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Celebrity Apprentice Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an interview with finalists Marlee Matlin and John Rich on May 16, 2011 about appearing on the show Celebrity Apprentice.

Marlee Matlinh

John, you and Lil Jon got along pretty well throughout the competition. Can we expect to hear some kind of musical collaboration between the two of you in the near future?

John Rich:
I'm glad you asked that question, because it did feel like a very important relationship. Not only because Lil Jon and I are really great friends, but as an example to our two audiences that cowboys and rappers basically can get along and work had for charities and break down some of those stereotypes. So Lil John and I actually did record something together and there's actually a record coming out right now called Rich Rocks. And Lil Jon appears on that record as a guest artist and it's a really cool thing. I've had a huge response from all the country fans that are really liking Lil Jon too. And from his side he tells me there's a lot of his fans that are starting to look at my music. It's just a great relationship all the way around.

Marlee Matlin:
I was supposed to be a backup singer, but my schedule wouldn't accommodate it.

John Rich:
That's right, and tambourine and dancing too I thought.

Marlee Matlin:
Actually I was supposed to be in charge of the cow bell.

I have to ask actually the same question for both of you. What is it about your opponent that makes them such tough competition?

John Rich:
You know there are several things about Marlee.

John Rich:
Let's start off with how smart Marlee is because she is wickedly smart. And she's also very funny; she has a great sense of humor and is very charming. So she's able to really get a lot done. You know when she's project manager or when she's even part of the team, she can really get a lot of things done. But I think there's other elements to Marlee that make her a very powerful person. One is she's a mom. She's a great mom; she has several kids. And to me, I have all the respect in the world for moms. It's the hardest job there is.

So she's a great mom, she's a dynamic personality. And of course she's overcome her deafness. She has overcome a huge challenge and has gone on to accomplish great, great things and has not let that slow her down at all and is really one of the strongest people I've ever met. I would consider her like a superhero kind of. You know, she needs an M on her chest. She's just a great person. And from the very beginning of Celebrity Apprentice, there was definitely a mutual respect from across the room between the two of us. Just an unspoken thing, it was hard to describe.

It just was looks we would give each other every now and then that was just an understanding of, "We're both here for our charities. We're serious about this," and that we were going to we were going to compete all the way as far we could. It was always there, you could feel it in the air between the two of us.

Marlee Matlin:
Thank you John, that's very sweet. I'll make sure that the check comes in the mail to you in the later for all those wonderful things that you said about me.

In any case, I would have to say when I first heard that John Rich was on the show, I have to admit that as a person who's deaf, I didn't know who he was as a musician. But I knew as soon as I had heard that he represented country music, and naturally Nashville and the hat that he wore when he came in, and the charity that he was playing for, I understood a very important position that he held here.

I mean there was an instant and an immediate sense of respect. It was just about eye contact. I'm good at reading people's faces, and the moment I looked at his eyes I knew that he was a formidable competitor. In addition he couldn't have been a more polite and a more gentlemanly presence. What was most impressed was that he was there for the same reason I was there for; it wasn't about the drama, it was about the charity.

His passion for Saint Jude's is so incredible that finally saw that we both shared a passion for our charities in a way that nobody else could. I knew he was there for a good reason. And I saw that every moment of the day that he worked. He kept to himself as a good game player would. He was mature, well most of the time. No, I'm kidding. But his sense of humor as well. I mean he got me, and I got him. And that helped me. And I didn't at any time with him feel as if somehow just because I'm deaf I'm somehow different.

And he was very, very proud as a dad with his baby boy and his wife and - who were always there having his back. And as a family person I understood what and where he came from, and his compassion for the kids and the charity. And I really have the utmost respect for John Rich, not only as a country singer but also as a gentleman and person who has good intentions for people and for those in situations where they have to struggle.

John Rich:
That was very nice Marlee. Thank you very much.

Marlee Matlin:
You're welcome.

John, can you talk about what you learned from managing a guy like Gary Busey that helped get you into the finals?

John Rich:
Well you know, "Managing Gary Busey," is probably the right way to say it because it is a management situation with Gary. I can tell you that Gary has these moments of complete clarity and genius thought. And then the rest of the time he's kind of like a tornado he tears up a lot.

So it's really all about giving Gary - it was all about giving him a job that you knew he could do well at and excel with. And it was a big lesson being around him because it was a constant challenge to your focus. Because Gary's real - Gary's really loud, and he's really kind of, you know going all directions all at the same time.

