caught up with the most mild-mannered of the Manzo clan to see how it felt to say goodbye to the camera, and what it was like to return.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So tonight you’re back for Teresa’s daughter Audriana’s christening. Did you have any concerns with appearing on the show after you had left?
DINA MANZO: Well, obviously I knew it was going to be filmed. I did it because I am her godmother, and what am I supposed to do? Not show up? But I was against the church being filmed and I lost that battle big time. I just felt that something so sacred as a baptism shouldn’t be in the same episode as some crazy stuff that goes down in the show. If you can see in the previews, there’s a fight between Kim G. and Danielle that’s [pretty crazy], and then we’re baptizing beautiful Audriana. So for me, I’m super sensitive to that sort of thing because I take it super seriously. So maybe the world may not see a problem with that but I was kind of against the church being filmed. It was a beautiful ceremony, and the party was outrageous, and my company [Designer Affair] did design it, so I’m pretty excited to debut.
What else have you been up to since you left the show?
[Designer Affair is] working out great. I oversee the planning of these parties and the girls that I trained run the events. I was doing interior design for years — 20-some-odd years — and I flipped it over to event planning, so that’s primarily what I do now: plan events weddings, corporate events, anything and everything. [You're] designing a day instead of a home. It’s the same concept, it’s just about four hours instead of people’s lifetimes [laughs]. I love it. It really keeps my creative juices flowing. Project Ladybug of course is a huge part of my life and we’re in the process right now of opening up another chapter in another hospital. There’s two different hospitals, one in New York and one in Chicago that I’m talking with, and I’m super excited about extending it. That was my goal to bring the fun to hospitals around the country. So we’re working on that. Really exciting things are happening, and I’m super proud to have founded four years ago something that started around my dinning room table with some girlfriends that has really become national.
Would you say your idea of what Real Housewives of New Jersey was changed from when you began filming the series to when you left the show?
Absolutely. I don’t blame Bravo, because people love drama. They love to see that sort of thing. Especially because my family was involved, and we’re certainly not the normal family. We do a bunch of crazy things. But we’re good crazy — there’s a difference between good crazy and bad crazy. We’re fun crazy. But I felt it was going to be a really fun, family-type show, and especially with season 2, it went in a totally different direction and I felt it wasn’t what I signed on for.
Some reports on your reasons for leaving the show have to do with Danielle trying to make you lose custody of your daughter Lexi. Is there any truth in that?
The only thing I’ll say is the reason why I left the show is why I said I did on the show. There’s a lot of rumors spinning around, “Oh you left because your daughter wasn’t allowed on camera,” or “You left because you’re trying to hide your husband’s lifestyle,” and I’m like, I left exactly why I said I left. The drama was getting too much for me, I don’t need that in my life and that’s exactly why. I have no other reason.
And your husband was never on the show.
No, he didn’t want to be on it from day one, and I respected that.
How did he take your decision to leave? Had he always been your sounding board for all of the crazy that went on?
He was where I went to get away from it all. It actually made our marriage even better. You know, I don’t regret it at all. It was the best thing ever. He never told me, “I want you to leave.” I knew he wasn’t thrilled I was doing it, and he’d see how upset I was getting, [but] he’s not one to tell me what to do. But when I left, he was thrilled.
Has it been difficult at all with the rest of your family now that you’re no longer filming?
During the filming it was a little difficult, because there were certain places that I usually would’ve been that I wasn’t. You know, if they went out to lunch. Obviously there’s a trip to Italy coming up that I was invited to and stuff like that where I probably would’ve gone. It would have been difficult for me to go and stay off-camera. So here and there, yes it was difficult. As far as now, it’s kind of normal. We’re off-season, so it’s kind of business as usual. There’s nothing I’m trying to avoid other than talking about a certain someone, but other than that it’s pretty breezy.
Is it strange to watch the show as an outsider?
No, for me it was always I felt like I was watching a home video anyway. I never really grasped the concept that millions of people were watching myself and my family on television. So now when I watch, it feels like I just popped in a home video, so you never really get used to that. I kind of like it better now because I don’t cringe when I see myself. Like, “Oh I shouldn’t have worn that,” or “Why didn’t I put my eyelashes in that day?” It’s kind of like going to Oscars and not being nominated. You don’t have to worry. You just sit back and chill.
