Monday 15 October 2012

Oprah Winfrey For Harpers Bazaar November Issue

Oprah Winfrey is sitting in a New York photo studio, wearing a cheery yellow sweater and green jeans, her hair slicked back into a ponytail. She looks fit and energized, pondering a selection of crudités arrayed in front of her and joking that they go well with her outfit.

Winfrey is fully aware that she needn't be in this photo studio at all. She could be sitting at her estate in Montecito, California—or her ranch in Hawaii, for that matter—sipping a fruity cocktail. She could be enjoying the paradisiacal fruits of her labors (quite literally, her organic-garden harvests every Thursday) every day, forever. Her cocktail of choice, should she choose to pursue this route, would be tequila with lemon over crushed ice.

"A couple of times I've thought this, on a Thursday," she observes, leaning forward on the couch. "I'm picking squash from the vine, saying to myself, 'Self, would you be happy doing this every day? Would you be happy discussing how big your tomatoes are?'"

The answer, of course, is no. Instead, last year, after 25 years as the first lady of television, and with barely enough time to sleep, let alone sip a cocktail, she ended The Oprah Winfrey Show and started an entire network, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

"This is the deal," Winfrey says of her decision to found and program—in partnership with Discovery Communications—a 24-7 network featuring all-original programming, with the DNA of Oprah but not, at its inception, much of Oprah herself. "When you have reached the peak of a mountaintop, which is where I was with the Oprah show, you have absolutely no worries," she explains of the ambitious undertaking. "I'd been in the right space at the right time, and I'd done that in the best way possible for 25 years. But you have two choices: You can come down from the mountain and spend the rest of your days thinking it was so beautiful there, or you can create a vision, look upward, see the next mountain, and start the climb all over again."

To continue the metaphor, though, even the best mountain climbers need to rest, to regain their breath. The launch of OWN has been extraordinarily challenging—Winfrey and her team struggled with low-rated programming, canceled Rosie O'Donnell's much hyped talk show, and made the early mistake of assuming that Oprah viewers would automatically jump to OWN when a sizable number of them didn't have cable. "Now I wish that I'd come down just a little bit," Winfrey says of the Everest to her pre-conquered Kilimanjaro. "I ask myself, 'Why couldn't you just take three months off?'"

But she didn't. Why? "Because I was already in it," she answers bluntly. "What was missing from OWN was me. It required my full-on energy. You know, this past year has been challenging, but it's also been one of the greatest experiences for me getting to know me. What do you do when you don't have the wind at your back?" She lets out her booming laugh. "All these nature metaphors!"
If anything, OWN is daring. "Oh big, oh yes, big, oh yes," she says, exhaling. "The biggest of the biggest of the biggest. I mean, you have no idea how big this is."

Winfrey has been daring for 58 years, on-and off-screen, adopting as her personal mission the empowerment of others. "I come from a history of people who had no opportunities at all, and I carry that with me." For her, daring means "coming to the edge. Seeing the space between where I am and where I want to go. It's pretty wide! But having the faith to take the leap anyway and knowing that no matter where you land, it's going to be okay. And I feel really good that I did."
She sees, in some way, what she does as a calling and her heart as her "brand." But it prompts the question: Is it ever possible to separate the two? "No, I've never been divorced from it," Winfrey says. "Every decision that I ever made came from the heart of me, and that's what created the brand, you know? I used to resist this whole idea of being a brand. Because I was like, I'm not a brand, I'm just a person. But now I accept that. It's everything that I value."

As evangelical as she can be, Winfrey does a good sideline in sardonic. "The most delicious experience for me is Super Soul Sunday, the show I do on Sunday mornings. It's just a tiny little show. I can read every Facebook response from the viewers. And when I say I read your Facebook response, I can because there are 28 of them." She hoots and lands one of a number of high fives.
But onward. OWN has recently, and unsurprisingly, had the most ratings success with its MVP. Oprah's Next Chapter, on which Winfrey interviews tabloid favorites like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian (and Whitney Houston's daughter, Bobbi Kristina, following her mother's death), has been the highest-rated program in the network's young history, with up to 3.5 million weekly viewers. She is also excited about a new slate of programming, such as inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant's no-BS self-help show, Iyanla: Fix My Life, and the reality show Married to the Army: Alaska.

Winfrey is doing all this while trying to live up to her most celebrated maxim, "Live your best life." "Ah, yes," she says. "I'm a work in progress when it comes to practicing my most famous motto. Like this morning, I had the intention to meditate for 20 minutes, but I really only made it about 12. And then I said, 'Okay, don't beat yourself up; you did the 12.' I had the intention to work out for an hour, but I only did a half. And even with that I was still a half hour later getting here, so..."
Her schedule is manic. Winfrey is an early bird, up by 5:45, 6 A.M. ("Stedman's usually up at 5:30.") Breakfast of late is "blackberries and half a banana, some almond milk and a little protein powder." While still in bed she reads a passage from, then from The Bowl of Saki: "It's like the Sufi Daily Word." Then it's a workout, followed by either travel or doing "five or six" calls with her network heads, or both, and, she says, sighing, "trying to work out how social media will fit in there." (Winfrey is also working on getting seven graduates of her girls' school in South Africa settled in American colleges.) She doesn't catch up with famed best friend Gayle King as regularly these days, given that King, a cohost of CBS This Morning, needs to be asleep nightly by 8:30. "I was on the phone with Gayle the other night," Winfrey recalls. "She asked me a question, and then it was...snore!" She howls with laughter.

Along with "finishing the job I started with this network," Winfrey has ventured back into acting, in Lee Daniels's The Butler, out next year. In Oprah-land, a role in a film by the director of Precious and The Paperboy was "a little mini vacation, but," she lowers her voice dramatically, "I didn't know what the hell acting was! I just now figured it out. I am so stunned because all this time I've been doing it wrong!" (Hoot and a high five.)

She's been working with Nicole Kidman's acting coach, Susan Batson, calling it "the best therapy ever. I was literally in a coaching session with her and just crying my heart out. Thinking about, you know, a boyfriend from when I was in my 20s. That bastard!"

Winfrey does take some time for herself, though. Ironically, she doesn't watch television. "I have to force myself. Only what I need to. You know, the shoemaker has no shoes." She has downloaded all Fifty Shades of Grey novels. "Oh, I've got all the Shades, for the time I can take some guilty pleasure and just read. But I'm thinking, Stop with the story, get to the juicy part!" Her greatest indulgence, however, is a bath. "Bathing is my hobby. I love creating bathing experiences—bath gels, bubbles, crystals, salts, lavender milks..." Does she go prune? "Oh, yeah! I go prune. I go waaaay prune. I've gone to sleep."

The lasting success of Oprah Winfrey comes from the opposite: She never rests. What she demonstrates is that you can be a star, a veritable savior ("Oh, yeah, I'm in the gates, baby!" she laughs), and still be hungry. What she is hungry for, specifically, gives her pause. So much so that she calls back a few days later from location on The Butler.

"I'm in the middle of nowhere, in Louisiana, in a cornfield," she says, "the exact opposite of wearing a red coat for Bazaar. I've been thinking, What am I hungry for? Well, I'm hungry to awaken and open people's hearts. And you know how I told you how exhausting acting is? It's equally exhilarating. But I was so tired from shooting a funeral scene that I passed out on my bed with the lights on. Anyway, that's all! Oh, and I really love that red coat. Bye!" - By Laura Brown ( )

Photography              : Terry Richardson.
Fashion Editor           : Ann Caruso 


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