Margaret Josephs says if she was the master manipulator some of her The Real Housewives of New Jersey castmates claim her to be, she'd be "running the country" -- not starring on reality TV.
"It's so crazy!" Margaret remarks to ET over video chat. "[Teresa Giudice] accused me of leaking to the press, I talked to the blogs -- I did this, I did that -- you know what, anything to protect and make it look like I'm trying to ruin her life. For what? I have no agenda."
Both Teresa and co-star Jennifer Aydin -- as well as some viewers -- have accused the now-veteran Housewife of having an agenda, though. The women have suggested Margaret orchestrated some sort of revenge plot in season 12 after season 11 ended on a sour note, especially for Margaret and Jennifer.
"I didn't do anything mean to Teresa," Margaret proclaims. "I have not done anything mean to Teresa at all. Teresa, if you don't agree with her, she takes it as a personal affront. That is not the way I take it. With Jennifer, things had happened after the reunion. You don't see the first event we had, that it was a Pride party. I didn't include her. She kept [saying] very negative things towards myself, Jackie [Goldschenider], Melissa [Gorga], people I love that I'm very close to it. She didn't dial it back. It didn't end at that reunion, and that was the issue."
"I was waiting for an apology or just like, 'You know what? You're right,' and it didn't happen," she adds. "And I just came out that I was like, 'I'm not doing this here.' You hear me say, 'I'm not doing this here.' And then she pushed it. 'You're jealous. You're this, you're that...' Everybody always comes out with, if you don't agree with them, you're jealous."
The final moments of the season 12 premiere episode serve as one alleged example, as Margaret exposed a "secret" that (to her) had been out in the open for a while: that Jennifer's husband, Dr. Bill Aydin, had an extramarital affair.
"I'm going to tell you why I brought it up -- I don't care that it even happened, and I am not judging it -- obviously, I'm not one to judge, right? But what I am to judge is, I don't like hypocrisy," Margaret explains of her decision to make the comment on camera, "because she has slut-shamed me. She has judged mine and [my husband Joe Benigno's] relationship. She has said horrible things about my mother. She had tried to dig up stuff on-- at the time, I thought it was just her digging up stuff on Jackie -- and we could have had such a different relationship."
Since Jennifer joined RHONJ in season 9 (a year after Margaret), she's made digs about how Margaret and Joe came to be a couple (through an affair of their own), as well as passed judgment on how Margaret was raised by her single mother, Marge, Sr. She also explained away sexual harassment and assault Margaret detailed in her memoir as, essentially, "she was asking for it."
"She could have immediately said to me, 'You know what? It triggers me. I had infidelity in my marriage,' we could have been at such a better place," Margaret notes. "But instead, she said I slept my way to the top -- really attacked me -- and projected all her emotions on me. Meanwhile, she put Bill on a pedestal and always said, 'He's the greatest. He's this, he's that...' Well, he's really no different than myself, my husband, and other people. He's just the same person. And that's the truth. So I was giving her an opportunity that day to apologize."
Margaret says the so-called secret only slipped out because Jennifer wasn't willing to own up to and apologize for the digs she'd made at Margaret over the course of season 11. "I was like, all right, the hypocrisy's got to stop here," Margaret says.
Ironically, Jennifer immediately owned up to the truth about the affair, just moments after Margaret called her out for "not being honest." She even fact-checked Margaret's claim, making it known that Bill stepped out with a pharmaceutical rep, not his office manager -- though Margaret isn't sure what she said originally isn't also true.
"Like I said, you could see that I knew for years," Margaret notes, referencing flashback footage that is sure to be rolled repeatedly as this drama unfolds on RHONJ. Back in season 9, Margaret made reference to Bill sleeping in the pool house and having a girlfriend, which led Jen to flip out on the Macbeth Collection designer.
"Before she even got on the show, I had known," Margaret claims. "I was excited someone else was coming on, and I was like, 'Oh great. We're getting another Housewife who has good, juicy stories. Not just me!' That's the way I felt. Because they're like, 'Oh, this great girl's coming on...' This was talk around the town."
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Margaret says she heard what were then just rumors from "people in the industry," likely casting or production members, as well as friends in her neighborhood. While Jennifer claims she was taking this "secret" to the grave, Margaret says that would be impossible.
"I knew people who got their Botox at [Bill's] practice, as well," she says. "They're like, 'Oh yeah, her husband got caught sleeping with the office manager, had to leave his job...' I was like, 'Great! It's not just me!' That's what I was like. I was like, I have a soul sister, you know what I mean? Someone else who has good dirt. So I knew about that. It was talked about. Other people knew -- other people in the industry, other of my friends in the area knew about it. It wasn't like people didn't know. P.S., I wasn't even judging about it. I was like, 'Oh great. We have a great person on the show with me.'"
Judgment only came when Jennifer proved judgmental of Margaret.
"If I knew her reaction was going to be so devastated and have... I'm going to tell you it was hard for me to hold back," Margaret confesses. "She really pushed it. I probably should have pulled her aside ... because she never dealt with it. And you see, she never really dealt with the emotion of it. And I would never know that either, because I would never bury something like that."
"They worked it out, and I love Bill -- and I think they have a good marriage -- but she never dealt with it," Margaret reiterates, "and I think that was the issue. And I never knew that."
"There's a lot of emotion with her and I, moving forward through it," she teases of what's to come this season. "I think there's a lot of highs and lows. I think we go through a lot together. I've had a lot of life experiences, and I think I've had a lot more life experience than her. I think she sees that. I think it was hard for her to understand where I was coming from. She thought I just wanted to ruin her life. I wouldn't even think me saying that would ruin her life in a million years."
Margaret hints that she and Jennifer found their way to a friendship over the course of the season, but she's not sure how rewatching this tense time in their life might change that in real-time. She's in a similar spot with Teresa; viewers will see the two reach a table-shifting breaking point down the line, after Teresa accuses Margaret of digging into her now-fiancé, Louie Ruelas', past.
"Listen, I saw what everybody else saw," Margaret says of Louie, referencing an alarming video that took center stage on the premiere: a resurfaced home movie of a shirtless Louie begging for an ex's forgiveness, while surrounded by other shirtless men at some sort of wilderness retreat. Margaret pulled Teresa aside (at the same pool party where she revealed the Aydins' past issues) to suggest Louie address the group's questions about the video, but Teresa turned down the idea.
"How bad would it be if I would just say, 'Everything's great! Oh my God, it's amazing,' no questions asked, blind? I'm just not like that. If this was my daughter, if this was my longest friends, the girls that work with me ... I'd be like, 'Are you nuts? Did you see?' It's nothing I don't say to anybody else." she says.
"So of course that upset her," Margaret continues. "She wanted to know why would I do that. And I'm just like, well, what would you want me to say? Everything's great? That that's not realistic. So give me a reason to say it's great. Work with me here. Show me something to say that this is amazing. So the more you're guarding it and more protecting it, and lying to me and not being realistic about it, doesn't look good."
In the trailer for the season, Teresa accuses Margaret of "f**king nasty talking behind my back" and attempting to pop her "love bubble." Margaret maintains she was only being a good friend.
"I don't have to talk behind people's back. Whatever I say behind the back, I will say to their face -- and I do," Margaret offers back. "She doesn't like it. She doesn't like when I say it. She thinks I'm the only one. Everybody -- and I mean everybody -- had something to say, and I just say it."
Eugene Gologursky / Bravo
"I hope that she can see that everything that I would ever do is all only out of concern for her," Margaret says. "I wish we would've spoken privately. But the truth is, she is a woman who is very guarded, paranoid, thinks everybody is out for her. ... And I do believe she does feel this way -- not just with me -- that she feels everybody [is not to be trusted], because she has been hurt so many times. And a lot of people have done things, or she thinks everybody has an ulterior motive to hurt her. There is no benefit for me for anything bad to happen to Teresa. None whatsoever. And I have no vendetta against her. Why would I want this woman to have anything bad happen is beyond me."
Margaret laughs at the "Tre Huggers" (as Teresa's superfans are known) who say she battles with the RHONJ OG in some attempt to take over the show.
