NeNe Leakes is no longer making apologies for the more aggressive, confrontational side of her personality. After her umpteenth — but perhaps biggest — blow-up with Real Housewives of Atlanta's co-star Kim Zolciak earlier this year, Leakes said publicly that she was sorry for how she handled herself on the bus. (There was yelling, finger-pointing, lunging...)
And there's a lot more that's changed for Leakes since last season. She tells TVGuide.com about fighting with on-again, off-again rival Sheree Whitfield, being newly single, and what she learned by competing in — and famously exiting — Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice:
In January, you said you didn't want to do another season of Atlanta. Why did you decide to come back?
NeNe Leakes: Every season, when we film this show and it ends, we are exhausted and beat up. We shoot the show and then we have to wait, and then we relive it when it airs, and then we relive it again on the reunion. By the time the season ends, I just feel like I'm over it. Then we get a two or three month break, and I feel like, OK, maybe I feel like I can do another season [laughs].
You say there will be plenty of shouting matches this season. Has your perspective changed since you apologized for the Kim blow-up?
Leakes: I've learned that when someone says or does something you don't like you're supposed to address it right then and there. You don't just let it go. But what I do is say, "Well, let me see what happens next time, and the next time, and the time after that," and then I'm like, "Look, bi---, I'm gonna rip your head off." I really should be saying something along the way.
At this point, are you close to any of your co-stars?
Leakes: Yes, I am very close to Cynthia and [her husband] Peter. We're very, very close. I'm cordial with Phaedra and Kandi. I don't necessarily care that much for Sheree or Kim.
But you all take a trip to South Africa this season! How do you prepare for that since you don't like all the women?
Leakes: First, I say, "No, I'm not going. No, I'm not going. No, I'm not going"' And then they're like, "You have to go." And so I say, "OK, I'm going under these conditions." [laughs] I took the trip to Africa, and all the girls go and once we land in Africa, I think to myself, "What the hell am I doing here with you guys?" I prefer to be here with people I want to hang out with and have fun with. But we go to Africa, and it's a beautiful place and it turned out to be very nice. Viewers will see us taste the different foods, and we go on a safari and see the animals.
How does it feel then to hear Sheree say to Wendy Williams that fame has gone to your head?
Leakes: Sheree don't know what the hell she's talking about because I'm not that girl. I think she knows that. I prefer money over fame. I'm very private. She wouldn't know if fame had gone to my head or to my ass. I'm never around her. I only see her when we shoot. I know she's gotta say what she's gotta say because nobody's talking about her. They generally talk about me. You make sure that everyone knows that Sheree is boring. Nobody talks about her. Bo-ring.
You recently tweeted that you deposited a "hater check" — what is a hater check?
Leakes: When you watch these reality shows, the person that is hated on the most is usually the one that gets the most shine. People call me and say, "Oh my gosh NeNe, we love you on the show, would you come over here and do an appearance?" I call the money that comes from that a hater check, because they could've called the other girls but they called me because they hated on me so hard. These girls are haters!
After three seasons of the show, now four, is there anything that's off limits for you? That you'll say to the produces, "No, I'm not doing that"?
Leakes: I always say no to them about a lot of things. About my marriage, I said, "No, no, no" and they said, "yes, yes, yes" and they push, push, push and you end up doing it. I don't know if I would have another public relationship. I don't know if I would ever do that again. I say no about everything but somehow they end up squeezing something out of me.
To clarify, you and Greg are not together?
Leakes: Greg and I are separated. He's moved out. It's tough because we've been together for 15 years and it's really hard on me because I've been with him since I was young and I've never really lived on my own. It's really different for me. I'm not a dater. When I got married, I took my vows very seriously — I wanted to be married for life. This is probably the hardest thing I've had to do. But Greg will be on the show this season. I have an issue with my oldest son, and Greg does come over and help me with that. We are co-parenting, and we do have a child together. We're just not living together.
Judging by the trailers for what's to come, it looks like we will see you dating though?
Leakes: There is someone who really likes me. He is very successful and I just, I'm not sure if it's something I want to do yet. Certainly not publicly. He's on the show a lot. But he's my business partner, so...
What else are we going to see you do this season?
Leakes: Well, you know, I love being an entrepreneur and when I did Celebrity Apprentice with Mr. Trump, he taught us a lot about starting businesses. You'll see a lot of me doing my business ventures this season. I'm coming out with a wine... I'm actually a restaurateur. I have Famous Famiglia pizzeria that has opened up in the Sacramento airport. I'm also working with my business partner on opening up the Linnethia Lounge.
There are unconfirmed reports that Kim is getting her own spin-off. Do you want your own show? Is that something you'd be interested in?
Leakes: I definitely some day want to do a show. I don't know if I want to do it by myself, and I don't know if I want to continue to do reality. I love talk shows and hosting. I would want to do something like that. I'm not sure I would want to be a reality star continuously.
Leakes: It's so much pressure. People look at reality stars like they know you, like they really know you... People see me out in the store, and they'll be like, "Heeeey, NeNe, girl!" And I'm like, "Really?" It's unreal to me. I've had people knock on my window. People feel like they know you. You're their friend in their head...You have to let people in your life and I don't know if I want to continue to let people into my life like that. It's a difficult thing to do to put yourself out there to be judged.
Check out a preview of the NeNe vs. Sheree throwdown from Sunday's premiere: