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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Rosie O'Donnell

Aired November 17, 2005 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BOB COSTAS, GUEST HOST: Tonight, Rosie O'Donnell, always outspoken, always entertaining and look at her beam for the camera. Is she a pro or what? She's here for a rare in-depth hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Bob Costas for Larry King tonight. You saw her just a moment ago, Rosie O'Donnell in her blue sweater. You're an avid blogger and you put it on your blog that tonight for the program you'd be wearing a blue sweater.

ROSIE O'DONNELL, ACTRESS/TALK SHOW HOST: That's true.

COSTAS: So your fans are not disappointed.

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, I'm an avid eBay user and I feel as though eBay, you know, deserves all the attention it can get and I got this on eBay because I bought the first one for Martha Stewart's appearance. I went on her show and it was red and it cost $400 and I couldn't bear having spent $400 on a sweater. So I went on eBay and found the same exact one for $180.

COSTAS: For $180?

O'DONNELL: Half price, Bob.

COSTAS: And you got to like that.

O'DONNELL: I got to like it.

COSTAS: See people think most things on eBay are exorbitantly priced but apparently you can find bargains on eBay.

O'DONNELL: Oh, no. If you go to Buy it Now and you look for Pay Pal because, you know, you have to have a Pay Pal account. It's very complicated.

COSTAS: This I don't know.

O'DONNELL: Yes, there's a whole eBay culture. You know, somebody is there outbidding you. You don't even want the thing but you don't want that guy to get it because he got the last thing you got.

COSTAS: Right.

O'DONNELL: So you outbid him at the last minute. It's very addictive.

COSTAS: These days you're on Broadway.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: He said quickly shifting the subject, abruptly shifting the subject. You're on Broadway in "Fiddler on the Roof" as Golda.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: Saw it the other night. What's it like to return to Broadway?

O'DONNELL: Well, it's an amazing experience to stand among 42 actors who are unbelievably gifted and to sing those classic songs that I grew up listening to with my mom in the house in Commack and, you know, it's an unbelievable experience. It's almost a religious experience for me.

And, when they called and asked if I was available to do it, I was shocked, number one, and so honored, you know, in another way that I kind of couldn't believe it.

And then I went to see the show and it is by far the best performance of Harvey Fierstein's career. I mean he is absolutely brilliant in a role that is probably the most difficult role in American musical theater and to be on stage with him is a thrill every night.

COSTAS: He is extraordinary and so many estimable actors have played the role in the past but he holds his own. This really is a tour de force by Harvey Fierstein.

O'DONNELL: Without a doubt and, you know, the guy is a legend in so many ways. I remember as a kid growing up in Commack singing (INAUDIBLE) trilogy when I was in high school and this was the first mainstream gay play that was ever on Broadway and this is the guy who brought it to the world.

I mean he was in many ways a pioneer and paved the way for so many things and people to come, including myself, and I'm very honored to be on the stage with him every night, five time Toni Award winner I might add.

COSTAS: By the way for those of you outside the New York area, two references already in the first couple of minutes to Commack, which is a town on Long Island and it represents the connection between me and Rosie because we went to the same high school ten years apart.

O'DONNELL: Exactly and it was all I heard always when I was starting to be a comedian and was starting to get a little bit known. People would say to me, "Hey, you know, Bob Costas went to our high school. You think he can be as famous as Bob Costas?" I'm like "I hope I can."

COSTAS: Not a problem, not a problem, easily done.

O'DONNELL: No, no, no, I wouldn't say that. Come on now, Mr. Olympics. I wouldn't say that.

COSTAS: You know what I once held, I once held a position of esteem at Commack High School and you messed it up for me completely.

O'DONNELL: Well, I'm sorry.

COSTAS: You zoomed right by me.

O'DONNELL: Listen, I feel we stand together in unison you and I.

COSTAS: Absolutely.

O'DONNELL: As Commack South representatives.

COSTAS: We need to go back for all the alumni functions.

O'DONNELL: We do. Yes.

COSTAS: Returning to Fiddler.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: This was an interesting choice for you because obviously your name on the marquee means something but Tevye is at the center of Fiddler. It's all about Tevye.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: This is a very secondary role.

O'DONNELL: Yes, it's a small, small role. It's a supporting role and a beautiful role and in many ways it's the heart of the show, the mother who keeps the heart of the family together.

But originally the show was called Tevye and his Five Daughters and it's really about Tevye, this man in patriarchal Russia in 1905 in a (INAUDIBLE) and how he, you know, works through his life and his values and what tradition and family really mean and it's a beautiful story I think and very appropriate for today, for today's political culture. It teaches acceptance and tolerance and diversity and love in a way I think that most musicals don't.

COSTAS: The reviews that I saw were very positive except for one.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: Ben Brantley (ph) in "The New York Times..."

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: ...said that it was something like imagine the most popular girl in school simply being put in one of the lead roles in the school play because she is the most popular girl in school even though she might not be well suited to the role. The other reviews were completely different but that's the way Ben Brantley saw it in the Times. Does that hurt?

O'DONNELL: Yes, it definitely hurt my feelings when I read it. It said, you know, all you have to do is stand like an oak tree and put your hand on your hip and, you know. The fact is I'm the fourth replacement in the role of Golda. I didn't open the show with Golda. Nobody was walking around going, boy Rosie O'Donnell is the perfect person.

You know the show got mixed reviews when it opened, mostly from this man who has a vendetta against the show. He really ripped it to shreds in "The New York Times" over and over. While reviewing other shows, he would comment how bad Fiddler was. You know he had something...

COSTAS: So he didn't like it before you got there?

O'DONNELL: At all but to say that I'm not worthy to be the fourth replacement in a musical I think is really uncalled for. I mean I could see if I was the lead or if I tried to do "Evita" but, you know, Golda she has three little tiny songs and it is a minor role and it's there to support him.

And, you know, I knew that the show would benefit from my name and that it would get more people in the seats really to see him and these amazingly talented kids in the cast.

COSTAS: And that is a reality of Broadway these days.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: If you can get a recognizable name on the marquee it can either open a show or sustain a show when it's begun to ebb a little bit.

O'DONNELL: Yes, and if you're someone who loves Broadway, you know, to me that's my church. That's my religion, you know. In fact, when the offer first came my agent didn't even tell me about it because, again for my agent who does movies and TV, you know, to be the fourth replacement in a show that's been open a year and a half it's not her idea of a great career move.

But somebody passed me in the street and said "I'm so sorry you passed on Fiddler." It was like I would never pass on "Fiddler on the Roof," are you kidding me? I worship at the shrine of Sondheim. I would not, you know, I would not pass on that.

And so I made a call and sure enough they asked me and I was -- I said yes without thinking, you know, and I'm so happy I did because although I do worry, Bob, truthfully because I'm not a trained singer or dancer and I do worry that I don't have what it takes to be worthy to be on that stage.

And, you know, when you hear the woman next to me who is the second understudy of Chava, the daughter, singing, you know, unbelievable, the voice that comes out of these, you know, I do feel sort of like, God I wish that they could sell the seats and sing it. But, you know, I have my role to do and I give 100 percent. I haven't missed a show and I won't and, you know, sometimes that's all it takes.

COSTAS: It's kind of tough. We're on a Thursday here after the Wednesday matinee and then the Wednesday evening performance. It takes a lot out of you doesn't it?

O'DONNELL: It does and I'm 43 now, you know. When I did "Grease" which was before I had children and it was so fun and we'd go out every night and the cast would get together and we'd have burgers and beer and get up early and go bowling in the bowling league and the softball Broadway league.

Now it's like I need a walker to get home, you know. I'm like someone get me to the bed because not only with the four kids but just the physical, you know, standing for six hours. It's a three-hour show, so on Wednesdays just to stand up for six hours was a big challenge for me.

COSTAS: And think about Harvey, all he has to go through because he's at the center of it almost every moment.

O'DONNELL: It is literally an impossible task and he does every night climbs to Mt. Everest. Every show he receives a standing ovation. I think he sings 15 songs. He hasn't lost his voice. He hasn't lost the, you know, he hasn't missed one, one show. I mean he's an amazingly talented guy and he is a gift to Broadway I think and I adore him.

COSTAS: Rosie O'Donnell is with us for the entire hour.

As we head into this commercial break, some scenes from "Fiddler on the Roof."

(PERFORMANCE OF FIDDLER ON THE ROOF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: All right, come on (INAUDIBLE) over, see the camera is there. Hi, (INAUDIBLE) camera me and Tom, hi everybody. I just want to say dreams come true on the Rosie O'Donnell show with my boyfriend Tom Cruise (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: I still have those photos. They're framed in my house believe it or not.

COSTAS: So from the old Rosie film and everybody knew what a crush you had on Tom Cruise.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: And he was a great sport when he showed up. More recently you had to sort of part company with him, at least on one issue when he was critical of Brooke Shields and her position about the postpartum depression and whatnot and he said, "Hey you don't need the drugs. You can handle it with vitamins and meditation or whatever."

O'DONNELL: Well, I don't really think it's part company, you know. I mean my in-laws are rabid right-wing Republicans and I love them to death, you know.

COSTAS: You still go over for Thanksgiving? That's OK.

O'DONNELL: Exactly, you know, I will always love and adore Tom Cruise and he is a genuinely kind, nice guy and from who I've met in show business and how they've related and it's a very strange rule book in celebrityville (ph) you know, how much interaction you have before you can define yourself as real life friends and what that means, you know. And he's always been very, very supportive of me.

Here's what I know. It's hard to be famous. It is because your perspective gets distorted, you know, and everyone around you all of a sudden is around you and paid somehow by you and things get a little bit skewed.

So, I love him. I will always love him. I disagree with him on the issue of whether or not there is post traumatic stress disorder or postpartum depression or any of these, you know, defined medical, in the spectrum of the depression illness as a person who suffers with depression and who takes medication, you know.

We have differing opinions on that and I think, you know, the shaming of Brooke Shields, you know, was maybe uncalled for. I almost wish she had said it about me, you know. I've been very public with the fact that I take SSRI medication, Serotonin uptake inhibitors or something.

And, I feel like if he had said it about me, I would have been able to go, "Tom, what are you talking about" and we would have -- but I think that Brooke Shields has, you know, had a hard life. Her mother was not a piece of, you know, a walk in the park her mom.

She had a difficult time and she really wanted to get pregnant and then had miscarried and I believe fully that she helped a lot of women by telling the truth about what she went through. And, you know, I love the guy. I'm always going to love him and we disagree about that but I'm happy that he seems happy, overly happy but happy.

COSTAS: You mentioned that fame for all of its rewards can be difficult. Now that you've gained more perspective how difficult has it been or was it for you?

O'DONNELL: Well, it's not so much the actual fame. It's what happens as a result of it, you know. To me I feel like I -- you kept climbing, you keep climbing and all of a sudden everything is important and you're getting called to go do this benefit or this Senator needs help or something.

Everything is, you know, you'd have to jet somewhere and save and help and do and the people who are the nucleus of your life, your family, often are the ones who get overlooked. And I never planned on staying on my TV show for more than five years.

I told Warner Brothers when I took the deal because I had a newborn soon and I wanted to be around and to be able to parent him in a way that I knew I couldn't while being on TV.

So, although I ended up doing six years, not five, it was never the goal to do ten or 20, you know. I don't think that I have that in me. You know I look at Oprah Winfrey with awe, you know, and the way that she's been able.

She's a marathon runner. She's a meteor. She's a, you know, the way she's been able to carry herself in the midst of that, you know, the big surf she's been in for 20 years and she's the one doing all the tricks on the board and all I can say is bravo. Look at her.

You know but I didn't have that in me. I wasn't the kind of -- I was a sprinter not a marathon runner and I knew that five years or six years of it at that intensity was all I could do.

COSTAS: Do you miss the show? It was so popular at its height. Do you miss it?

O'DONNELL: Sometimes I do. I miss the people. I miss when I'm in Target and older women my mother's age come up to me with tears in their eyes and go, "I miss you. How are the kids?"

COSTAS: Yes.

O'DONNELL: I miss the real people, you know. I miss being able to talk about things that are important to me or to have fun with someone who I, you know, adore and there's parts of it that I miss but I never thought that I was getting on that ride forever, you know. I always knew. My mother died at 40, as you know, and when I hit 40 was when I was done.

My goal was to get to 40 and retire and have the next part of my life be the part my mother didn't get to live. She didn't get to be a 40-year-old mother of children. She didn't get to see us in high school or grow up and, you know, that to me is serving her legacy to get to live out the second part in the way I think she would have.

COSTAS: There's a line from one of the reviews of Fiddler that I was struck by. "Newsday" said, "The re-menchification (ph) of Rosie O'Donnell is in progress at the Minskoff Theater, a reference to the hits that your image had taken over the preceding years.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: Where to so-called queen of nice, which is an image in and of itself, morphed into something else.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: The show ends. You come out publicly. You take some positions on some political issues and whatnot. There's a lawsuit over the magazine. Some of the characterizations of you are unflattering and all of a sudden everybody loves Rosie goes to, ah, there are mixed feelings about Rosie.

O'DONNELL: Well that's a nice way to put it. I don't know if mixed feelings would be -- you know it was bad for a while. During the whole lawsuit...

COSTAS: All right, we can't stand Rosie.

O'DONNELL: That's what it was.

COSTAS: There you go. That's what I meant to say.

O'DONNELL: It was sort of from the queen of nice to, you know, Satan personified. I think that was the range.

COSTAS: That's a fairly wide range too. That's the whole spectrum right there.

O'DONNELL: Yes, but you know there's a great line in the Kanye West album that says "Don't you know you can only fall as high as you were," you know. There's two sides to every corner. Every wave hits the shore. I mean every metaphor you can think of.

I knew when I saw that queen of nice topic I thought, oh boy, the other side of this is going to be horrible and it sort of was. Lucky for me, Kelly and my friend Cindy, my publicist they took all of my access to media away from me during the horrible times of it because I was so kind of in shock. I couldn't -- they were smart. They removed it from me. So, although I knew and I heard and I saw the covers of the Post if I was walking down the street, I didn't take it into me.

Well, about a year after the trial and it was two years this week that the trial ended, a year ago Kelly gave me all the newspapers and all the articles and I read them and actually ended up doing art with them. But when I read them I was stunned. I was stunned and I said I'm surprised anyone says hello to me ever in the mall or in the store after reading that.

And I was very glad that I didn't get to read it in the midst of while it was happening because I don't know that I would have been able to survive it as well as I did.

COSTAS: Did it feel like you were reading about someone else, who were they talking about? Or was there even a speck of it where you said, you know what, I took a wrong turn and even though it may be greatly exaggerated some of this was fair?

