Bravo's Real Housewives of New York has morphed into the 21st-century version of the Clare Boothe Luce classic The Women. Front and center among all the fashion and fighting is Jill Zarin, a lady you can say many things about, but you can never call dull. On the eve of the three reunion shows for the third season of RHNY, airing on Bravo and hosted by the network's gay exec Andy Cohen, the spitfire spoke candidly as ever about her frenemies Bethenny, Alex, and Ramona. She also got in a few zingers about The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Twitter haters. But what Zarin really didn't want forgotten were her side projects and her commitment to gay causes.
The Advocate: This year the show became an outright phenomenon. What put it over the top?
Zarin: Because viewers didn't expect what happened to happen; they were caught off guard, and me too, by the way. If you spoke to me a year ago, I never could have anticipated Bethenny and I wouldn't be friends. And then all the good things that happened. And her getting pregnant and married. And then the bad thing about her father. No one could anticipate this. I don't know how [The Real Housewives of]New Jersey is doing in the ratings. I know that we're flying. I'm watching Jersey, and I think that it's more of the same, you know, it's like the good girls versus, well, not the good girls, but it's the Manzos against Danielle. Every week it's the different turn of each housewife, but it's the same as last year. What's different about our show this year is that everything did get twisted.
When you see the reunion, you'll see how the couches have changed. Last year was LuAnn [de Lesepps], Bethenny, and Jill on one couch and then the other girls on the other couch. Now Bethenny and I are on each side of Andy. I also think that the story of what the season was about, which was friendship, everybody can relate to. Everybody's a friend, and everybody's had a fight. Every relationship you handle differently, and there is no right, I mean, there are things that you can do better than other things. There's no right or wrong when it comes to feelings. And I think that people wanted to see how other people handle relationships. And I say it in the show. The most important thing in life is not money. It's relationships. At the end of the day, when you're on your deathbed, you don't think about your life, such as the things that you've made, it's the relationships that you have and that those are the people close to you. And I that's what I think makes me different. I don't come from nowhere. You know, I have parents, I have a sister. A really close, close family. We wrote a book together, Secrets of a Jewish Mother. I'm a grandmother now, which you don't see on the show. And the other housewives on the show don't show that kind of side to them. Or some of them don't even have it, that core family type of thing. It's not something you do right or wrong in life. It's just sort of what family you're born into.
You received a lot of criticism, and online threats, regarding your relationship with Bethenny. Were you surprised at how vested people got in your relationships?
Extremely surprised. It's amazing how people are invested in the show and the characters. Some people take it too literal. And you're The Advocate. I'm the advocate for the underdog. I don't apologize for it ... Kelly, Kelly also by the way, along the same lines, did the public service announcement on bullying because of the feelings that she had during the show for herself, and I can't help but think back to this little girl in Boston who committed suicide not long ago because she was cyber-bullied. She felt there was no place to go except to kill herself.
I'm an adult and can handle pretty much everything, but I want to put out [the fact that she was threatened on Twitter] for those who don't have a voice and who look to me as a role model. I have a lot of fans out there who write to me for advice. Since this is the gay advocate, I don't have to tell you that it's the same thing for gay people who have been harassed, abused, and bullied their whole life; there's been a lot of gay people have taken their lives because they felt they had no place to go and didn't know how to handle it. So it's sort of a similar thing in that sense. Everybody's entitled to their opinion. I'm all for free speech, and you can really say or do what you want, but if somebody encourages somebody to mail things to me and threaten me and my family, now you've crossed the line.
Speaking of being an advocate, I heard you were involved in an HIV PSA.
It hasn't aired yet. Listen, I have never said no to my gay friends. I have a lot.
Maybe that's why you're always turned out. Have you
always been stylish?
I appreciate the compliment. I definitely have my own style. I've
definitely taken risks. Some [outfits] work. Some don't. I love fashion. And I have a lot of fun with it. In the finale,
at LuAnn's concert, did you notice I was wearing a pocketbook that
I do remember that. I loved what you were
wearing when you and LuAnn were walking in Central Park.
You know Sonja wore the same dress in another scene, but it looks so
different. It wasn't my dress, she had bought the same one. And she
looked so different in it that nobody picked up on that.
about the reunion. Did it really take eight hours to tape?
From clips, it looks tense.
definitely highs and lows. There were peaks and valleys. I'm not sure, but I think it might
actually turn into three episodes. It was so fraught with drama. I
don't know how it it's edited, I just hope my
voice comes through.
And speaking of editing, do you think
you were accurately portrayed this year?
That's a hard
question to answer. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The problem is
that you only see 14 episodes and 44 minutes each episode. And we shot
thousands of hours. I shot 85 scenes. And a lot of them made the cutting
room floor. Some
of them are on BravoTV.com. There are some really cute scenes with me
and [her daughter] Allyson preparing for college essays. One of Allyson studying. But
those are the sweet scenes I think audiences needed. They needed a
breather. If I had my choice, of course, I'd
put more things on of my family, because my family, I think, is the
better part of me. You know, I always get stuck when I'm put in an
uncomfortable situation. Everybody handles stress differently. I
do it by running away.
