Victoria Gotti on How Pal Teresa Giudice's Family Handles Joe's Prison Time: 'It Affects Them'
Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter premieres Saturday on Lifetime
Victoria Gotti sure knows what it’s like to have family members face legal problems, both as a daughter to late crime boss John Gotti and ex-wife to convicted mobster Carmine Agnello.
So she has a unique perspective on how friend Teresa Giudice and her four daughters — Gia, 18, Gabriella, 14, Milania, 12, and Audriana, 9 — might be handling both the pressure of having husband and father Joe Giudice away in prison since March 2016 and the news that he might be deported to Italy after his release in March.
In a candid conversation with PEOPLE to promote her new Lifetime biopic Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter (premiering Saturday), Gotti, 56, opened up about Teresa, 46 — with whom she became close when the two were both contestants on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2012.
“You know, with Teresa — let me tell you something, people think it doesn’t affect her kids. They see them singing and dancing and looking happy, but it affects them,” Gotti said. “Trust and believe it affects them.”
“It affected Teresa greatly, too,” Gotti added of Teresa, who spent 11 months in prison for mail, wire and bankruptcy fraud — the same crimes that sent Joe to prison. “She’s different. Having Joe away, and it’s just her and the kids home and the dad, it’s really affected her.”
Gotti also said that she recently spoke to Teresa about the change.
“I said to her, ‘I don’t think you realize this but you’ve gone through so many changes since this happened with Joe since you got home and he went in. You’ve gone through mentally and physically so many things,’ ” Gotti recalled. “And she’s like, ‘You think so?’ And I said to her, ‘What is this bodybuilding? What is it? What are you looking for? It’s like you’re searching for her round and round and round. But you don’t seem to find it.’ And she looked at me one day and said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ “
And while Gotti didn’t have insight on whether the two might stay together if Joe is deported, she did point to a scene in Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter that would allow fans to see what it’s like for a mother when her husband and the father of her children is in legal trouble.
“There’s one scene that you’ll see — it gives me the chills when you see it. All you see is the house is very quiet and it’s very early in the morning, but it looks to be late at night, and I’m standing by the window. And you just see Chelsea Frei, that actress playing me, looking out the window. And you see the FBI — everybody’s running out everywhere.”
“I remember, it wasn’t quite like that but it was close,” Gotti said. “They rang the phone and said, ‘We’re here!’ I thought it was a joke. I said, ‘The FBI doesn’t ring the phone and tell you we’re here.’ But my husband calmly answered and said, ‘I’ll be right there.’ And I just ran to get the kids. Because the first thing you think about is the kids.”
Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter explores the complex relationship Gotti had with her father.
“We were very close, but it was complicated,” Gotti said of her dad. “Most days, he would tell me that we had such similar personalities and we were the most alike. And then there were some days I would be so angry, I didn’t like him for that day. For the most part, I became so dependent on him — not just for anything in general, but life, for life.”
Gotti said she doesn’t recall crying when her father died of throat cancer at age 61 while in prison in June 2002. Six months later, she was cleaning out a drawer at home when she saw a newspaper cover featuring a picture of herself at the cemetery, with the headline, “A Daughter’s Grief.” She remembered: “That’s the day I lost it. I was like, ‘Wow, he really isn’t here anymore.’ And it was the wildest thing.”
She still misses him daily. “He was very strong,” she said. “One time when I was a kid, I fell and I was crying. And I remember him kneeling down — I thought he was coming to pick me up — and he said, ‘Remember, Victoria: We don’t fall. We bounce, you hear me? What are you supposed to do when things happen to you? Are you supposed to lay down in a ball and cry or are you supposed to get back up again?’ He just had no patience for that. And I would take him to task for that because he could be so hard. But he had no time for weakness.”
“He just had a lot of heart,” she continued. “And he was charming too. He was always the last one to leave the party. The party was never over — he was always there and happy and everyone was laughing. And maybe it’s because he spent time in jail at a young age? When we were much younger, he would say, ‘You can’t put a price on freedom. Every day you’re free you should live life as if it’s your last.’ Now all these years later, I realize what he means. He just appreciated things more than others would have. He taught me that.”
Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter premieres Saturday (8 p.m. ET) on Lifetime.
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