O'DONNELL: Well, in hindsight I think the fact that I never had to come out to my parents because I didn't have parents, every other gay person I know has a very, very intense story about having to come out and look into the eyes of the person who loves them most and tell them this secret that they have known but have been afraid to share.

At that point usually the parents look upon the child with disapproving eyes. Well I never really went through that. I think the big coming out for me was to America and when I did it I think it was a shock to some people. I think the crazy haircut didn't help.

I mean people were like what is she doing with that lesbian haircut, you know. The hair was a big issue for people. I didn't realize it at the time but it was a huge issue and I think that, you know, being engaged in a public fight with a media conglomerate, you know...

COSTAS: Or with a magazine.

O'DONNELL: A media conglomerate. They actually had access to all of my personal e-mails to Kelly because we don't have the right of spousal privilege because we're not legally married. So, whatever I wrote to Kelly they had and they leaked to the press.

Now I don't know what you write to your wife in the moments of your darkest hour and your saddest depressions, things that, you know, and what I was involved in at that magazine lawsuit was maintaining my integrity and the man, the CEO who ran the company, who put this whole entire thing into action, you know, reminded me of some other men I had known in my childhood.

So, they threatened, you know, to expose the truths of me to America as a weapon and instead of saying I give in and you can have my name and everything it stands for, just don't let anyone know, I said tell them whatever you want and here we are, you know.

I knew at the end the truth would come out and, you know, that company is now no longer in business in the United States at all, which is a tragedy. Do you know how many thousands of people lost their jobs because one guy, you know, refused to believe that a woman would hold on as long as I did?

COSTAS: We have to hold on for just a second. We'll continue on this topic and many more with Rosie O'Donnell but we got to take a break, more after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: I don't think America knows what a gay parent looks like. I am the gay parent. America has watched me parent my children on TV for six years. They know what kind of parent I am. So when you think of gay parenting you don't have an image to hold onto. I will be that image because I am a gay parent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: Oh, I'll tell you what, I have to say I don't remember my life without you in it.

BARBRA STREISAND: Oh, my God.

O'DONNELL: It's the truth.

STREISAND: Well I thought -- when did you find out about me? I mean you were how old?

O'DONNELL: Well the truth is that you opened in "And I Could get it for you Wholesale" the day after I was born.

STREISAND: No.

O'DONNELL: Honest to God and my mother...

STREISAND: I'm that old?

O'DONNELL: No, no, no. You were so young on Broadway.

STREISAND: That's right, yes.

O'DONNELL: You were so young and my mother adored you and I don't ever remember your music not being on in our house.

STREISAND: Really?

O'DONNELL: Every year we decorated our tree to the Christmas album.

STREISAND: Oh, my God.

O'DONNELL: Yes, and you're gorgeous. Look at you.

STREISAND: I'm gorgeous?

O'DONNELL: You're gorgeous. Hello gorgeous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTAS: Continuing now with Rosie O'Donnell. Just before the break we were talking about some of the hits your image took over the last few years. Is there a conscious attempt to recalibrate that now?

O'DONNELL: You know, I think the truth always comes out. I mean I think people get to judge for themselves and, you know, when you look at the facts of what happened and what went down and who I am and who I was and what I'm doing now, I think, you know, people draw their own conclusions.

But for me having the blog, having a place that I can talk about whatever it is that I'm feeling has been very freeing, you know, and just go on there if you want to know what I'm thinking about anything. I usually write it down.

COSTAS: Did you get caught up in things maybe to where the stress of it and whatnot, the best part of Rosie O'Donnell got suppressed a little bit.

O'DONNELL: Oh, yes.

COSTAS: And maybe some other parts came out to where you say to yourself, you know what I better hold that in check next time.

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, you forget the origin of why you wanted to create to begin with. You know I was a little kid that grew up and my mom would listen to Streisand and my dream was to be a Harlette, one of Bette's backup singers, to be, you know, one of the three women who sang behind Sonya (ph) in "They're Playing our Song."

Like, you know, that's what I wanted to do. That was the goal and I never knew how to get to Hollywood but I knew Broadway because my parents would take me and schools would take me and I would see Donna (INAUDIBLE) come out of the stage door of "A Chorus Line" all sweaty and I had just seen her on stage and it was so thrilling to me, the energy there and it's always been what I really wanted to do and, you know, so I forgot the question.

Oh there it is. So that when I -- when you're three or four of the show and I was so tired and overwhelmed and felt like I was being pulled at in a lot of directions, I couldn't even enjoy a Broadway show anymore.

COSTAS: Yes.

O'DONNELL: I would go to a Broadway show and people would be watching me watch the show and people would want my autograph on a playbill of something I wasn't in and I couldn't disappear there. It was sort of my safe zone and I realized when I lost that I needed to go, OK let's slow down.

It's a very fast life, you know, and I'm much better at a slower pace, you know. I think I can ride in the big waves and I do when I have to but I can't live there, you know. It wasn't -- it didn't feel safe to me, you know.

What I wanted was what every kid wanted in Commack, a normal kind of life, you know and where we live now, very similar to the town we grew up in, you know, there's a little strip of diners and a little...

COSTAS: Or you can cruise for burgers.

O'DONNELL: Exactly.

COSTAS: Yes.

O'DONNELL: And it's very, it feels familiar to me.

COSTAS: Because I think your horizons were actually higher than most of us from Commack because we just wanted to get our license and cruise for burgers or in my case avoid the greasers so they wouldn't kick the crap out of me on a nightly basis. That was pretty much the extent of my ambitions at that point. O'DONNELL: I was, I was so into high school. I loved it. It was sort of the best time of my life. I thought it was, you know, I was the homecoming queen and the class president and on all the sports teams and all the teachers liked me and I was so needing of kind of a parental connection and these teachers filled that role for me in a way that was life altering.

And, you know, I think they don't get enough credit, teachers today, and the whole education system, the public ed system in the United States is in such sad, sad shape. I saw a statistic yesterday that half of all black and Hispanic kids in America do not graduate high school, half. One out of five children in America lives in poverty and that's unbelievable for the richest country in the world, you know.

COSTAS: Without getting overly political here you would think that public education would be one thing that people of all stripes, all political philosophies could agree on.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: That public education ought to be equalized to some extent that there could be some sort of federal program that would make sure that regardless of what your means are or the general conditions of your community might be that you could get basically the same public education in South Central that you could get in Beverly Hills. Now someone in Beverly Hills is going to send their kid to a private school and they should have that right. But public education should be something closer to equalized.

O'DONNELL: Well that's right and there has to be a standard. I mean every other country is beating us. They came out with the high school education standards and the United States was like 40-something out of industrialized nations. My God that's embarrassing.

You know our public education system has fallen apart. It needs to be totally reevaluated and revamped and the daycare problem too in America that these Head Start programs which were so fundamental in changing the lives of poor children all over the country of giving them a chance and a head start has been cut in half, decimated, you know.

And, if we don't invest in our children, if we don't invest in the poor, if we don't invest in educating all of our citizens, we're doing a disservice to ourselves, to our country and mostly to generations to follow.

COSTAS: And now as I hear you say this and I'm the one who led you there...

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: ...this question occurs to me. Some portion of the audience is saying go Rosie. That's right. And another portion is saying, you know, that's not the Rosie I like. Even if I agree with it and maybe I do, maybe I don't, I don't want to hear her or other celebrities talk about that. Entertain us.

O'DONNELL: Yes, well I can do impressions. Who would you like? But, you know, that's the thing is that you're a whole person. You're not just, you know, the one thing and when I did that show and I did that show for six years that was one slice of the pie that's me.

But, you know, it's the same pie that you're getting other places. It's the same just a different slice. And, you know, I'm a concerned mother and what I would love is to form a mother's party that mothers from every part of the political spectrum from radical right wing religious fanatics to left wing crazy tree huggers, if you're a mother we can all agree on the common standards that our children deserve in this nation and that anyone running for any office needs to adhere to the mother party standards. That's what I dream of. That's what I think would be amazing for our children and for our country.

COSTAS: Future standard bearer right here of the mother's party and we're back right after this.

* running for any office needs to adhere to the Mother Party standards. That's what I dream of. That's what I think would be amazing for our children and for our country.

COSTAS: Future standard bearer right here of the Mother's Party and we're back right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: I have to say that I am overwhelmed. My mother used to take me to this theater with my sister and we sat in the fourth balcony. We ate lemon drops. And we watched "The Nutcracker Suite," the Christmas show. And I feel as though she's guided me in my life. To Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas who made a show that I watched with my mother and my grandmother and to my sister who I love more than anything. I thank you, all, very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: Look, I'm crying at myself.

COSTAS: Yeah, look.

O'DONNELL: I know, I never watch that. That and "Barbra Streisand Show." I don't watch. It's almost too raw for me to see. It's wild.

COSTAS: You had a dramatic part in "Riding the Bus with My Sister."

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: Movie -- TV movie directed by Anjelica Huston and a lot of people thought, wow, there we go. Because she's had some comedic parts in the past.

O'DONNELL: Right.

COSTAS: But here's a dramatic role. And the wondered if you could do it.

O'DONNELL: Right.

COSTAS: Did you wonder yourself?

O'DONNELL: Well, I did. I read the book. And I was very moved by the story and I have always been fascinated with autism and the spectrum of autism and everyone learns and thinks differently and there's people who can't function at all in society. Then there's people who fall somewhere in the autism spectrum who end up -- Albert Einstein or Bill Gates, there's been talk about Bill Gates and his brain and his ability to focus and concentrate and come up with the computer system.

That falls along this sort of not very social - in the spectrum of autism. So I was very interested in the subject. And when Anjelica said she would direct it, I said, well, if you think that I can do it, then I guess I can try. Because she's absolutely I think the best actress that we have around. And the best director I have ever worked with. I adored working with her. It was like dancing with Baryshnikov.

COSTAS: Plus we know now that you can cry almost on queue.

O'DONNELL: Just show myself.

COSTAS: You're a method actress.