It's funny because when I said to Bethenny, "We're done," I didn't really mean we're done, I just meant we're done
right now. It's just an expression; we all have our little idiosyncrasies. I
just don't handle stress well. I don't fight with people. I have a very
large group of friends and family and acquaintances, and you know, I'm a
connector, and I meet a lot of people, and I don't have conflict in my
life. And the word toxic comes up a lot. Anyone who's toxic I don't want
to be around. Because, listen, I don't know if I'm going to live the
next hour. I don't know what's gonna happen to me. But as long as the
time I have on this earth, I want to be positive, doing good and being a
good person, and sometimes when you get drawn in, you have to
connect to people who you don't necessarily get along with.
I think what's interesting about the show is that, at least currently, there's little about the men and the husbands.
It was more about these friendships between people, specifically women, and
sometimes they work and sometimes they explode.
And I'll tell you something, I think that
everybody's had things they're embarrassed about or done things they
think they could have done better or differently. A lot
of people judge the show that way and are really thinking of themselves and how they'd act.
They say when you cry it's a selfish emotion. You feel sorry for yourself to a certain extent. I did cry [at times] because I felt bad for myself; things went not the way I wanted them to go. I have no control over what people do and say. If I put my my foot in my mouth — which is why I was cast on the show, because I'm unfiltered — I hope for forgiveness. Everyone should be entitled to be forgiven. Some of the housewives don't have forgiveness. Or selective forgiveness. They'll forgive one person but not another.
How are you and Bethenny doing? Have you seen the baby?
No. I don't know what the future will hold. I wish her good luck on her new show and only the best for her. She said in the past that she did everything she could on Housewives and felt there's nothing more she could do on the show. I sort of have similar feelings in terms of what else can we do. So I'm glad she found something she could do. Now I need to find a hobby [laughs]. There's a lot of good things I'm working on. My book is the best thing that I've gotten out of the show — being able to work on it and promote it with my family. I'm also a guest cohost on LX New York, which is a daily talk show. The best thing was the AIDS Walk. Somebody who had AIDS, had it for two years and didn't tell anybody, went public with it and wanted do something about it. He reached out to me because of the show and asked me to be the forefront person of the group, and I did it. He thought he'd raise $4,000, and we raised $80,000. If I can make money for gay organizations and AIDS, I've done my job. I was honored to be asked to speak at one of the recent Human Rights Campaign events in New York City, and I'm working on their National Coming Out Day, which commences on October 11. Most of the housewives are involved [with gay causes]. I'm pro-gay rights and gay marriage. Everyone should be treated equally and fairly.
I don't have a segue, but how is Kelly?
The funny thing is that the time to be worried for her was when she come back from St. John in November. She's completely recovered. I wasn't in St. John as a witness, but [the women ganged up] on me. It was mean girls, it was high school. There was no reason to ask me to leave [the house in St. John]. I was there with an open heart and to make peace. It was ridiculous that Ramona said if I had only walked in a different way [it would have been better]. I walked in and said how everything was beautiful. What else could I have said to make it better? That was their reaction to bad behavior. They tried to defend the fact that they threw me out and had good reason — they had no good reason. I didn't throw Simon out when he came to my home, when I first met them and he crashed my dinner party. I didn't throw him out at Saks Fifth Avenue when he was the only man to show up; my husband wasn't even there. It was a woman's event, but he thought he would make drama by showing up and it would be part of the show. I wouldn't do that; I'm an inclusive person. They have their motives, but you'd have to ask them what they were.
Were you surprised by Alex's reaction at seeing you in St. John? She was literally shaking.
I wasn't surprised, I was hurt. She had already delivered that hurtful message. Nothing that Alex did made sense. I apologized to her at Saks; she invited me to her house and we had a lovely time. I saw her kids and we played; they're adorable. Then I go to the fashion show [at Brooklyn Fashion Week] and mind you, I may have said something that was taken the wrong way. She thinks I called her ugly. I didn't call her ugly, I said she didn't look like a model. She's not a model, so I don't why that's so offensive. But she didn't even know about that until April. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Ramona at the fashion show, but I said goodbye to her and Kelly. And then the next time I saw her, she delivered that message. Out of nowhere, she decided she was angry at me about things that happened a year ago. I thought we resolved it. And yet she forgave Bethenny for all the things she said and she forgave Ramona for all the horrendous things she had done to her for two years. Then it became two groups: the Bethenny group and the Jill group. And I really did nothing wrong to her and I had nothing against Alex at the time.
It must have been hurtful when Alex told you in front of everyone that Bethenny was through with your friendship.
It did hurt. I cried a lot over that. When she tried to talk to me at Sonja's house, Bobby had come over to me and said, "I spoke to Alex. She's not going to apologize." Once he told me that, I didn't want to talk to her because I knew she wasn't going to apologize. The way I handle things is I don't want to deal with them. So I run away. I went to St. John to make peace, and if I did that, it would have hurt Alex. Because if I made up with Bethenny, then Alex would feel threatened. Alex feels if she has Bethenny all to herself and keeps her from me, it gives her a place on the show.
There was talk you might not be back for season 4.
That's coming from me. First off, Bravo hasn't asked anyone back yet. They haven't even decided if they're picking up the show again. They have a lot more shows coming — [The Real Housewives of] Beverly Hills, D.C., I think there's one in Miami. Atlanta and Jersey are coming back. For me, the show has been exhausting. I want to come back if it's going to be fun; I don't want to fight.