As sands through the Real Housewives hourglass go, so there must always be chaos when a group of the women sit down for supper. A Housewives dinner typically comprises bitchy jabs, recriminations, swearing, slurred slander, big hair in tousled fury, with the food a spilled and thrown afterthought.
Setting this template high, Teresa Giudice upended a table in the first season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey in a fury over revelations about fellow cast-member Danielle Staub, with cries of “Prostitution! Whore!”
Since then, while there has been glass smashing (Lisa Rinna, Beverly Hills), and plates and cutlery being thrown (Shannon Beador, Orange County), Teresa’s table flip remains a Housewives classic (right up there with New York’s prosthetic leg toss).
After six seasons away, Staub returns to the Jersey franchise tonight for its eighth season, with the debut episode ending with another messy dinner. And after all that rage, Giudice and Staub seem to be friends. It’s Franklin Lakes karma. Or expert storylining.
Eight years is a long time in Housewives history, and Giudice is one of the undisputed queens of the Bravo franchise, where endless platters of cheese and flutes of champagne are consumed in the pursuit of feverish conflict and material competition.
Giudice (it’s pronounced “Jew-dice,” she has said) topped the table flip by pushing Andy Cohen over during that season’s Housewives reunion, and topped that by being sent to jail for tax fraud for 11 months.
Her husband, Joe, is currently serving his 41-month sentence. She still claims she was “just a housewife” utterly in the dark, targeted by the courts because she’s famous. The Bravo cameras have feasted on all the emotional goings-away, the homecomings, the everything.
The eighth season sees Giudice playing single mom to her four daughters, getting pally with Staub again, and becoming a certified yoga instructor. Her tagline this season is: “If you’re not about the Namaste, get out of my way.”
Giudice is a canny marketer, as well as an expert generator of drama. The new season also coincides with the publication of another autobiographical slice of her life, Standing Strong, written with Emily Liebert, which carefully does not include spoilers for Season 8.
We read of her grief of the death of her mother Antonia (in March, aged 66), and her anger at Joe, and the possibility that their marriage may end if he doesn’t change his ways. “He better get his ass in gear on day one,” she writes, anticipating his release from jail.
Today, dressed in a ruched black Nicole Miller top and high-waisted dress, a tanned and TV-made up Giudice—her hair a tumbling, artfully highlit mane—is accompanied by a retinue more befitting of a Hollywood star.
Under the watchful eye of her weary and charming Bravo publicist, there is also Giudice’s lawyer Jim Leonard, Jennifer Pena (who does her hair), and Priscilla DiStasio, who does her make up.
We are all in a small NBC conference room. Someone starts taking our picture, and even though Giudice is mid emotional anecdote she knows she must position her handbag correctly. She is, you sense, perennially camera aware and camera ready.
“Right now, the hardest thing I had to go through in my life was losing my mom and I am still dealing with that. I miss her tremendously every day,” says Giudice, in a more softly modulated tone than you will hear on TV.
But there is a table between us. Any table is vulnerable. I am keen not to tempt disaster.
Her 74-year-old father Giacinto is living with her and “the girls” now, which she says “is difficult because he misses my mom tremendously. They were married for 47 years. It’s hard. Can you imagine being with someone 47 years and then not being with that person any more? They were with each other all the time. They were inseparable. Now he’s with me all the time.
“It’s all on me. He’s like my big kid. It’s sad. I definitely feel women are stronger than men. My mom would have been strong. He’s definitely weaker, even though he’s strong. He fights for his health. I think he’s living for us. He wants to be with my mom, but he’s hanging strong for us.”
Her father is helping Giudice with her daughters; he wants to keep busy. She takes him “everywhere” with her. He gets anxious and doesn’t want to be left alone. He “just went with” the TV cameras in the house. “He knows it’s my job and that's it. America will fall in love with him.”
As for her own grief, Giudice says, “Going away to prison was nothing. The hardest thing ever I have gone through in my life was losing my mom. She was too young. I didn’t think it was going to happen. She was 66. I just needed more time with her. I am standing strong,” (she looks to the book between us), “but I got really upset when I lost my mom. I felt like I lost time with her when I was away in jail. That made me even more angry when I came out. I just wanted to spend quality time with her.”
Writing this latest book has been therapeutic, Giudice says, and within it she talks of her desire to build an “empire” for herself that may include fashion, style, and racy fiction. She tells me and she writes about how busy she is: filming the show for four months a year, then there are the girls and—of course—Joe in jail.
‘I Can’t Predict the Future’
Fans of the show may have split feelings about Joe Giudice. He clearly loves his daughters, and they him. He and Teresa also seem very close, yet we saw him once threaten her with violence (she said it was “alcohol speaking”). Rumors of his infidelity swirled (denied by Teresa).
Their trial and prison sentences seemed to yolk the couple closer together. In the book, Giudice, who strongly denies to me the rumors that she is seeing someone else, writes about Joe getting drunk the day of his arrival at prison.
Her view of their marriage right now would be best summed up as “wait and see,” with hopes of a positive outcome.
“I am waiting for him to come home,” she tells me. “I was angry with him. I became angry after I lost my mom and I voiced it to him. I wanted him to take responsibility for what happened and he did and he’s serving his time but even (to take responsibility) with me, and he has. So when he gets home—and I can’t predict the future—we’ll see. He has to prove he’s a better person.
“When you’re in there all you have time to do is think. I can tell in his emails that he’s bettering himself as a person. He has to prove that as a person too.”
Does Giudice want her marriage to survive?
“Of course, yes, but he has to do the right thing. He has to make sure he’s on top of everything, and not overlooking things. That’s what happened to us. He wasn’t on top of everything. He trusted the wrong people. That’s when things happened. You’ve got to make sure you cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i.’ I want him to be like that.”
People have criticized Giudice for not taking responsibility for her part in the tax fraud.
“At the time I wasn't working. I was a stay at home mom. I was a housewife,” she says vociferously. Until she gave birth to her eldest daughter Gia—who, her mom says, wants to become a lawyer after all that happened to her parents—Giudice worked at Macy’s as a buyer. She didn’t want to leave Gia with a nanny, and so never went back to work.
“He worked,” she says of Joe. “That was his thing. I had nothing to do with the finances. I would ask questions, but he would never tell me anything.
‘Everything’s good, everything’s good, everything’s good. Don’t worry about it,’ he’d say.”
Does she understand why she went to jail?
“Yes, I understand because I did the time. Do I feel it was right? No. I’m an adult, I can handle anything. Who suffered the most were my children. Jail is a living hell. If you’re a mom you do not want to be away from your children. They are my life. That broke my heart every day.”
Her parents were not well, and she would pray every day for them to be healthy, she adds. “One lady in there lost her dad, which was awful. It was a waste of time. If you intentionally do something, do your punishment, but I sometimes feel that if I wasn't in the public eye I probably wouldn’t have been punished in the way I was. But I did what I had to do.
“When people say I am not taking responsibility, I am taking responsibility. I did my time, no problem. But in my opinion, was it fair? No, because I was taken away from my four daughters. And they got punished.”
I ask if the experience changed her, and she says quietly and tightly, “Yes, I don’t trust a lot of people. I feel like there were a lot of hands in the pot, people who didn’t want good for me and Joe. Both of us have got to be wiser about who we allow around us in our circle.”
She also says she has become “more Zen. I used to be very quick. If somebody pisses me off, I answer them back. Now, I don’t even care. I won’t engage with them. I’d rather walk away.”
Don’t worry, Housewives fans, if a camera is near, it can almost be guaranteed that Giudice won’t be walking away.
So no more overturned tables, I say disbelievingly.
“I don't know about that,” she says, laughing. “This season there are no overturned tables, but other things happen.” Yoga helps her feel healthy in body and mind, she says. She might be an instructor one day.
Is she now handling her own affairs? “Me, myself and I. I do it all. Before, Joe was handling it and look what happened. I was never involved because I didn’t work. He had secretaries, an office. I never went there. If I went there I wouldn’t know what I was looking at. He had other business partners. That was his thing. I never got involved. I was home raising my daughters. I was a housewife. I was really a housewife.”
The couple will see when Joe comes out of prison if they want to stay together. He wants the marriage to survive, as she does, says Giudice. “We’re both the kind of people that if we don’t want to be with each other we won’t be with each other. It’s not like (she puts on a dramatic voice),’ Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.’ If he wants to leave he can leave. If I want to leave, I’ll leave. You should be with someone you want to be with, and we want to be with each other. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be with each other.”
‘I Always Had a Mouth on Me’
Growing up, Giudice wanted to be Cher, singing and dancing and swinging that long dark hair. “But look what happened,” she says drily, of her Housewives fame (or infamy, you pick).
“I always had mouth on me. I remember with my dad I would always get my point across. My brother (Joe Gorga, on the show) would kick me under table to say ‘be quiet.’ I was always a hard worker. Whatever I wanted I always got. I was always strong willed.” Her eyes flick to the book again, “Standing strong.”
Her parents wanted her to do what she wanted to do, but also to get married. “They’re old school from Italy, first off the boat. I’m first generation. ‘The girl needs to walk a straight line, have children,’ that kind of thing.”