O'DONNELL: People think, when my kids came to see "Fiddler," my little baby who is almost 3, said, mommy, you're crying. Why? And I said, I'm pretending. No, you real tears. You real tears.

She's just learned now when we're at home and she's faking, it I said Vivi, no real tears. You know? She's pretending. But I do. I can cry on queue. I'm very open and very sort of, you know, well, I cry at the news a lot. I cry watching, you know, what happens.

Like most people. I think -- especially once you have a kid, your accessibility to your -- you know, you're so present and it feels like you have grown another heart and you have more, you know, openings for people and feelings to penetrate. You know. I don't know.

COSTAS: You and your partner, Kelli, have four children. Is that it or do you want more. O'DONNELL: Yes. That's it. Please. We are the guardians of many of our friend's children and we're also foster parents and I don't know. I think -- we made a deal that four would be it. But I always think you get the kids you're supposed to have and at the end the day, who knows. I don't think we will have another infant. I think if we were to have another child, it would be an older child, a foster child, or one of our friend's kids if God forbid anything should happen to them.

But four for us is good. It feels done. It feels manageable. Just on the edge of chaos. Once you get five kids you need a special car. You know.

COSTAS: Right.

O'DONNELL: Exactly.

COSTAS: You need a van of some kind.

O'DONNELL: Well, we have the van. You need like an extra seat for the car and the baby seat. It's a lot. I don't know how my mother did it. She had five kids right in a row, no help. And we have help. We this nanny, Geraldine, who has been with me since Parker was born and she's from Ireland. She's like 45 years old. She's as fit as can be. So it's three women really raising these four kids and they're pretty lucky to have it.

COSTAS: I read somewhere, and I don't know if it's true because you can't trust everything that you read. But where you had said that unlike some gay parents who will bear their own children, that you didn't want to have your own children because of your family history of cancer and alcoholism. Is that an accurate quote?

O'DONNELL: I think I did say that it's part of a larger, you know, structure or sentence, thought. Because people always said, why didn't you have your own? Why didn't you have your own? I never felt the need to replicate my DNA. And whether -- Not that I'm embarrassed of it or -- I love my nieces and nephews. They're all brilliant, amazing, healthy kids. It's just I knew there were children that were in need and that would come to me and in the way that they did.

And any child you put in my hand today would become my child if you told me I could keep it. I don't have the issue of -- some of my friends went to China to an orphanage. I could not do it because I would not be able to come home with one, you know?

COSTAS: Uh-huh.

O'DONNELL: How we got our foster child is I went to visit a home for severely sexually abused girls in Florida. The Charlie House. And found there were toddler beds in the sexually abused severely unit. And so, one of the children that I met there inspired me to become a foster parent. And to help those kids.

There are a half a million people in foster care in America and 141,000 licensed foster homes. That means are there 300,000 children with nowhere to be. And they go from home to home to home. Until they age out of the system.

My ultimate goal of my life, if there was one thing that I wanted to accomplish, it would be to revamp the foster care system in America. Because it was set up for children who were orphans. Well, these children are orphans of the living. And they have nowhere to go. They have never had any sense of security or stability. And they need someone to speak for them.

So if I had anything at the end of my life that I could say I accomplished, that would mean something to me, not only raising and loving and being in my family, it would be to fix foster care.

COSTAS: We're spending the hour with Rosie O'Donnell. If you're wondering about phone call, Rosie is on Broadway these days and on "Fiddler on the Roof."

And so she's on stage as this airs tonight. So we're taping late Thursday afternoon. That's the reason that we can't take your phone calls but we will continue for questions for Rosie right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: Oh, look, look, that's Rex's spot. She's on the 5:30. He's on the 5:30. That's and he's going to flow a temperature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beth knows everything that is think every day.

O'DONNELL: That's my job!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beth my first friend when I drive the bus. I was nervous about my route but she talked me through it.

O'DONNELL: Yeah, because he was on the number 8 and he didn't know. He had to go up to Bill Street. Turn around. And they don't do that anymore now. You go to Elm Street. That's just the way it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTAS: Rosie O'Donnell, Madonna, Geena Davis and company in "A League of Their Own." We just saw during the last segment, you can cry on queue but as Tom Hanks mad it clear, there's no crying in baseball.

O'DONNELL: Exactly. And that was the most fun movie to do by far and to watch it, it was so wild. Feels like forever ago, you know?

COSTAS: Who was the best ballplayer among the women?

O'DONNELL: My myself and Lori Petty. Lori Petty that played Geena's sister. She and I could hit it pretty much out of the park. We were actually we actually hit the fence on two of the major league ballparks that we were in.

COSTAS: Really.

O'DONNELL: Yeah. Rod Dado (ph), who was the coach of the Dodgers and ...

COSTAS: The USC.

O'DONNELL: USC, right. He's the one who coached us and he came over to me, sweetheart, I think you could have played professional. And he loved it that I actually had played sports and was athletic. Some of the girls had -- women, had never played. I actually taught Madonna how to hit the ball by teaching her dance steps. I was like, OK, ready, stutter step hit and then your arms, so I tried to teach her as choreography. And it actually worked. She learned how to play.