And you can't let that throw you off your game. You can't let that get your mind off of why you're there, which is to win the task or to raise money, or whatever it is you're doing that exact minute. You have to do it well to stay in the game and get to the point that we're at now. So Gary is a good person. I like Gary Busey. I got nothing against Gary Busey at all. Matter of fact, I hope to spend time with him in the future. He's hilarious and he's intense. And I I'm glad that I know him. I think he's a good man.

Marlee, looking back is there a lesson to be learned with Star and NeNe and how there relation impacted the team?

Marlee Matlin:
Well I mean I don't know if it's necessarily a lesson one learned, but I knew myself that whatever the hoopla that was that surrounded the relationship that they had and whatever drama came I didn't choose to involve it in terms of the way I played the game.

Whoever dealt with whatever way they decided to deal with each other was something that - it's just not who I'm about. It's not the kind of person that I am. I don't find it entertaining to me to get involved in people's arguments like that. Again, it was about the two of them. I know a lot of America as well as internationally, probably enjoyed it. Because of course it's nice, or interesting to them to see two women go at it. But that's not how I've ever appreciated or approached life.

So I think both of them have different opinions. Both of them come from two different minds. And that's to be respected. They both have different backgrounds, they both have different upraisings. Clearly they have different careers. But whatever clash that occurred, I again, I almost felt like it got too old too quick. And I just decided to focus on the task. I really did. It's not about who I am. And sometimes it overshadowed the purpose and my aim for being there, which was to raise charity. But I would never let it get in the way.

So that's what it was about for me. But they are both women whom I respect. They're both women who I know are very vocal. And that's what's great about them. That's why they are game players. One may be louder than the other. One may deal with things in a little bit more discrete fashion. But whatever it is, it is what it is.

Marlee, you've had Meatloaf on your team two challenges in a row now. What has it been like trying to handle his full spectrum of emotions? We've seen tears, anger, joy, everything from this guy.

Marlee Matlin:
Well I've got to say is that when I started with the women's team, I got to know pretty much everybody and their individual personalities. And I really didn't get to know Team Backbone so well until Meatloaf was brought in. Of course, I've known Meatloaf, of who he was. I'm not a fan of his music necessarily, but I know, you know his work as an actor. And I know the persona he played in the 70s with his Bat Out of Hell years.

And when he joined our team, when he started to sort of direct, when we were talking about the OnStar commercials, he assured me that he said, "He was experienced and he knew what he was doing in film and television. And that he was such a seasoned performer for 30 years in front of audiences." But I really didn't get a clue into how he worked and I tried to keep an open mind with it, about how he dealt with stress, how decided to make decisions, how he decided to listen. And all I can say is that he's extremely passionate. He wants to, if he could, take over a task because he as I said on the show, "He's like a tornado on crack." And in a good way.

He when it was his turn and he took over the comedy routine task, I understood that he was very upset one morning. And we couldn't even find him. And we were - you know, because we normally get together for sound. And he was there in the van waiting and he was sobbing. And that threw me for a loop, because I just never knew that he was this kind of guy.

But I learned that this is only out of his heart, this is only out of his compassion for the Painted Turtle charity that he was playing for. And all I saw was a guy who was so compassionate about raising money and how concerned he was that the money would be taken away. Because it was all about the kids and not for him.

He is completely selfless. He is completely giving. And yet he can go off track, but at the same time, who doesn't who's that compassionate about charity? So all I can say is, "I'd love to do a movie with him." He's really fantastic. And I really, really am glad to be him as my friend. And to work with him for those two tasks.

John, which was harder for you to keep your composure; in the midst of the Gary Busey/Meatloaf fight, or last night when Piers Morgan was insulting your hat?

John Rich:
I would say that the Gary Busey/Meatloaf - we call it the meltdown; that was the toughest thing that I believe I dealt with, because I was Project Manager. And I watched these two guys that I'm fans of both of them. I love Gary's movies and I love Meatloaf's music. And they're both they're both quite a bit older than me. I mean they're up around my dad's age. I think Meatloaf is 62. And I'm not exactly sure of Gary's age. But I definitely felt like the junior member I'm 37.

