Oprah On Battling Depression, Beloved Tanking & Being Unmarried
Oprah is speaking candidly and dropping gems about life and love. In the September issue of Vogue, the 63-year-old media mogul, who recently made a return to acting, discusses why she feels the film “Beloved” was ahead of it’s time, battling depression, learning from her failures and why she and longtime partner Stedman Graham have never married. Peep the excerpts below.
On how she feels right now:
I don’t know of a person who can honestly, deeply, profoundly speak to the word contentment. I’ve tried to talk to other people about this thing: I have no angst. No . . . nothing. No regret, no fear. I mean . . . just absolute joyful contentment.
If she ever dreamed of being in Vogue:
I’m a black woman from Mississippi . . . I would never have even thought of it as a possibility . . . I’ve been fighting weight all my life, definitely never even thought of myself as an attractive girl. So why would I be dreaming about Vogue? Vogue is the big house! Didn’t think I’d be sittin’ at that table!
Reliving the moment her movie ‘Beloved’ tanked at the box office:
I shall never forget Saturday morning, October 17. I got a call from someone at the studio, and they said, ‘It’s over. You got beat by Chucky.’ And I said, ‘Who’s Chucky? What do you mean it’s over? It’s just Saturday morning!’ I knew nothing about box-office projections or weekend openings. It was ten o’clock in the morning, and I said to Art, “I would like macaroni and cheese for breakfast. And soooo began my long plunge into food and depression and suppressing all my feelings.”
How she handled failure from the film doing poorly:
I actually started to think, Maybe I really am depressed. Because it’s more than ‘I feel bad about this.’ I felt like I was behind a veil. I felt like what many people had described over the years on my show, and I could never imagine it. What’s depression? Why don’t you just pick yourself up?
She says that she was depressed for six weeks. Oprah also admits that she was running around to movie theaters where Beloved was showing to buy blocks of tickets to try to increase ticket sales.
What failure taught her:
It taught me to never again—never again, ever—put all of your hopes, expectations, eggs in the basket of box office. Do the work as an offering, and then whatever happens, happens.
Believing that the film was ahead of its time and how the series Underground proves this:
When someone first mentioned that to me, I go, ‘Nobody’s going to watch a TV show about slavery.’ 12 Years a Slave? When that became a hit, I went, Wow. OK. The culture has shifted.
Acting in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, while trying to launch OWN:
I was trying to start the network, finish a scene, go off to do an interview, come back, do another scene for two days, and then leave again. So I realized that no other actor is doing that. No other actor is trying to run a network, be on the network, be the network. And! Also! With Lee Daniels saying, ‘Now, I want you drunker! I want her to be drunker!’
What show knows now at 63, that she didn’t at 44:
In your 40s, you’re coming into it, you’re intellectualizing things, and you kind of know it and you feel it. But there is a deepening and a broadening and quickening of the knowing that happens in your 50s. Maya Angelou used to say to me, ‘The 50s are everything you’ve been meaning to be.’ You’d been meaning to be that person. By the time you hit 60, there are just no . . . damn . . . apologies. And certainly not at 63. And the weight thing that was always such a physical, spiritual, emotional burden for me—no apologies for that either.
Her one big takeaway from interviewing people for 25 years on her talk show:
Absolutely. There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t want—in any conversation, encounter, experience with another human being—to feel like they matter. And you can resolve any issue if you could just get to what it is that they want—they want to be heard. And they want to know that what they said to you meant something. Most people go their entire lives and nobody ever really wants the answer to ‘How are you? Tell me about yourself.’ And what was so beautifully . . . what is the word? . . comforting about what happened every day on the Oprah show is that people would dress up like they were going to church. Sometimes I would notice somebody and I would say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s a really pretty green dress.’ And she would go: ‘I wore it for you! I knew you would notice me!’ People just want to be seen; they want to be validated.
Pulling the plug on the Oprah Winfrey Show:
I started thinking about the times: where we were, would I be able to take it digital. People were moving into ‘I want to be able to watch it when I want to watch it,’ and the four o’clock hour was no longer must-see television. I could feel that happening with the audience. Their behaviors were shifting, and the media world was changing. I had written something in my journals years before: ‘I never want to stay too long in the ring so I end up punch-drunk.’ I didn’t want people saying, ‘She shoulda quit that show three years ago!’
The sign that she received that it was time to end the show:
I started reading this incredible article about Michael Jackson, and one of Jackson’s friends was quoted as saying, ‘His number-one problem is that he never realized that Thriller was a phenomenon. And he spent the rest of his life trying to chase it.’ And so, when Bad only sold—only sold—20 million albums early on, he was disappointed because it wasn’t Thriller. He thought he was going to top Thriller. I went, Whoa. Pay attention to that. I didn’t want to be the person chasing a phenomenon. And that is what the Oprah show was. All the right elements came together at the right time. That won’t happen again. People would ask me, ‘Who will be the next Oprah?’ And the answer is: ‘There won’t be.’
Her initial intention on creating OWN:
Ohhhhhh, I was so misled in my thinking. I thought I was going to create a network that was Super Soul Sunday all day long. I thought people. . . . I thought I was going to bring this spiritual consciousness–awakening channel! And I soon learned: Ain’t nobody care about that. And the people told me: We’ll listen to you on Sunday, but that’s it. I was going to be the Anthony Bourdain of spirituality. I was going to go from country to country interviewing people in backwoods, in igloos, on mountaintops all over the world, bringing you a look at spiritual consciousness. And honeeeey chiiiild, didn’t I learn!” Oh, my God. America is not ready to be awakened in that way! So what I learned is, you got to give them—what did I call ’em?—snackables! You need snackable spirituality—snackable, digestible moments in an entertaining format, so people can receive it.
Collaborating with Tyler Perry:
The real truth is that we’re in the best place ever. We were able to use Tyler’s audience to build a great foundation for scripted television, and now I am moving into an elevated premium scripted storytelling in a way that I have been dreaming of for a long time.
Partnering with Mara Brock Akil:
She and her husband, Salim, are creating a drama on black love and their life as a sophisticated black couple in Hollywood. I’m excited because I’m building my storytelling tribe. I’m gathering around myself a group of great producers, great writers. That’s what I’m thrilled about. Because I now get to do and say through drama all the things I was trying to say those years on the Oprah show. I get to take all of that energetic . . . dysfunction from thousands and thousands of conversations on the Oprah show and turn it into real drama.
Deciding not to get married ever:
Live life on your own terms. Nobody believes it, but it’s true. The only time I brought it up was when I said to Stedman, ‘What would have happened if we had actually gotten married?’ And the answer is: ‘We wouldn’t be together.’ We would not have stayed together, because marriage requires a different way of being in this world. His interpretation of what it means to be a husband and what it would mean for me to be a wife would have been pretty traditional, and I would not have been able to fit into that.