When Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign on June 15, 2015, Rosie O’Donnell was initially amused.
“I was, like, laughing my ass off,” she told Seth Meyers on his Late Night show last November. “That little escalator down, with the fake crowd, and him going, ‘Here’s my wife who loves me,’ and she’s like [in O’Donnell’s comic rendering of a Slovenian accent] ‘How do I get out of here?’”
At the outset of Trump’s unlikely candidacy—by erroneous appearances, a joke—O’Donnell was determined to keep her own counsel and resist entering the fray, she told The Daily Beast.
But then came Fox News’ Aug. 6 Republican candidates debate in Cleveland, where Megyn Kelly famously began a question to Trump: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,’” and Trump infamously retorted: “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”
“I was going to wait it out in silence when he announced, and I was thinking ‘don’t provoke him or do anything,’” O’Donnell recalled to The Daily Beast during what she described as a rare post-election interview concerning the 45th president of the United States. “But when he said that, I was like, ‘All right, motherfucker, I’m gonna go down swinging. You take your shots, man, and I’ll take mine. Here we go!’ ”
After Trump became the GOP standard-bearer in the summer of 2016, O’Donnell said she contacted officials in Hillary Clinton’s campaign—suggesting that as a street kid from Long Island, she would happily go low, punching back with down-and-dirty replies to Trump’s negative attacks, while Hillary stayed high.
“I did offer myself to the Clinton campaign. I said, ‘I know what he is and who he is. This is a street fight between two kids from Queens, and I feel you should have me on the team, because you don’t know what he’s gonna do, and what that feels like’—and I had a decade of experience,” O’Donnell recalled. “‘You need a counter to the insanity, but not by you. Let me and Alec Baldwin [another combative Long Island native] do that.’”
Nothing, however, came of O’Donnell’s offer.
After the election, “I knew it was time for me to get in my own bunker, so to speak, and figure out how I’m gonna make my way through this,” she said.
Aside from a Twitter feed that amounts to a sustained assault on her nemesis, O’Donnell’s strategy for making her way through this—similar to that of another anti-Trump celebrity performer, Jim Carrey—has been to take refuge, and seek solace, in the making of visual art.
The multi-talented comedian, film and television actress, and Broadway star—who celebrated her 56th birthday on Wednesday—has been spending quality time in her art studio, the converted fourth bedroom of her recently purchased $8 million penthouse in Manhattan’s Turtle Bay neighborhood.
During the day, when her 5-year-old daughter, Dakota, is off in school, O’Donnell paints acrylics of Trump on canvas and, using an iPad Pro and a stylus, creates disturbing digital images of her archenemy with titles like “Coward,” “Liar,” “Rapist,” “Thief,” and, most recently, “Stormy.”
The acrylic-on-canvas paintings are not for sale, but the digital images—which O’Donnell arranges to have printed on 5-by-7 and 8-by-10 sheets of polished aluminum, limited to 12 copies of each—are being offered on Etsy.com for prices under $200.
O’Donnell plans to donate the proceeds, which she said she’ll match dollar for dollar, “to 501-C3’s that he hates,” as she puts it—that is, nonprofits like Planned Parenthood, gun control groups fighting the National Rifle Association, LGBTQ organizations, and others representing causes that have been under assault by the Trump administration.
“When this happened—the Trump thing—I was so enraged every time I saw his image, I thought, ‘I’ve got to fucking do something with that,’” O’Donnell said, explaining her traumatized reaction to Trump’s ascension to the White House. “The country is in a state of grief and mourning and shock and PTSD, and there’s a tremendous amount of healing that has to happen. And hopefully that will start very soon when he is ousted, as he should be—having been placed in the position of president by the Russian government. If that doesn’t terrify every human being of voting age, I don’t know what would.”
O’Donnell, who is untrained as a visual artist, has been creating images since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when she started making collages of news photographs and later added paint; over the years, her work has been featured in half a dozen exhibitions around the country.
She said that when she began painting and drawing her Trump portraits a few months ago, she had no thought of raising money—or even of raising anybody’s consciousness. Instead, in the midst of soul-crushing anger and depression, she was making art as a coping mechanism—or even as an exorcism.
“I’m doing it for my OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] and my anxiety, because I feel so powerless and helpless,” she said. “I’m not trying to raise money specifically. I’m trying to, like, get it out of me. It’s not like I set out with ‘I’m gonna ruin him by making $100,000!’ I didn’t think that... I can’t help what comes out of me. I don’t sit there at home and think, ‘How can I get that bastard? Let me paint his picture!’ My anxiety takes over.”