"It's just such stupidity. We are better together, not apart," she professes, going on to laugh off Teresa referring to their show as The Teresa Show.
"I think if it was The Teresa Show, she would've had her own show already," Margaret quips. "It's 12 years! I think it's an ensemble show. We all need each other to succeed and do well. I think it's funny. I think that's what, in her head, that's what she thinks to make herself feel better. And I think it's funny. But she would've had her own show already."
"I love when people say, 'Well, they waited for her when she went to jail to film again...'" she adds, referring to the hiatus RHONJ took after Teresa was convicted of fraud and spent a year behind bars. "That was coming off of season 6, where it wasn't the best season ever. They got rid of [more than half the cast], so they literally had no one. So of course they waited for her, because they were recasting the entire show. If God forbid something horrible happened and she wasn't here, you know what I mean? If they had this in cast season 6, I don't think they would've waited."
Both Teresa and Margaret have proven their importance to the show -- and their season 12 feud is just another example as to why. Their issues lead to Teresa's clearing the contents of a table onto Margaret, a callback of sorts to Teresa's iconic season 1 "table flip."
"She's a very overgrown toddler," Margaret cracks. "It's like being on the other side of a very overgrown toddler -- a very strong one, obviously -- but it's a very big temper tantrum."
Things get physical after Margaret calls Teresa a liar, though the moment teased in the trailer doesn't make it clear why Margaret calls Teresa that.
"She says that I'm the one who leaked [anything negative about Louie] to the press," Margaret reveals. "'I leaked the video, I could get my hands on that video...' I mean, cut me a break. I didn't even know who this guy was! That was classic. I mean, if I had that video, I would've sent it directly to her. I wouldn't have leaked it to the press. I'd be like, 'What the hell is this?'"
Margaret maintains that Teresa is a liar, though. She points to a lie by omission from the premiere episode, in which Teresa admitted to "playing dumb" about Louie and the video when it came up at her party.
"She says she never saw the video," Margaret scoffs. "She just proceeds to constantly pretend things aren't happening. And she just makes up story after story after story. For what? What do you have to hide? What are you protecting? If there's nothing wrong, what are you protecting?"
Teresa has repeatedly said she's acting certain ways or doing certain things to "protect Louie" because "he didn't sign up for this," even going so far as to remind him that cameras are watching and breaking the fourth wall to ask why she's being filmed in certain moments.
"What are you protecting him from?" Margaret asks. "From what? See, that's what I kept saying. If there's nothing to hide, what are you protecting him from?"
Margaret says she's never gotten a straight answer from Teresa about that, which she calls "so frustrating and so upsetting."
"I don't know if she coached him so he doesn't say the right thing... you never know," she adds, saying "time will tell" if Louie is the man Teresa believes him to be.
"Is he generous to her? Is he generous to the daughters? Of course," she rattles off. "Is he loving to her? Of course. I'm not saying that, you know what I mean? That's not the case, but you know what? This [relationship] is a year in. One year, 12 months. I mean, I have underwear older than that!"
Speaking ahead of the premiere, Teresa told ET she's not sure she can ever call Margaret a friend again -- but Margaret seems to have higher hopes, though she would like the record corrected, seeing as Teresa has kept saying she's never done anything to hurt Margaret over the last five years.
"She has done endless things that are not nice to me," Margaret professes. "Never has defended me once in any argument or with anybody who's been aggressive towards me. And she has orchestrated a physical attack on me."
"Orchestrated" might be a bit extreme of a description, but Teresa did encourage then-castmate Danielle Staub to pull on Margaret's hair during a shopping trip gone array back in season 10.
"Even with all of that, I have not come for her," Margaret notes. "I have been concerned for her. I have questioned her judgment. Yes, I have questioned her judgment. That's not coming for her. I haven't tried to attack her. I haven't said anything that anybody who cares for her and who's normal wouldn't ask, you know what I mean? The entire Bravo world, anybody who's seen this stuff on the internet, has questions. [The video's] not the only thing that's come out. So of course, anybody logical would say, 'Hey, what's going on here?'"
The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.
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