NeNe Leakes knows the road to marriage is tough — she’s already been down it once before … with the same man — but she’s up for the ride. After five seasons on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, the “realest housewife” takes the reigns of reality TV again as she chronicles her re-marriage to Gregg Leakes in the spin-off I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding. From her path to rekindling a broken relationship with her estranged stepchildren to dealing with her over-the-top bridesmaid-zillas, Entertainment Weekly sat down with NeNe to talk about her latest TV journey.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on your new show. How does it feel to have your own spin-off?
NENE LEAKES: Well, it feels different than I thought it would. Although I was the first Atlanta housewife they offered a spin-off to, I never took it, because I always felt like it would be hard work. So, when Gregg and I got married, we got engaged last year, and Bravo heard about it and asked us if we would do our wedding on television, we said, “Yeah, we’ll do a two-hour special,” and they were like, “No, we weren’t thinking of a two-hour special; we were thinking about a whole show about your wedding.” I said, “Oh, okay, like a couple of episodes?” And they were like, “No, we’re talking about six episodes.” And then I thought, “Six, that’s a lot,” and they came back and said eight, and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s a lot.” So, Gregg and I talked about it back and forth, and talked about it with our team, and we thought maybe we should do this. It is a lot of work, because I executive produce the show — my work is doubled.
When you say a lot of work, what do you mean?
When I say a lot of work, it’s me: NeNe. I’m having to shoot three scenes a day, changing clothes three times in one day to do different scenes, so I’m just constantly working. You know, when it’s your show, you got to promote it, you have to push it, you have to make this thing work. Now, when I’m on RHOA, it’s six of us pushing and pulling, so the work isn’t as heavy a load, because they’ve got all the pushing and pulling. But this time, it’s all about me.
You’ve said that this show is not about a wedding, it’s more about a marriage. What’s the difference between I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding and Real Housewives? Haven’t you chronicled much of your marriage on Housewives?
Well, we’ve talked about a lot of stuff in my marriage on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, but you’ve never met Gregg’s children. People never knew that Gregg had five children — he’s been married before for almost 20 years; we’ve never talked about that. In I Dream of NeNe, we get into that, we talk about the children and how it was difficult for us to blend our families. There are people out here who can really relate to that, because that’s real. So we do all that. This is not just about a wedding, this is about a marriage, because Gregg and I are not children. I’ve been there once before, and it was to Gregg. We’re talking about a marriage, longevity, how we make this marriage last forever. A lot of people who are married for the first time or they’re young couples, their focus is on the wedding, how beautiful the wedding is going to be. We’re focused on our marriage, our children, our future.
What was Gregg like in 1996?
In 1996, of course Gregg was much younger in ’96. He was my age now. He was suave. I thought Gregg was cool. I didn’t really think he was my type. [Laughs]
Why you say that?
Honestly, I have a shy side. I don’t really like guys who come off suave, and “laying it on thick.” I thought he “laid it on thick,” and I hated that stuff. [Laughs]
What made you really fall for him?
It wasn’t like he wasn’t not going to let me fall for him. He kept on pursuing me like, “NeNe, NeNe, NeNe,” and I was like, “Lord, I’mma need to pay this man about five seconds of my time, because he drives me crazy.” [Laughs] Gregg has a great sense of humor, and he’s smart, so those are the things that really won me over.
We’ve seen on season 3 and 4 of Real Housewives where you and Gregg go through a tumultuous period in your marriage. What was it that made you divorce him?
For me, the deal-breaker is crossing the line, and I felt that before, Gregg crossed lines. I felt like Gregg wasn’t communicating, and he wasn’t really being the husband that I desired at that time. I don’t know what really happens to men. I feel like they go through a phase way far worse than what we as women go through. I feel like men go through a phase where they want to be young again, or they want to do this or that. I don’t know what’s wrong with men when they’ve reached a certain age, but they definitely go through something. At that time, he hit a patch, and I couldn’t deal with it. I didn’t have the strength to deal with it. I was working.
Was that when he did that infamous radio interview in 2010 that was on season 3 of Housewives?