And I'm looking at these guys going, "Okay, what can I say to these guys to make this stop?" Because Meatloaf was not playing around. And Gary, I don't think was in touch enough with situation to understand that Meatloaf wasn't playing around. And it was about one second away from something really irreversible happening there. And something bad. And I didn't want see that happen for anybody's sake. I took a breath. It seemed like everything kind of went in slow motion for a minute and the light bulb went off in my mind, "Remind these guys that we are here for charity, and our charities are going to be watching this episode and this is embarrassing."

And as soon as I said that, it extinguished everything. Meatloaf just relaxed and went, "Oh my god what have I just done?" Gary Busey stepped back into his corner and went, "Wow, we got to stop this." And to me that was a critical few seconds that happened in the show. And you know what? I think I handled it the right way. And back to the point of you're there for charity - and I know we say that a lot. But had I not been there for charity - if we were all there for just drama - I would have just let the thing go. I would have just stepped back to see what was going to happen. But that was not what was best, so I stepped in on that.

As far as Piers Morgan, you know listen, I think he was there to play his role of the agitator. You know, he was throwing darts at people to see if he could get under your skin, see if he could make you say something off color, or you know, expose you a little bit. And you know, listen, I'm wearing a cowboy hat in New York City for God's sake. You think I don't hear, "Yee Haw," every time I walk around the corner? It's not a big deal to me. I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. I'm a Texan. They put a cowboy hat on my head when I was three years old to keep the sun out of my face. It's not a fashion statement to me; I've had one on my head my whole life. So a British guy picking on my cowboy hat is not exactly something that's going to set me off.

When he started picking on my creative writing, I thought, "Okay, he's digging a little deeper trying to get - make it even more personal." But I just wasn't going to take that bait, because I knew what it was. And it was pretty transparent what he was trying to do. And I know he's not a bad guy. He was playing a role and I took it as such.

Do you regret picking any of the members of your final team, or are you happy with your choices?

Marlee Matlin:
My choices were most appropriate for my task. Because this is what we're talking about; we're talking about the 70s. I understand 70s better than 80s. I mean I grew up liking the Brady Bunch. I looked forward to ever day in the 70s in my neighborhood. And so I understood the icons in the 70s. I knew John would probably be better with 80s because I just felt because he's younger than I am. So 80s makes more sense for him.

And I didn't want to play where he was in, I wanted to play to my strength as opposed to weakness if it was 80s versus 70s, music versus sports. And I think me taking on a music task with me being deaf might take away from John's passion, which is music. I don't pretend. I don't like to play fake games. I want to play something that I am strong with. I wanted to accomplish that.

So using that, the people I chose were for of course, Meatloaf because he's an icon of the 70s. And he was right there. Richard Hatch was older and he certainly understood the 70s as well as I understood the 70s. And La Toya Jackson was my last choice. It was a schoolyard pick, so I probably would have probably taken someone other than La Toya. But my advantage was is that she's a Jackson, and she knows all about performing. And she is all about the 70s.

So all three members of my team certainly fit in to the advantage that I wanted to play in this game, and the 70s that I wanted to focus on to have a well rounded, good job eventually for the task I was given. So it was all about 70s for me. And these people all represented that decade as best as I could get it. So that's why I chose those people.

John Rich:
You know I would say that the first thing that entered my mind when I saw that we were going to be marketing a beverage, the 70s and 80s was in my mind as, "Which one would be better?" But the Number 1 thing on my mind was the beverage, 7UP. And as I'm looking at the folks we have to pick from, there's only one person in that group that I know for a fact has successfully marketed millions of dollars worth of beverages, and that's Lil Jon.

Everybody knows about Crunk Juice and the stuff that he's done. I mean the guy has made untold money marketing beverages. And not only that, he's a great marketing mind in general. So I said, "You know what, he's a no-brainer for the first pick for me." So you had Lil Jon.

And then Mark McGrath I thought he exited the show too early. And it was his own fault because you can't say, "If we lose it's all my fault." You know, I mean, he set himself up and got knocked out of the show. But Mark McGrath to me, he's kind of like a popcorn machine just pop, pop, pop, pop, pop all the time; lots of energy, lots of ideas flying out really, really fast. And there's a frenzy about him that I like. And I knew that Lil Jon was a little out of gas because we had kept going this whole time. Mark was fresh. Let's bring in some of this frenzy energy into the room. Plus Mark's a rocker. He loves Eddie's rock. He's a huge fan of hair metal and all that.

