By People Staff
Updated December 01, 2020 06:28 PM
Credit: Peter Kramer/AP

The promo for season 3 of The Real Housewives of New York City, which premieres tonight (11 p.m. EST) on Bravo, ends in an explosive screaming match between feuding stars Bethenny Frankel and Playboy covergirl Kelly Bensimon. In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Kelly talks (much more softly) about divas, drama — and killing ’em with kindness. –Suzanne Zuckerman

What’s your approach to being on the show versus last season, which was your first? Basically, the approach is the same. I’m not a reality TV star. I’m not an actor. I’m an author and I’m a mom. One of the big problems with the show this season is that it’s hard for me to be real when everyone else is acting.

Do you feel like the other women create conflict for the cameras? Yeah. People just don’t act like that and just say whatever they want with no filter. I have an incredible filter and I don’t want to be part of it. My job is to show you what’s right and wrong. All you have to do is look at my face to see: Kelly realizes this is kooky! Another big problem is that these women don’t have respect for the craft of filming. They’re walking around telling , “I need this!” and “I need that!” I’m not like that.

You mean there are divas on set?On set, off set, always. Someone’s constantly got some issue. And I don’t care. That’s the irony. People think that I’m rolling up in a Bentley. I’m like, no, I actually drove here in my pickup. I’m not what think I am.

How is your relationship with Ramona Singer, who makes an insult about your breasts in an upcoming episode?? Ramona is Ramona. She knows she can say whatever she wants and I’m not going to cry because she’s just trying to spark up a moment. I got a lot of flack for not being mean last year. But I don’t need to say anything snarky. It’s not going to make me more famous to be mean. But it’s the nature of the show. It’s Mean Girls for the 40s set. The meaner you are, the more attention you get. And I just don’t play that game. That’s why on the show, there’s a complete disconnect, because I’m so real, and — with the exception of Jill Zarin and LuAnn de Lesseps — these women are off their rockers. We’re supposed to be bonding and being awesome, not tearing each other apart.

Speaking of tearing each other apart, what happened during your latest altercation with Bethenny? I can’t speak to her sensationalism. Everything that happens between the two of us is something that she fabricates. It has nothing to do with me. Listen, that’s her way of getting press. If she talks about me then she gets press and that’s her game.

There seems to be two cliques this season — you, Jill and LuAnn versus everyone else. I don’t think of it that way. I try to give every single person the benefit of the doubt until they go off to a place where I can’t be a part of it. When it becomes a made-for-TV movie on Lifetime, then I’ve got to excuse myself. But I really don’t see two teams. Each woman has something that’s really exciting or interesting about her, or she wouldn’t be on TV.

Which Housewife are you closest with these days?Last season I was thrown in with all these I had never met before who had all these opinions about me. This season I was like, I’m not just going to let them walk all over me. I’d rather get something positive out of it and I did. I made a really good friend — and that’s Jill Zarin. It’s not a reality-show friendship — it’s a real friendship. Jill is a dynamic woman with a huge life. I don’t find her needy at all. I find her incredibly supportive. When I was having a hard time last year, with a lot of accusing me of horrible things, she would call me just to ask me how I was. And that’s what I think a real friend is. Peter Kramer/AP