When he did that, he probably was on his last leg. He was on his last thread holding on to me. We really cut the cord then, because I couldn’t believe some of the stuff I was hearing. It was devastating, hurtful, and happening in the public eye, so people can look and judge, so it was difficult, but I knew we were done.
You said in the show that one time you showed up at the house and Gregg’s three youngest children from his marriage were gone. Was there any hostility between you and Gregg’s children that you feel was brought on by his ex?
I wanted his children to understand that their mother and father were in a very bitter divorce. Your parents did not handle it right, but you can’t put what you went through on me. Your parents were divorcing, they were mean to each other, and they had you guys tied in the middle, which was wrong, but that has nothing to do with me. She literally picked them up for her weekend visit and never brought them back. Gregg didn’t fight her. He just disconnected. And when Gregg would try to connect with his children, he would call up his ex-wife and ask if he can see the children, she would say no. It was a bitter war.
There was no relationship between you and his ex-wife at all?
Never. In my entire life of being with Gregg for 17 years, I’ve only met that lady twice.
How’s the communication with you and Gregg’s children now?
I love Gregg’s kids. I’m sure Gregg’s ex-wife is watching the show, seeing me with them. I’ve never had anything against her, but the relationship with Gregg’s children is good. I love Gregg’s older children like they were my own. We’re all learning to communicate better, all Gregg’s kids are good, it’s just the oldest one — he’s a bit more outspoken. The rest of them are pretty quiet.
What made you pick Dr. Jeff as a counselor?
I think you have to be connected. I’ve met with counselors before, and all of them want to feel like they can connect with you. We had an instant connection with Dr. Jeff for some reason. We went right into the first session and started arguing with him, but he stood right there. A lot of people would be like, “Oh no, we can’t take this,” but Dr. Jeff stayed in the fire with us. He stayed in, and he stayed tough, and he was divorced before, and I thought he was great. Gregg jumped down his throat, and he was still there.
How’s Gregg’s communication now?
He’s a lot more open, and what’s really funny is that he’s texting with Dr. Jeff, which is hilarious. We’ve actual found a friend in Dr. Jeff, we actually like him.
Who was the most difficult person to deal with during the wedding?
The most difficult people were Marlo Hampton and Diana Gowins. When I say difficult, it was unbelievable that they could not step outside of themselves and say that this is a wedding for NeNe, our friend, and let’s just be here to support her. They argued most of the time, they were never really satisfied. They were very difficult in different ways. After working with Marlo on the show, I could see why she was not a housewife, because she’s super difficult. She’s super extra.
What was the change from when Marlo and Diana were on with you on Housewives to now?
When Marlo and I worked on Real Housewives, she was just appearing here and there. When we worked on I Dream of Nene, I could see her business sense, and it just wasn’t attractive. Diana is a good girlfriend of mine, we’ve been friends for a very long time. It was very hard for her to see me befriend other girls. She became super-protective, a security guard, a gate keeper, just everything you can think of. That is her nature. What I would say to her is “I’m in the business to meet other women, and if I choose to go out on a dinner date with another girlfriend, what’s your problem?” So that was crazy. They’re definitely bridesmaid-zillas. They forgot that the word bridesmaid ends in “maid.” Just wear what I ask you to wear, just do that.
Do you feel Diana was right in how she dealt with Marlo, being that she felt that Marlo was nothing more than an opportunist?
I feel like Diana’s intentions in protecting me were, well, it’s just the way that she went about it, that was the problem.
Who was the person with the least drama you had to deal with?
My girlfriend Mashella Hampton, she was the very least drama. Cynthia Bailey as well. She was one of the easier bridesmaids.
Season 6 of The Real Housewives of Atlanta is premiering Nov. 3. What can we expect?
A lot of drama. That’s what it is all the time. People trying to beef up their storylines. Trust me, I happen to be one of the very real ones. I don’t play a character when I come on to Real Housewives. I play NeNe, and there are girls who play characters. I am just who I am: I am NeNe Leakes.
I saw you got into it with Kenya Moore in the sneak peek. What’s the deal with you two?
I can’t say what that’s about, because the show hasn’t aired yet, but I’m the boss. I’ve been here since day one. I’ll be damned if anyone comes over here and tells me what to do.
I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.