Her parents were friends with her future husband’s parents. His dad and her dad took her mom to the hospital to have Teresa. “I always liked him. We always talked. He always had a girlfriend. I always had a boyfriend. When we were both single, when I was 23, we met at a club, started talking and that was it.”
It took Giudice 11 months to say yes to becoming a Real Housewife; she didn’t understand what she was getting into. “Then I thought, ‘OK, let’s try this: Follow a group of friends around shopping and eating. I thought it would fun and games.” She pauses. “It didn’t end up being fun and games.”
Giudice is a master of confrontation, and wears her next-level stardom proudly. She knows how to fight, and then be shown having big Italian meals and fun with her girls (her third daughter Milania is the breakout star of the show, and wants, her mother says, to be an actress).
She denies that the show is scripted, or that she and the other women are asked to fight, or even that they know that conflict is the main currency of the show, so know they must enter into vibrant combat on a regular basis.
“I went through a lot on the show,” says Giudice. “I feel like I haven’t had my a-ha moment. Everyone thinks being on TV is glamorous. It hasn’t been like that for me. I’ve been dealing with family issues on the show, legal issues on the show, losing my mom on the show—one thing after another.”
If it’s so hard, does she ever think that it might be better to not do the show?
“No, it’s a part of who I am. It’s me. This is me. I’m not going to walk away from it now. I’m just going to ride the wave.”
It sounds like a self-made Faustian bargain, a plushly appointed trap. Today she looks at the table flip and asks herself if she would ever do it again. “Probably not. I wasn’t proud of it. It showed my ugly face.”
But, she adds, Staub was attacking her friend Dina Manzo at the time, and Giudice was defending her.
How did Giudice and Staub become friends then? “It felt like we never got to know each other because other people were trying to keep us apart. There were people in her ears, and people in my ears. This season we get to know each other. I knew she was fun and did crazy things, and I’m fine with that. I want people to be how they want to be. Now I feel like I’m getting to know her, and she’s a lovely person.”
Does Giudice trust her? The other women don’t seem to.
“I don’t trust anyone any more,” Giudice says quickly. “I can’t trust anyone. I’ve been burned so many times. There are people I do love and adore, but I always have my guard up now. I think everybody should be like that. I feel like a lot of people tried to hurt Joe and me, and it’s sad. I’m not that type of person. I never hurt people intentionally.”
Surely being on TV exacerbates that, I say.
“Yes, I think so, people do get jealous over crazy things. They’re not happy for you. They want to hurt you, or try to take you down.”
Which again raises the question, why she wants to be on TV if it brings all this chaos and hurt with it.
“I’ve been on it so long it feels like if I was not on it it would be kinda strange. I’m just used to it by now. I’m not going to go backwards. I’m going forwards and seeing what else is out there.”
Do the women generate conflict? “No, we’re just living our lives, going through the motions. Sometimes life is not perfect, and drama does happen.”
The fights are genuine?
So, she and Jacqueline Laurita, her former close friend…
“I don’t speak to her not at all.” The relationship is over? “Done. I saw the true colors. So once you see that you move on. So done.”
People would ask Giudice what she was doing in the next five or 10 years. “I’m not predicting the future. Whatever God wants, that’s what’s going to happen. Whatever path I’m going to walk that’s what’s going to happen.”
Will she become the primary breadwinner for her family?
No definitely not,” she says strenuously. “When [Joe] comes home he’s got to step up. I’d like for us both to work but I’m old school. I don’t want to be the prime breadwinner. He needs to do it. Also, he’s not going to be Mr. Mom, definitely not. I’m not that kind of girl. I could be that kind of girl on my own, but not with another guy.”
Their daughters miss Joe—“Daddies can do no wrong”—and sometimes she goes with them to the jail. “I don’t like going there, being in that room and with everyone there. It’s great to see him, but I don’t like the whole atmosphere.”
I ask if she is dating anyone else; a report said she was seeing a New Jersey businessman. “No, I have a lot of friends but no dating.” Does she plan to before Joe is released? “No, obviously not. But do I go out with my friends? Of course. I’m not a hermit. I’m not going to sit in the house and twiddle my thumbs. That’s not me.”
Joe has lost weight and become “very hot” in jail, she says. “Remember he was puffy before? I said to him, ‘puffy isn’t good, you’ve got to be lean.’ He looks good. I can’t wait for him to come home.”
So, there are no conjugal visits at the jail?
“Not really. It’s kind of weird. He said if it was a camp, then maybe.”
