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