It’s been 13 years, but Pixar’s most for­get­ful with a splash. We speak with Ellen DeGeneres about equal­ity and Find­ing Dory.

GT (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS si­mon but­ton

In real life she’s every­thing you hope she’ll be. Friendly, quick-wit­ted, a lit­tle dead­pan, a lot laid-back. And when talk turns to LGBT+ is­sues, as it must when Amer­ica’s most fa­mous out en­ter­tainer is in the room, Ellen DeGeneres is ev­ery bit as an­i­mated as the char­ac­ter she plays in Find­ing Dory.

the se­quel to 2003’s Find­ing Nemo took longer to come out than she did, the multi-hy­phen­ate who acts, writes, does stand-up and hosts her own hit chat show has seen many sea changes in the 19 years since she an­nounced her sex­u­al­ity to the world.

“There’s a lot of pos­i­tive things that’ve hap­pened but we’re still mov­ing for­ward,” the 58-year-old sighs when we meet her in a Lon­don ho­tel. “I’m al­ways sur­prised that we still have re­sis­tance from peo­ple who don’t want it, who want to re­verse it and who are fear­ful of it, be­cause I don’t un­der­stand that at all. I’m a hu­man be­ing who just wants to love an­other hu­man be­ing. It’s still frus­trat­ing and mind-bog­gling to me that peo­ple won’t al­low equal­ity.”

If any­one has done their bit to fur­ther the cause it’s Ellen. In 1997 she very pub­licly cou­ple of months be­fore the ‘Ellen’ she played on her sit­com came out to her ther­a­pist – mak­ing her the most vis­i­ble gay ac­tress/ the deal by dat­ing Anne Heche for three years, then in 2008 she mar­ried Ar­rested Devel­op­ment star Por­tia de Rossi.

Her talk show de­buted in 2003 just as Find­ing Nemo was swim­ming to­wards factly about her per­sonal life on the show, but laughs at any sug­ges­tion she started out with an agenda. “I don’t even know how you could have an agenda, like there’s ‘gay’ writ­ten on the side of my cof­fee cup and it’ll seep into peo­ple watch­ing – a sub­lim­i­nal thing of, ‘I want to be gay right now.’”

Ac­tu­ally, Ellen does have an agenda. “My agenda is kind­ness,” she points out. “My agenda is com­pas­sion, my agenda is just to be kind to one an­other – which is what I say ev­ery sin­gle day on the show.”

But she’s still thrilled her sex­u­al­ity isn’t an hid­ing it. I get to be an en­ter­tainer, which is all I ever wanted. I’m gay as much as my hair is blonde and my eyes are blue. I am who I am and it’s got noth­ing to do with my ta­lent or my com­edy or what I want to put out there in the world as a creative per­son.”

Find­ing Dory, in which she re­turns as an adorable blue tang whose am­ne­sia makes her an eter­nal op­ti­mist un­able to re­mem­ber any of the wrongs the un­der­sea world does to her or those around her, is as much about self-ac­cep­tance as it is about fam­ily and friend­ship. “But there’s so many mes­sages times,” grins Ellen, do­ing her bit to big-up you should see it 20 times. There are so many mes­sages from, ‘There’s al­ways an­other way,’ which is a great thing to re­mem­ber when some­body says you can’t do some­thing, to, ‘Your dis­abil­ity can be your strength.’”

That res­onates strongly with Ellen, who used to see her sex­u­al­ity as a dis­abil­ity of sorts sim­ply be­cause it made her dif­fer­ent.

“But now I look at my dis­abil­ity as be­ing re­ally, ex­tremely sen­si­tive. I just refuse to – or I’m not ca­pa­ble of – de­vel­op­ing a thick skin and not let­ting things bother me. Every­thing both­ers me. The world breaks my heart right now. There are so many sad things go­ing on and maybe be­cause I’m gay, and maybe be­cause I’m looked at as an out­sider and not ac­cepted by ev­ery­body, I feel like the underdog. That’s why I’m al­ways on the side of the underdog.”

Dory is the aquatic equiv­a­lent of an underdog. “And she’s pretty fun to play,” Ellen says, sport­ing a beam­ing smile and her usual get-up of sneak­ers, trousers and a but­tonedup shirt. “I’d hate to play a sad, bummed­out char­ac­ter all the time, but I get to play some­body re­ally happy.”

both she and her char­ac­ter came out, so does she wish she’d done it dif­fer­ently or at a dif­fer­ent time? “Not at all. I think it was great the way it hap­pened be­cause I was do­ing a sit­com where the char­ac­ter was kind out what to do with her any­way. I said, ‘Look, I’m go­ing to come out, so we might as well make this in­ter­est­ing and have the char­ac­ter come out too, be­cause she could eas­ily be looked at as a gay woman who’s not aware she’s gay at this age.’ I thought it was a re­ally creative sto­ry­line.”

But given that the show was can­celled af­ter out of work, did she feel she’d screwed it up? “No, I don’t. I did ex­actly the right thing. And when­ever you’re do­ing the right thing for your­self you can’t have screwed it up. I just didn’t know what my next move would be or what my next op­por­tu­nity would be.”

Hav­ing started in stand-up in the early 80s, Ellen re­turned to the cir­cuit and called her HBO spe­cial The Be­gin­ning – “be­cause I was be­gin­ning again and it’s how I be­gan my ca­reer”. Af­ter that she se­cured an­other – al­beit short-run­ning – sit­com, plus Find­ing Nemo and her chat show.

Suc­cess star­tled her. “I started again at age 45,” she re­calls, “and to launch a talk show at 45, or any­thing at 45, as a woman in any ca­reer – much less in Hol­ly­wood – is un­heard of. It took a while. No­body thought any­one would watch it be­cause I was gay and they felt most peo­ple at home were mums and housewives and what did I have in com­mon with them? beau­ti­ful to watch the suc­cess of the show.”

She’s since be­come Amer­ica’s gay sweet­heart. CoverGirl makeup model, QVC sales­woman, am­bas­sador for an­i­mal rights, Os­car host, his­tory… All this, plus she’s a Dis­ney/Pixar hero­ine with her own spin-off movie.

Dory has no mem­ory whereas Ellen has mem­o­ries she’d hate to lose. “My wed­ding day for sure. That was an amaz­ing day that I didn’t think would ever hap­pen. Then there’s the launch of my talk show and watch­ing that grow more suc­cess­ful through the years.”

When we meet, she’s thor­oughly en­joy­ing be­ing in Lon­don, at­tend­ing the UK Find­ing Dory premiere and pop­ping to Wim­ble­don with Por­tia. And she’s a big fan of her spouse, declar­ing: “Por­tia is the most bril­liant ac­tress. She’s so hi­lar­i­ous and so smart. She’s re­ally one of the most bril­liant ac­tresses and hu­man be­ings that I’ve met in my life.”

As far as we’re con­cerned, that sums up Ellen too.

“The world breaks my heart right now. There are so many sad things go­ing on, and maybe be­cause I’m gay, I feel like the underdog.”

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