Editor’s Note: In the Fall Movie Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly, we caught up with Star Jones over lunch to talk about her eponymous new Court TV show (debuting Aug. 20, with guest Isaiah Washington), her many ”a-ha!” moments since being fired from The View, and the hot topics on her mind. Here’s more of that conversation…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about your new show. What’s the backstory? How did it come to be, and what’s it going to be about?
STAR JONES: When I left The View I said to myself, ”This is a unique opportunity to re-create yourself in the image that you want to be.” And so I thought I wanted to spend some time getting to know myself first, doing some of the things that I really wanted to do in terms of charity work, spending some time with family and with my husband, doing some projects that I wanted to do.
Then I said, ”If you take that time, it will come to you what you really want to make the next phase of your career.” And I kept coming back to the thing that I love the most, which is the law. And I remember having conversations with people and them laughing at me because we would talk about my career in television — we would talk about the interviews that I had done, the people I’ve met — and then something would come up that had to do with criminal law, and you would see animation immediately. You would immediately see me say, ”Well, let me tell you what happens when you are picking the jury?” It would just be passion. And I discovered, if that’s your passion, why not work in that area?
And around December, I got a phone call from some executives at Court TV. Once we started to talk about the kind of moves I wanted to make in my career and where they were going for their network, it was about as clear as a bell.
Will the show cover all of the high-profile celebrity legal battles making headlines, from Britney and Lindsay to Paris and Nicole, etc.?
Anything you wanna do, sure. But in a way that applies to other people’s lives. I think what we have to do is to figure out a way to make these interesting, intriguing, fascinating personalities interesting, intriguing, and fascinating to you in your life at home.
[Let’s take] Britney Spears—if there’s any issue that makes me berserk is to hear people talk about ”She should lose her kids!” It makes me crazy because none of these same talking head people on television, be they the TV lawyers, TV commentators, or what have you, are out there advocating for the crackhead prostitute who burned her baby last night and put her out for the garbage to lose their kids. They don’t even know they exist [but are] worried about Britney Spears and her two little rich kids who are not going to miss a meal, not going to not to go the doctor, their nanny is not going to not pick them up, they’re going to be in their stroller like they’re supposed to every single day. I mean, talk about having priorities skewed! This girl is a twentysomething trying to find her way, just like every other 26-year-old mother. She may have had the kids earlier than she wanted. She may have had them before she was mature enough to handle them. But every other twentysomething finding themselves in that position is thrown right into it and they have to sink or swim also. So back off the little girl and give her a minute! Let her find her way. She’s acting out and being silly. And trust and believe she’s going to get herself together. She is.
But how would I do that story? It’s an entertainment and pop culture story. It has to do with the law. So it’s the perfect subject for our show, right? What I would do on that is talk about the other twentysomething women and how do they manage a new marriage or no marriage, being a single mother or being with somebody who quite frankly they can’t depend on constantly. How do you manage when your man has children by another woman?
Backtracking a bit: When everything happened with you leaving The View, it was like you were everywhere, kind of like J. Lo mania back in the day—
You know what? Please! [Cracks up laughing] J. Lo mania!
Well, you were everywhere for a moment. Did you ever feel like, ”I need to go away because I am overexposed, overextended, and overly vulnerable”?
One hundred percent. But you know what I ended up doing? I realized—and you have to take responsibility for your own behavior—that the first thing I should do is apologize for putting myself in a position that I could be everywhere. Sometimes you have to cut to grow [laughs], and I needed to cut out those things that I guess I got enamored with. You know, when you invite people into your house, don’t be surprised if they sit down, take their shoes off, and put their feet up on your chair. And that’s pretty much what the media did. They came in the house, sat down, put their feet up on the chair, went in the refrigerator, got a glass of orange juice—you know what I mean? They made themselves at home! And the only way for me to say you’re not welcome in this private part of my life is to stop exposing my private part. That really came more from just some regular sisters, and I’m talking white women, black women, Latin women, just regular women that I would see at TJ Maxx or at the Target or at the Rite Aid, getting my glasses fixed at the Lens Crafters. These women who would say, ”Girl, don’t let these people sweat you! That’s your life. That’s your business.” But what they were really telegraphing is, ”Shut up, okay?! If you don’t want us in your business, don’t tell your business.”
In the immediate aftermath of your departure from The View, did a lot of people come to your side, or did you feel abandoned by people you expected to stick by you?
I did something that I was not familiar with doing but clearly it was the best thing I could do. I spoke to some major mentors in the entertainment business, in the business community, and African-American leaders that I respect.
NEXT PAGE: Star opens up about gastric bypass surgery
Who are your mentors?
I don’t want to violate their privacy because they were 100 percent candid with me, but every name is one that you would recognize. Let me first tell you the things that my mentors gave me as advice: ”Step away.” And that was pretty much universal. ”This is a great time for you to figure out your next move without the glare of the spotlight on you constantly.” That was probably the No. 1 most universal piece of advice. And I wanted to, so it was not hard to follow.