And then finally, Star Jones. I have, you know obviously seen how Star Jones works when she's working against you. And I just had to believe that if Star Jones was working for you and with you, she could be unbelievably effective and could keep the team really focused, and really on our timeline, and really take out any of the guess work on what you're supposed to do and when you're supposed to do it, and all the stuff that can get in the way of your creative thinking. So that's why I chose the ones I chose. And I think I wound up with a really strong team.

John, could you tell me about the alliance that you and Lil Jon had? He had said that you guys actually knew each other before the show started.

John Rich:
Lil Jon and I had met each other, I believe at an award show some time, I think it was two-thousand, probably five or six, somewhere in there. And I like his music, I like his production and some of just the crazy songs that he's done. Because in country music I'm part of a duo called Big & Rich, and we're known for being probably the most crazy, aggressive country music out there. I mean we're a party band. And Lil Jon liked the Big & Rich stuff, we liked Lil Jon. And I remember shaking hands with him at an awards show. And it wasn't like we became best friends or anything, because we live in different towns.

But anytime I was in Atlanta or LA, because he's back and forth between those two towns, I'd always call him. And every now and then he would come through Nashville and he would always call me. So we kept in touch. I actually called when I decided I was going to go be on Celebrity Apprentice, I actually called Lil Jon, because he's one of the big stars that I'm friends with, to tell him I was going to be on a TV show and that I might need him to help me out with a task at some point, or a donation. And he started laughing and said, "Too late, because I'm on the same show."

So it was really cool. That was - we just laughed our heads off when we realized that. And it was at that point I said, "Oh this is going to be fun because I don't know how I'll do on the show, but I know I'll have a friend in there and somebody that I think a lot of, and somebody that's a lot of fun."

What was one of the biggest surprises that you saw on the show this season?

Marlee Matlin:
I think the fact that when we got together the night before to sit down and talk about the show, it was about who was on the show that really caught me by surprise. I really understood the fact when we sat down, what their true colors were. And I'd had no idea that some of these people had the personalities that they brought to the table. I knew about them in terms of their career. But to know these people on a personal level.

Like for example, Dionne Warwick, I mean I knew clearly that she was a music legend, but not really familiar with the music. And I was surprised I would have to say, at her, at the way she chose to play the team member and how she wasn't familiar with people like myself who happen to be deaf. And yet I took it in stride. And I think it was just a matter of how each person reacted in high stress situations after working 18 hour days. Because I was surprised. I have to say I was surprised how people reacted.

John Rich:
I would say that the biggest surprise I encountered was I expected crazy personalities and I expected the unexpected as far as the contestants. But the thing that really hit me was how tired you get doing this show. You know the fans of Celebrity Apprentice, I'm a fan Celebrity Apprentice, watching the show you think, "Oh they're doing one task a week, no big deal." But the reality of it is you're there for 40-something days total? And you were averaging 17, 18, 19 hours a day sometimes.

Marlee Matlin:
John, didn't you feel like you were on an episode of Survivor, expect it was set in New York City instead of some remote island?

John Rich:
Yes. It was like mental Survivor. You know that if you crack you're going to get beat over the head with it for the rest of your life. They do put in a pressure cooker. They never let you breath. I say they; the producers and the directors of the show. They keep you exhausted and they keep you in that level of fatigue on purpose.

And to me, I didn't like it, but I understood it. And I just accepted it at some point and said, "You know what, you're going to be tired. If you want to try to win this thing, you got to power through it." And I think that separated a lot of contestants from other contestants, the exhaustion factor alone separated people. And I think for me being a road musician; I've been on the road for almost 20 years, and you know, it's not uncommon for me to be in 200-250 cities in a year. And so I've learned how to power through exhaustion and deal with it. And that may be the reason why some of the folks fell out when they did.

And obviously it wasn't a problem for Marlee. And if it was, she never let on to it because I think at the end of the day you just keep concentrating on the fact that if you win this thing, it's another quarter-of-a-million dollars. And there's all these opportunities that come into play for you charity. So being tired doesn't really have a place.

Marlee Matlin:
I can say for me I think it's all about that charity and Red Bull. I was drinking Red Bulls and I have to say at the end of the day, the hardest thing about the show is that you don't realize you have to eat. You really have to take care of yourself. There's no assistance, there's nobody treating you any differently. You're there on your own. And John was right; I mean it was really tough. But you know, you stick it out for the charity.

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