Do you think you were accurately portrayed on the show?
This season for sure. Last season, of course, they had so much footage — it was like a crazy amount of hours that they shot — and they were following a story, you know, with the book last year [Cop Without a Badge], so of course whatever aired was my reaction towards the book and all that nonsense so I seemed to be agitated all season. But I wasn’t. It was just when that storyline came up. So that was a little frustrating. Obviously, they don’t have time to follow us around to [see] everything we do, and especially if it’s not drama-filled they don’t really want to be there. It’s hard. They can’t show exactly who we are.
What about the other women? Is Teresa really how she is on the show?
Teresa is exactly how she is, the only difference is…I’ve been friends with her for 15 years and I’ve never seen her angry. She’s like the most laid-back person ever, so everything you see — bringing a million bathing suits for one night, and how silly she is and she has her Teresa-isms — that’s completely her. As far as her being crazy and chasing people, I’ve never seen that before. I think certain situations bring that out in her and I’ve never been around her for that.
Did you know Kim G. prior to what we saw this season?
I didn’t know her at all. Obviously my nephew is friends with her son, so I’ve heard of her and she’s neighbors with Jacqueline, but I never met her at all. Nor Kim D. My first meeting with Kim D. was on air at the Sheriff’s party.
Everyone seems a little confused by her, and obviously the viewers have their own ideas. What’s your opinion of her?
The girls seemed to have no problem with her. I don’t know her, so I don’t want to say whether she’s a good person or a bad person. In my opinion, I think she was vying for some airtime, and she did what she had to do to get it. I think she really loves being on television [laughs]. She worked it, and you know what she did a good job. Wait until you see this week’s episode, it’s crazy.
Would you say the same goes for Kim D.?
Well, you know what — I did have an encounter with her before, when we were shooting our opening shots for last season. She was Danielle’s stylist…
And I guess she didn’t like me ’cause Danielle didn’t like me, so I walked in and she slammed the door in my face, Kim D. So that’s the thing I knew about her, that this blonde woman slammed the door in my face, I was like, “Oh, hello,” and I saw her that night at the Sheriff’s dinner. So my first impression of her wasn’t a good one. Again, I don’t know her personally. I just know that maybe that wasn’t the kind of person I would [be friends with].
What do you think about some of the things that have gone down since you left? Especially the fight at North Jersey Country Club, the hair pull, the lawsuit, etc.?
Obviously, like everyone else, I think it’s completely crazy, and it’s hard for me. Because that’s my family, my friends that are in the middle of this. But I get it, like, when people lose it — you know when Ashley lost it and pulled [Danielle's] hair out — because I’ve been there. When somebody just pushes your buttons and pokes and pokes and pokes and finally you snap. So do I think it’s okay? No, but I get it. There are definitely points where I’m like, “Oh my god, how are we going to walk out our front doors anymore?” but at the end of the day it’s entertainment. Obviously America loves it, the ratings are going up and up, so it is what it is. There’s not much that we can change. I just wish that it didn’t get to all this. We could have had a really funny show on our hands if we just kept to our crazy family.
Have you seen Danielle since your last appearance together on the show?
I believe there was one Bravo event that we had to go to, but they kept us on different sides of the room. It was quite silly, really, that we’re all grown women, [but] it’s like back in high school. You know, just in case, they didn’t want us near each other.
Danielle seems obsessed with your friends and family. Do you have any thoughts on what she should do next? Any advice for her?
I tried to rationalize with her, sit, and have a conversation, so I don’t think I’ll be giving her anymore advice [laughs]. Again, it makes good TV. What’s unfortunate, what some people don’t understand [is that] when they go to the next franchise, when [Real Housewives of] DC comes out, we’re left with the sh–storm, you know? Like, our lives go on with this, it doesn’t go away. I don’t think a lot of people get that, that this isn’t a scripted show. It’s real life and the more things escalate, the crazier the show gets, and then it goes on and the next Bravo hit is out there and we’re kind of left with this mess. I hate that. I wish I didn’t get so dark, because unfortunately these things don’t go away right away.