Joe is also taking mental stock. “I know he feels guilty and bad about the situation that he put me and our daughters in,” says Giudice. “He says it all the time, that he feels bad. But we can’t talk about spilled milk any more. We’ve got to move on and make things better.”
‘I’m Pretty Much the Same Person When the Camera is Off’
In the book, Giudice writes about the time, she and her husband tried to have her son through in-vitro fertilization. It didn’t work, and then “in the natural way,” as she puts it, they had their fourth daughter, Audriana. “To tell you the truth, I wanted another girl. He wanted a boy. I just wanted a boy to see what he would look like. But I don’t like boys. It feels like once they’re married they leave you. I feel like daughters always stay with you.”
Audriana, Giudice says very happily, sees her as an “idol,” and always compliments her on what she is wearing.
She cannot wait for her experience of fame not to be negative, she says. “The hardest part is being judged. They shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. They think they know me. But you shouldn’t judge anybody unless you walk in their path or their shoes.”
The legal system judged her the worst, Giudice says.
Having said all that, she adores being a Real Housewife. “I do enjoy it. It’s who I am. I’ve been part of it for so long. It’s part of my family. It’s my job. I’m pretty much the same person when the camera is off. I’m not like Jekyll and Hyde. What you see is what you get. I’m fine with it, I guess. I signed up to do reality TV. You are who you are.”
Giudice is friends and has hung out with other stars in the franchise like Lisa Vanderpump, Kyle Richards, Brandi Glanville, Shannon Beador, Dorinda Medley, and Tamra Judge, whom she told something to, to see if it would get back to Laurita. “I did. It was a test.” She laughs.
She has regular Botox injections, but no plastic surgery yet. “I’m all for it. Listen, you need to keep up with yourself. You can’t let everything go. Nothing lasts forever. Just as you do home upkeep, you do the same thing with your body.”
When I ask if Giudice has had therapy, she says she has “on the show, so you’ll see that,” as if this is a storyline more than something very personal. I ask if it was helpful, and she says, she tried it “on the show” and if a person feels the need to do it, they should go for it. “I tried it, I’m a pretty strong person, so I’m good,” she says.
Her future may not lie in New Jersey. “I would like to move somewhere warm. I don't like the cold at all. I’d like to move to California. The sun makes you happy. I am not a winter person.”
She also writes, and repeats to me, that she’d like to move to Kentucky, “where nobody would know me. Well, I guess they would slightly know me. I would try something different. I’m not stuck in Jersey.”
‘My Daughters Make Me Keep Going’
Giudice once bought her mother a designer handbag. “She didn’t care about it. She was the opposite to me, and I loved that. She would laugh. ‘I don’t know where you came from. You’re so not like me.’”
Giudice’s voice cracks again, and she wells up. “The girls (her castmates) have been so amazing. They’ve helped me get through it. I’ll start crying now. If it wasn’t for the show, it wouldn’t have been good. My mom was my life.”
Giudice’s upset increased after this season finished taping at the beginning of June. But she wanted the girls to have a fun summer, so focused on that. “I always told my mom, if you go, I’m going,” she says, crying, then asks for some water. “My daughters make me keep going.”
Siggy Flicker, her co-star who has joined us, says: “My kids are grown now. Things are so much harder when you don’t have little kids as distractions, even if they are a lot of work.”
All her daughters are protective of her, Giudice says, and she talks lovingly of all of them: Gia’s legal aspirations; Gabriella being an honors math and English student and her beloved soccer (and Giudice’s unlikely transformation to a soccer mom on the sidelines during games); Milania’s constant entertaining; and Audriana’s dancing. Her mom has already told her she’ll be on Dancing with the Stars.
She wants the girls to be out there doing things, she says; as a girl, she was too stuck in the house. On a Sunday evening they all convene for a set family supper.
The book title really does sum up her mood, she says. “I miss my mom tremendously,” says Giudice. “I really do think about her every day. I wish she was still here. I’m sure she’s around me. I just want to see her. I’m sure she’s looking over me. She was a great role model. As a person I am strong because of her.”
I ask if she’ll stick with the New Jersey Housewives; can she ever imagine leaving the show?
“I’m not going to walk away from it now, it’s part of me now. It is part of my identity.”
What if she had no choice in the matter and the show ended?
“I’m not predicting the future, never again. I don’t know whatever my path is supposed to be, that’s where I’m going to walk. Whatever God wants that’s what am going to do.”
She is repeating herself, because what is a Real Housewife without her own familiar homily for an opening credits tagline… or a soft-feminist battle cry which hopefully ties into something she wants you to buy.
As Teresa Giudice says to me in farewell, “I’m working on standing strong, and focusing on one thing at a time.”
The table between us, just for the record, stayed unflipped.