COSTAS: Your fans know about "Sleepless in Seattle," "A League of Their Own," "The Flintstones," whatever it might be.

Many people don't know that you auditioned for the part of Elaine on "Seinfeld."

O'DONNELL: Yes, I did.

COSTAS: How did that go?

O'DONNELL: It was Larry and Jerry in a tiny little bungalow in the valley. I remember I went onto the lot and I had known them both, sporadically, briefly through stand-up comedy. And he was pretty much established when I started doing comedy.

In fact, the first time I ever did stand-up I did his act at a local comedy club and I killed. Everybody said -- I was 16. They said where did you get those jokes? I said Jerry Seinfeld. From Merv Griffin. You can't let her do that? Why not? You have to write your own jokes. I said hold it, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand don't write their own songs, why do I have to write my own ...

COSTAS: Different deal, Rosie.

O'DONNELL: That's what they told me. So I Went in there and I read. Every comic pretty much read and it was known sort of that the character was based on Carol Leafer (ph) who everyone knew. So we all went in and read all of the female comics. And I don't think it was between me and Julia.

COSTAS: And Julia?

O'DONNELL: No. I don't think it came down to that. But it was great fun.

COSTAS: When something becomes a classic and someone is so perfectly suited to it it's almost impossible to imagine anyone else let alone someone so different in the role. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is Elaine, case closed. O'DONNELL: Exactly. And perfect at it and that's why I wasn't cast and it's why it was the right decision. And I remember when the anniversary show came out and people said to me, is it true that you were on - yes, I went to many auditions for many shows and that's - some you get. Some you don't. But I think that was definitely the right one for her to do because she was amazing in it.

COSTAS: Our time is short in this segment. Back with more in a little bit. But. How much more might we see you in television, or in theater? Because you said earlier, you're kind of cutting back and trying to shape your career around your life.

O'DONNELL: Yeah. Instead of having it rule my life. I would love to do a once a week variety show. Like Ed Sullivan meets Carol Burnett. I would love to do that. I am also talking with Nick Lodian (ph) about doing a "Sesame Street"-type children's learning shows with them.

But these are things that I could do in New York that wouldn't be every day. That would allow me to showcase others. The favorite part of my talk show was getting to say, hey, look at this new singer. Look at this kid. Look at this Broadway show. To get to do that again. I worked at Caroline's Comedy Club the other night. I saw a little guy there, 22. If I only had a show to put this kid on. Because that's the fun part.

COSTAS: I would love to see you that show, A, because I would enjoy it. I want to know who is the 2005-2006 equivalent of Topo Gigot (ph), the dancing Russian bear, of Wayne and Schuster (ph) of Shields and Yarnell (ph), who are they?

O'DONNELL: But they're out there. I'm telling you, there's all different kinds of things and stuff that people that maybe don't look at enough. And can't see the beauty of through the controversy. I don't know. I think there's a lot to offer in that genre.

COSTAS: We're coming back with Rosie O'Donnell in a minute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: Do you want to hear about destiny? If I hadn't married Martin, I never would have bought the house with the dead tree. On the account of which I got divorced. I hit a car and met Rick while buying a neck brace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait a minute. You never told me you got a divorce because of a dead tree.

O'DONNELL: The tree man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LARRY DAVID, ACTOR: You know we missed your -- party.

O'DONNELL: The what?

DAVID: Marty Funkhauser. His 20th anniversary party.

O'DONNELL: Jody's dad. No, I don't really know him, no.

DAVID: Weren't invited.

O'DONNELL: No, no. Was it good? Did you go?

DAVID: Yeah, yeah. I went.

O'DONNELL: It was good?

Don't worry about that other thing. I just want you to know, gone. Like it never happened. OK?

DAVID: Thanks, sweetheart.

O'DONNELL: Like it never happened. All lesbians love you.

DAVID: OK. Love you.

O'DONNELL: I love you!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTAS: All right, so, Larry David did not give you the role of Elaine in "Seinfeld" but he sort of makes up for it by casting you in "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

O'DONNELL: Yes, and that's probably the funniest show on television. The guy's a genius. No doubt about it.

COSTAS: Tremendous edge to it.

O'DONNELL: And he writes it all himself and he plots out the things and episodes and you improvise with him and he sit, shapes it with you. Do it two, three times. It's magical ...

COSTAS: No script.

O'DONNELL: No script. But he plots it out. He knows what -- But the actual line, you improvise and it's very, very exciting to do.

COSTAS: Let's backtrack a little bit because people will wonder why we didn't address this. Last year, you married your partner, Kelli in San Francisco.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COSTAS: Then a California court overrules that and says that's not legitimate. At least not yet.

O'DONNELL: Right.

COSTAS: Is it important that the word marriage be attached to a gay union, or is it okay if that union is respected and all of the legal and practical rights that would attach to that are there.