The second thing was: ”Get back to your roots. Why did you get in television from the beginning?” And that is a very honest look at yourself in the mirror when it’s just you. Did you really get into TV because you wanted to speak to issues for the community? Or did you really get into it because you like the lights and camera? And I honestly can say I really wanted to speak to issues.
[Besides my mentors,] some of my girlfriends really and truly stepped up to the plate. I may give you one person who I just really want to acknowledge publicly. If there’s anybody—if there’s a war and you gotta have somebody next to you in the tank, bring Vivica Fox, straight up! On the real! Just bring Vivica Fox.
Because from everything from losing weight to changing my style to getting fired from The View to who should replace me, she has stood side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder — ”I got your back.” I mean, who can forget her basically cussing Jimmy Kimmel out on national television [ laughs] on my behalf? You know, walking down the red carpet at the BET Awards and when someone asked her [about me, she said], ”I’m her girl.” That is a true, dear friend. And you rarely get to thank somebody publicly like that.
Did you hear from Oprah at all during that time?
All the time! She was very consistent. But that’s the best part — I don’t have to bother Oprah unless I need to bother Oprah, but she gave me probably one of the biggest pieces of advice: She said, ”Stand in the space that God has created for you. You said you want this — embrace it.” And I thought to myself, she’s exactly right.
Speaking of Oprah — she’s someone whose personal life and relationship has been heavily scrutinized in the media, as has yours. So when you say that you made a conscious decision to step away from the spotlight and tone things down, did you and [husband] Al [Reynolds] make a conscious decision to do that as a couple — lower your profile — as well?
Well, there was never any reason for Al to tone anything down. Al was a businessman and still is. He has his own life and career. He was swallowed up in that which was mine. And that’s one of the reasons why we have completely separated it out. You know, the show is called Star Jones, not Star Jones Reynolds. Star Jones Reynolds is Sister Reynolds, who goes to the Christian Cultural Center.
Yes, absolutely, with the great reverend pastor A.R. Bernard. She goes to the grocery store and makes dinner for her husband and spent time yesterday getting the [guest] room ready because my mother-in-law’s coming to town—that’s Mrs. Reynolds. Star Jones is the brand, the personality, the professional that my audience has come to know.
Let’s talk about the article you wrote for the new issue of Glamour. Why did you choose to open up about your gastric bypass surgery in Glamour rather than in your book or even on your new show?
You know what? I will tell you. If I could’ve emotionally been stable enough to do it for the book, it would’ve obviously been the most brilliant part. Brad [Zeifman], who has been my publicist for a long time, encouraged it. My husband encouraged it. My lawyers encouraged. Everybody who is a professional that worked for me did, so they should have nothing to feel guilty about because they did their jobs. It wasn’t like it was a bunch of yes people. But I was emotionally crippled and not able to hear what people were saying.
But in the long run, my health was more important to me. And it’s not just my physical health, it’s my mental health. And so I really and truly wasn’t ready. I found it very difficult to accept why I needed this surgery. I found it very difficult to forgive myself for not being in control. I am a control freak. I need to know every aspect of what’s going on and it took me years of therapy to really and truly let it go and realize that letting it go gives you control. Just let it go. But I couldn’t do that at the time.
That was clearly—if I have one regret, and I’ve said this—I don’t think I’ve said it publicly yet, but I’ve said it to friends—is that I wrote the book before…I wrote that section of the book before I was ready to fully deal with it. Every other aspect of the book, I love. I just love it with all my heart and soul. And I appreciated the fact that my fans still made it a best-seller.
Were you surprised by the vitriol directed your way when you didn’t initially open up about your weight loss surgery? A lot of people attacked you about that — including Rosie O’Donnell on The View.
I was shocked in the beginning that people attacked me. But I was very public about other things and I think that the audience rightly said, ”But wait, you’ve told us all of this, why are you gonna leave this out?!” So I got that. [But] I truly resent anybody who perpetrates this lie that I walked around telling people that I lost weight by exercise and pilates. I never said that. So I wasn’t angry that Rosie wanted to know, I was annoyed that she perpetuated something that was inaccurate. But it was really less about that as it related to Rosie, it was much more an attack on my family that was vicious and inappropriate. And I’m very protective of my family. You don’t go after my family. So that doesn’t work.
By the time the show airs, do you think people will be ready to focus on seeing you back on TV?
Well, I hope so! Needless to say, I’m not going to be the gastric bypass girl the rest of my career. That’s not something I’m gonna do. I have no intention of being identified through a weight loss surgery, ever. If the media wants to do that, that’s on them. But I have so many more things to talk about and a whole bunch more to do, and I’m being as honest as I can now.