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Kelly Bensimon for Good, Better, or Ugly: ‘If I Say Hi to You, I’m Really Saying Hi’

The Real Housewives of New York City premieres tonight on Bravo, and we had the pleasure of speaking to bad-girl cast member Kelly Killoren Bensimon — model, author, entrepreneur, stopper of traffic — about what the new season will bring. Bensimon's known for her unintentional snobbery (she has a habit of ignoring people who say hi to her), her nonsensical ramblings, and her love of a good high heel, all of which we touched on while speaking to her in a cab between promotional TV appearances. We also discussed playing up to the cameras, her epic war with Bethenny, and gracing the cover of Playboy for all the Tim Gunns of the world to, um, look at.

Will we see a different side of you this season?
Last season, I was clearly the villain, and so this season they’re not going to put me on as "Kelly congeniality" — that’s not going to fly, and that’s not going to make any ratings. For me to be more feisty and ferocious just makes it better for the show. This season you’re going to see a lot more of me working, me with my kids. If you don’t know me with my kids, than you don’t know Kelly Killoren Bensimon at all. You’ll also see me honing and nurturing real friendships. I mean, everybody knows that I’m the real deal — I’m from the Midwest, I went to Columbia, I’m a writer, I’m an author, I’m a mother, and you get to see all of that this season. Like it or not, you’re going to see a whole lot of Kelly.

That sounds exciting. Who are you "honing real friendships" with?
Jill Zarin and I are really, really good friends. She came to my daughter’s school yesterday. And that’s one of the things I was concerned about last year — if I wasn’t going to be a REAL housewife, it didn’t make sense for me to be on the show. This season, I’m having a blast with it, good, better, or ugly.

Have you and Bethenny made up?
Let’s be honest, there’s no feud between me and Bethenny. She’s incredibly devious, she knew that if she fought with me she’d get a lot of press, and she did, and that’s great for her. You know, I was voted one of their most influential people of 2009 by People magazine, so clearly I made an impact, which is great.

How have you been dealing with the press attention?
I was coming from being a model, from being an editor and an author, so it was a huge leap of faith to go from what you’re doing, writing — I was basically you, writing, interviewing people — and now all of a sudden I’m subject to the scrutiny and criticism of all these other people. I’m 41 and I’m on the cover of Playboy! It’s an amazing opportunity for me, and so, you know, pinch me.

Has the Playboy cover gotten raves?
I’m just flattered to be on the cover, it’s one of the most iconic magazines in the world. The demographics of Playboy have changed — now they have women, they have straight men, they have gay men reading. If Tim Gunn is buying a Playboy, then you know it’s different.

Which housewife has changed the most from season to season?
I have to be honest with you, it’s not that people have changed, it’s that instead of being women, some people treat it like they’re reality stars. I was an editor, was exploring the man behind the brand, and being so charmed by these interesting actors, and then now working with these people who are trying to be stars, that’s very unsettling for me. 'Cause I’m like, "What are you doing? We’re not on Days of Our Lives."

Will we get to see you dating?
Last season everybody asked me about Max, and he’s a great friend of mine, and I really needed someone to be on the show with me because I didn’t know any of the women. But I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to take my personal life on the show. I have two children, and I have a lot of integrity when it comes to my personal relationships. I’m a mother first.

Are you still running in the middle of traffic?
I hope so. You get to see more of me. I am real, there’s no snark-fest with me. If I don’t like something, I’ll tell you. I’m the arbiter of what’s good and bad, and it’s clear that I know when something’s really, really bad.

So how much of what we see on the show is actually real?
Last season they’d prompt me, they’d say, "You’re the real deal, how can you handle that?" And I’d go into these scenes and I’d be like, "What’s going on?" The biggest issue last season was the idea of me snubbing people, and thinking that I’m devious. I’m not devious! If I say hi to you, I’m really saying hi. I’m like, "How are you?" I really mean it. I don’t have a plan, it’s organic for me.

Do people who meet you in real life have ideas about you from the show?
I think they want me to be this super socialite that they read about in Jackie Collins, who doesn’t talk to anybody, arrives late, takes car services everywhere, and wears Manolo Blahnik. And yeah, I love Manolos, and yeah, I take car services sometimes — but I’m also a girl from the Midwest, I drive a pickup truck, I have kids. Just 'cause you wear Manolo Blahniks doesn’t make you not nice.

Photo: Patrick McMullan