Rosie O’Donnell on Getting More Roles as She Ages and the Bette Midler Connection to Her ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ Character

Rosie O’Donnell says she was never going to have plastic surgery as a Hollywood actress, a decision that has afforded her more opportunities in Hollywood as she’s aged.

In a recent interview with Vulture, the League of Your Own and Sleepless in Seattle star spoke about her absence from movie and TV projects for a stretch of her career following her six-season run as a daytime talk show host on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. The actress, writer and producer said that after leaving the show, she became know as a specific character in Hollywood, making it more difficult to cast her, but that she assumed roles would come to her in her older age anyways, especially after passing on things like plastic surgery.

“By the time I left my show in 2002, I was very well-known as that character. I think it would have been hard to cast me in a role in a movie,” O’Donnell explained. “I always knew as an actress that when I got into my 60s I would be playing the Geraldine Page roles. I wasn’t going to have plastic surgery. I was going to look the way a woman my age should look, and I always thought that would be a blessing in my older age. I would get to play the Colleen Dewhurst roles. That has turned out to be true. I’m getting all this acting work now that I’m closing in on 60.”

During the interview, O’Donnell elaborated on how her “character” may have been viewed by much of Hollywood, pointing to her political outspokenness and calling herself “pretty incendiary.” The actress said being a polarizing figure — which resonated with some people but turned off others — could have made it harder for some people in the industry to see her beyond that when it came to casting.

“I was also pretty incendiary. I was talking about things like the war being illegal and immoral at a time when most people were not. I was talking about the problems with George Bush as a president. I was somewhat polarizing. There were some people who really enjoyed what I had to say and thought, Good for you, you speak for me. And there were other people who were repulsed by it and thought, How dare she?” O’Donnell said. “So once you become known for your opinions and your passions, it’s hard for people to see you as a blank canvas to blend into a character.”

When asked whether she was a “risk” for Hollywood as a result of her opinions, O’Donnell said she wouldn’t describe it that way, but that, for her, the career break was also a chance to recover following the superstardom she experienced from hosting the NBC talk show.

“I don’t know about a risk, necessarily, but there were safer choices they could make,” she said. “I was also home with my kids. I needed a long recovery from the six years I did [on The Rosie O’Donnell Show]. That superstardom is close to a postmortem feeling. It’s isolating and disorienting.”

During the interview, O’Donnell also spoke about her wide-ranging career, which saw her catapulted to major fame following a number of back-to-back hits, including live-action The Flintstones, A League of Their Own and rom-com Sleepless in Seattle. Led by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks — and serving as the second time O’Donnell appeared in a film with Hanks in two years — her Sleepless character Becky became a beloved rom-com best friend. O’Donnell says she used Bette Midler as inspiration for her characterization.

“I was saying to people during interviews that they should give Bette Midler a residual check because I was copying the way Bette Midler walked, sort of the way she talked. It was an homage to Bette for me. When I’m walking with Meg in the park, I’m doing my Bette Midler walk. I kept thinking, What would Bette do? How would Bette spice up this part and make it come alive on the screen, which she’s so good at doing?”

Leave a Comment