LOS ANGELES | NeNe Leakes may be the most successful reality star to come out of the “Real Housewives” franchise.
The reason? “I’ve kept it real,” the Atlanta doyenne explains. “I’ve been the one you can relate to the most. I’ve been the girl that told it like it was. I spoke out when I wasn’t supposed to. I said wrong (expletive). I apologized and, still, people realized they had to love me for who I am.”
A regular since 2008 on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” Leakes has had her own spin-off show, a recurring role on “Glee,” a supporting role on “The New Normal,” a spot on “Fashion Police,” a flashy turn on Broadway in “Cinderella” and, this summer, a panelist position on “To Tell the Truth.” Throw in book deals, fashion lines, runs on “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars” and it’s easy to see she has not ignored the opportunity reality TV has presented.
“It was a good thing I got involved with ‘Real Housewives,’” the 48-year-old mother of two says. “I’ve gotten a lot of opportunity.”
And the chance to make “best” and “worst” dressed lists.
Ask about her fashion don’ts and Leakes laughs. “Red is not my color,” she says. “I will be wearing red at home and not outside anymore. I know not to wear my hair long and straight. And I’ve learned not to listen to others. I’ve had some crazy-ass looks because I listened to others.
“I realized you can only look good if you wear something you feel comfortable in. If you’re confident, you’re going to look great.”
If a celebrity uses a stylist, Leakes says, she’s cheating. “You’ve got to show your own personal attitude and feeling. I’ve had them say, ‘Girl, you look great. You look fabulous,’ but I didn’t feel right because I wasn’t doing what was inside of me. Fashion is all about an attitude. If I wake up and feel like a hippie, then I should dress like a hippie.”
Fashion, she says, has always been in her genes. Even when she couldn’t afford designer clothes, she wanted to dress like she did. “I bought my first pair of Loubetins about 10 or 11 years ago and I was going to donate them to a charity just recently. My husband Gregg said, ‘You should keep them.’ I would never wear them – they’re kind of old lady-looking – but they represent the first time I could afford to buy a pair of red bottoms.”
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They’re still in Leakes’ closet, reminding her of a time when she didn’t purge her wardrobe regularly. (Among her latest obsessions: “The new Chanel bag. It’s only $5,800,” she says coyly. “I want one, but it’s sort of like, ‘Why am I buying this?’”)
Extremely down-to-earth, Leakes isn’t afraid to dish her many co-stars, talk about her dreams (“A film,” she says decisively. “Let’s get on it”) and the connection fans make with her and her many projects.
Unlike the regal Lisa VanderPump from “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” or the manic Bethenny Frankel from “New York,” Leakes is approachable.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve and my heart is as big as this necklace,” she says, pointing to a piece of jewelry that could best be described as “oversized.” “I’m a great girlfriend. I’m a big girl and when you mess with me, I get upset because I thought we were best friends.”
Frank? Oh, yeah. And always a bit of fun. “I might wake up one morning and feel like a white woman,” Leakes teases. “There IS a white woman that lives inside me.”
And there IS a star that just loves to get out.
When she played Madame in the Broadway musical “Cinderella,” Leakes was thrilled. “It’s the best thing I’ve done yet in my career. It fulfilled me.”
She returned to Broadway (in “Chicago”) and looks for yet another chance to act in a way few thought she could.
Still, years on “Housewives” have taught her plenty.
“I know how to work with women – beautiful women. I know their attitudes and personalities. And I just try to stay out of their way. What I do is stay in my lane and, hopefully, they stay in their lane. If they do come into my lane,” she says with a dramatic pause, “that’s when we’re going to have a problem.”