O'DONNELL: As long as all the federal rights are attached as well. And I don't know that that's possible without the word marriage. If you were to be in another country and to say, well we're civil unionized. What does that mean? She's in the emergency room, God forbid, something. We have a civil union and in America it's the same thing. You know, I understand the reluctance of people to kind of give up that word. I understand. But all the rights and protections and privileges that go with that, you know, are entitled to every American.

And that's what this country is founded on, equality and human rights. As a nation, I think we have gone away from that. The fact that the vice president is actually looking to sponsor legislation that would exclude the CIA from having to abide by the torture regulations of the Geneva Convention. Bob, this is shocking. That we're actually asking the Supreme Court justices what they feel about torture. This is the United States of America. It's shocking.

COSTAS: You know what their counter argument is?

O'DONNELL: Yeah.

COSTAS: That these are not -- these are not normal enemies. They don't wear the uniform of an opposing army.

O'DONNELL: We are supposed to lead the world ...

COSTAS: They themselves don't abide by the Geneva Convention. They target civilians.

O'DONNELL: But we're not them. We're not with terrorists. We're not evil doers. That we are the United States of America and we set the standard for human rights world wide, at least we used to. And we need to again because that's what freedom is all about. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about getting exception to the rules. Lot of exceptions to the rules happening. And it's very disconcerting to watch. As an American, especially as a kid who grew up watching Vietnam. Our neighbors come home, to think I'm living through that again is startling.

To know the number of kids who are killed, over 2,000 and how many are blown up, arms and legs and their souls lost forever. You know, over an unnecessary war. And, it is very heartbreaking, I think. Not only to me but to most Americans. And the polls have just started to reflect that.

And we as a nation can do better. And we must do better. And we must lead the world with freedom, fairness, and equality, and we do not torture and there is no exception.

COSTAS: We're not sidestepping this topic. I'm merely obeying the producer. Trust me, there's more right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: We got married. There you go.

We were both inspired to come here after the sitting president said the vile and vicious and hateful comments he did on Tuesday.

With liberty and justice for all. Peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, Wilma, if Fred scores the highest on the test, you'll be able to hire someone to do your laundry for you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If Fred scores the highest on that test, I'll have to hire someone to revive me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's true. Fred's no Albert Einstone, but you never know. He may surprise you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, maybe. He has been studying day and night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I know. I have never seen him so excited about something that you couldn't spread mayonnaise on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTAS: All right. So how do you prepare to play a cartoon character? Some one says, hey you are going to be Betty Rubble.

O'DONNELL: I was shock. I went in and I did the giggle and Brian Levant (ph), the director, said, what are you doing? I said, don't tell me you will direct this and you don't know the Betty laugh. That's all that Betty did was laugh and I started singing all the songs they knew from "The Flintstones"

Here she comes on the run with the burg or the bun and he's like, oh my God, we have to hire you for research. So my knowledge of the "Flintstones" helped me get the role I believe.

COSTAS: The thing that got me about the "Flintstones" and the "Flintstones" preceded "the Jetsons." "The Jetsons" actually made more sense because we just kind of extrapolated into the future of what all of these advances would be. They would have all these gadgets.

What sense did it make that the Flintstones in prehistoric times had simply a prehistoric version of everything that you had in modern times? They had a car but it ran in a different way. They had a drive-in movie theater. They had take-out food. It was just 5,000 B.C.

O'DONNELL: I think Hanna-Barbera was trying to find a way to animate "The Honeymooners" without getting sued. Let's just put them in prehistoric times and they will not know. But it is the same sort of set-up. Exactly right.

COSTAS: Fred Flinstone is obviously Ralph Kramden.

O'DONNELL: Exactly right.

COSTAS: Barney Rubble isn't as elongated as Art Carney. As Norton.

O'DONNELL: But the same kind of dumpy friend.

COSTAS: Same relationship?

O'DONNELL: Yeah.

COSTAS: Same relationship.

OK. We have got a couple of minutes here. So here is the obligatory. What's on the agenda thing? I hear about a special on HBO.

O'DONNELL: Yes, we did a -- Kelli and Greg, her partner, business partner, have a business, Our Family Vacations for gay families and for families who are okay with gay families and this is the third one they'll be doing this year. On the first one, HBO came on board and they shot a documentary and it's overwhelmingly powerful.

To see these people who never felt entitled or all right together in a wonderful environment and it's very similar to my TV show, only on a boat, for seven days. Because I'm on stage every night, we give away free stuff in your room and everybody has fun.

COSTAS: Straight families are part of it, too. If they're comfortable with it.

O'DONNELL: Yes. In fact, it was so funny. These two women came over to me last night ...

COSTAS: You've got 15 seconds.

O'DONNELL: Rosie, we just want to say we're not gay. We left our husbands at home. We came because we are fat and we knew no one would make fun of us at the pool. We'll take the fatties. Come join us, fatties.

COSTAS: There you go. Rosie, thanks.

O'DONNELL: Hey, great to see you, Bob.

COSTAS: Rosie O'Donnell on Broadway these days along with Harvey Fierstein in "Fiddler on the Roof"

Good night, America, especially those of you in Commack and hello, ANDERSON COOPER 360.

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