Although making, packaging, selling, and shipping her Trump images is “a lot of work,” O’Donnell said, “for me, its good—because then I’m not watching MSNBC and screaming at the TV.”
O’Donnell, of course, has more than a decade-long history of verbal violence with the reality television billionaire.
It dates back at least to December 2006, when as co-host and moderator of ABC’s The View, she called out Trump’s hypocrisy in his public condemnation of the supposedly immoral behavior of Tara Conner, the 20-year-old winner of his Miss USA pageant, who was photographed kissing another woman in a New York bar.
On the air, O’Donnell mocked his multiple business bankruptcies and extramarital affairs, along with his weird hairdo—and Trump responded with a vicious fusillade of insults that persisted for weeks of uninterrupted invective.
“I was like, ‘Fuck you, you slimy old piece of shit,’” she recalled, adding that another panelist on the show, comedian Joy Behar, warned her off the air that Trump was “powerful.”
“Powerful in what way? Powerful in the world of fake rich people? What are you talking about?” O’Donnell recalled responding.
“The thing is, Trump wants to be Tony Soprano,” she told The Daily Beast. “But the fact is, Putin is a real gangster. He’s not a TV gangster that Trump is trying to emulate. Trump is not a real mobster, player, murderer guy.”
Citing the multiple sexual assault allegations against Trump, O’Donnell predicted, “I think eventually his sexual predatory nature is going to be what takes him down.”
O’Donnell said she plans to watch this Sunday’s 60 Minutes segment featuring Stormy Daniels
“I’m friendly with Marla Maples,” O’Donnell continued, noting that they became pals years ago when both were fronting Broadway musicals (Maples starring in The Will Rogers Follies and O’Donnell in Grease) and shared the same dresser, “and none of what she [Daniels] says is going to be a surprise to me. That’s all I’ll say, because Marla Maples, too, has an NDA. The fact is, I know a lot about this guy.”
O’Donnell recalled being invited to Maples’ 1993 wedding to Trump, who “walked down the aisle in the Trump Plaza Hotel and shook hands with people sitting in the folding chairs, as if he was a car salesman or some kind of pop star greeting the crowd.”
She said that in his insistence on rating women by their looks, Trump, hardly a physical specimen himself, reminds her of a joke told by stand-up comic Dom Irerra: “Men think they’re so good looking that no matter how beautiful the woman is, men think they’re great. You could have a guy who’s homeless, and he’s in a garbage bin, and Christie Brinkley walks by and he’s like, “Heyyyy! How ya doin’, Christie?’ As if she’s gonna turn around and go, ‘Wow! Is all this trash yours? And the bin, too?’ And that’s how I always think of Donald Trump—the Dom Irrera joke.”
O’Donnell said that other than quick hellos at various celebrity events around town, “I have spoken to the man in person once”—at a 2003 Survivor reunion she hosted when Trump was considering doing The Apprentice with Survivor producer Mark Burnett.
O’Donnell, who was dubbed the “Queen of Nice” when she hosted a popular daytime show from 1996 to 2002, added: “I never had him on my TV show. He always wanted to be on, and I would never book him, because I grew up on Long Island, and I knew what an asshole he was…
“So, it wasn’t a surprise to me, at 56 years old, that this 71-year-old man, who I knew my entire life, is an idiot, a moron, and then when we became personally involved—and he attacked me with the viciousness that he did—I knew he was really not right in the head… Listen, he’s one of the dumbest people I’ve ever met.”
O’Donnell continued: “You know, he’s a logo-slapper. He doesn’t build jack shit. The image that he has sold of himself to America, complicit with the mainstream media’s help, is a total fabrication.”
O’Donnell said that in the midst of their war of words in 2007, Trump offered her $2 million to join the cast of Celebrity Apprentice—an offer she recalls turning down with a less than diplomatic two-word response; she said she declined millions more to appear alongside Trump and David Letterman in the famed Doritos Super Bowl commercial that ended up featuring Oprah Winfrey and late-night talk show rivals Letterman and Jay Leno.
“I said I will never do anything with that fucking piece of shit, no matter what he offers me, no matter what he asks me to do,” O’Donnell recalled. “I will never be in his universe. So no!”
As for the Trump pictures she continues to paint in her art studio at home and make on her iPad Pro, O’Donnell said she will undoubtedly stop when, as, and if his presidency ends—whether by impeachment, resignation, or a loss in the 2020 election.
“I will never make another one, as soon as he’s done.”