They say timing is everything. Ellen DeGeneres was a little ahead of her time. In 1997, one year before the premiere of "Will & Grace," with all its openly gay characters, Ellen revealed on her sit-com and in real life that she's gay. Her career went into a free-fall. But with the help of a lost fish named Nemo and a white hot, Emmy award-winning talk show, owned in part by NBC Universal, Ellen has once again found success. Ellen DeGeneres talks with NBC’s Stone Phillips about comedy, kids and her companion of four years, photographer Alexandra Hedison.
Stone Phillips: "You exude so much positive energy on the show. Where does that come from?"
Ellen DeGeneres: "The liquor. [laughter] I'm sure of it."
Phillips: "Snuggling up with John Travolta, riding the roller-coaster with Jude Law, getting down on the floor with Britney Spears doing crunches.
DeGeneres: "I'll do anything for a laugh. I love the show. I love doing it. I get so much from it. It's an amazing thing that I lost everything from being me and then I'm now just being me and it feels good on many, many levels."
Phillips: "You know, they say in life and especially in entertainment, there are no second acts. So, how did you do it? What do you think enabled you to make maybe one of the biggest comebacks in recent memory?"
DeGeneres: "I don't know. And I just kept coming back. I wouldn't stay down, you know. I could've. My feelings were really hurt. I was really sensitive. So part of it is luck and part of it is talent. And part of it is perseverance."
Phillips: "Was there a time when you wondered if your career in Hollywood was over?"
DeGeneres: "Oh, I didn't just wonder. I was sure it was over. Yeah, I was sure."
Phillips: "You were really at the heights of your career at that point."
Phillips: "And it really came crashing down."
DeGeneres: "Yeah.When I made the decision to come out, everything was great. And I really naively thought nobody's going to care, you know. It's like, I'm going to just now say, by the way, I'm gay. I mean, all of my business people, all my people, were saying, don’t do it, you know."
Phillips: "Is that right?"
DeGeneres: "Oh, yeah."
Phillips: "They were telling you, bad move?"
DeGeneres: "Oh, yeah. Don't do it. Don't do it."
Phillips: "But you just weren't going to listen to them?"
DeGeneres: "I couldn't listen to them. I had to listen to me. You know? It's my life. It's my heart. It's my soul. It's my journey. And it's who I am."
Phillips: "Going further back, Ellen, earlier in your life. What was the process like for you where you realized and accepted being gay? Was there a time where that unfolded for you?"
DeGeneres: "Yeah, you know. And I think it was shocking to me. It was shocking to my mom. It was shocking to everybody. Because, you know, I had boyfriends. And I was boy-crazy. And almost got married in high school."
Phillips: "You went through all of that?"
DeGeneres: "Oh, yeah. It's -- I mean, there are certain people who know early on. And that's who they are. And I, you know, I didn't know at all."
Phillips: "So, how old were you when it became clear in your mind that you were?"
DeGeneres: "Like, 19, 20."
Phillips: "Pretty soon after that, you shared it with your mother?"
DeGeneres: "Mm-hm. First of all, she didn't understand it, and then she went to the library and read about homosexuality, which I can only imagine what those books were. You know? She probably first got Homo sapiens and read that. That's probably the only book they had. Well, what's wrong with that? So what, she's a Homo sapiens? Aren't we all? But, see, she was great. All this-- thought it was a phase. And she thought I'd, you know, go through it and-- like the tube top. Oh, she won't wear that after a certain amount of time. And I don't."
Phillips: "So, she was right about that."
DeGeneres: "Yeah. She was right about the tube top. That was a phase… So, you know, she was very accepting. You know. I don't know, it wasn't a big thing for me to accept."
Phillips: "Tell me about your partner, Alex."
DeGeneres: "Partner. It's such a weird word."
Phillips: "Is that the word you use?"
DeGeneres: "No. It-- we were just talking about this yesterday. That like it's such a weird-- like what do you say? Girlfriend doesn't sound like enough and partner sounds weird. And I don't know what I call her. My girlfriend I guess."
Phillips: "Is Alex the love of your life?"
DeGeneres: "Yes. Yeah. I've never felt this way before. Ever."
Phillips: "You've described your life with her away from, you know, the camera as incredibly boring?"
DeGeneres: "Uh-huh. Well, she's boring. She's amazing. She's kind. She's funny. Really, really funny. Makes me laugh very hard. I'm happier than I've been in my entire life.
Phillips: "Are you surprised by the sexual orientation, gay marriage, that these are such hot buttons issues in American in 2004?"
DeGeneres: "Am I surprised? No. No. You know, I wish that I wasn't seen differently. I wish that people looked at me and just saw that I was a good person with a good heart. And that wants to make people laugh. And that's who I am. I also happen to be gay. And I would love to have the same rights as everybody else. I would love, I don't care if it's called marriage. I don't care if it's called, you know, domestic partnership. I don't care what it's called. I mean, there are couples that have been together, 30 years, 40 years. And all of a sudden, they lose their house, you know, the taxes kill them, because it's different because they're not married. Everything is taken away just because. You know, with Sept. 11, there are a lot of people that lost their partner and didn't get the same benefits. It's not fair. And at the same time I know there are people watching right now saying, you know, it's sick it's wrong, it's this. And it's like, I can't convince them that I'm not sick or wrong, that there's nothing wrong with me. You know, I can live my life and hope that things change, and hope that we're protected as any other couples, should something happen to me or Alex."
Phillips: "And we are all Homo sapiens."
DeGeneres: "We are all Homo Sapiens as my mother will tell you."
Phillips: "Do you want to be a mom?"
DeGeneres: "Do I want to be a mom? That is a question, isn't it? You know, we have a lot of friends who are having children right now. And I see all of the different sides of it now."
Phillips: "Sounds like you're trying to talk yourself out of it?"
DeGeneres: "Well, no, it's not that I'm-- it's just not that easy. I mean, even before I knew I was gay, I knew I didn't want to have a child. I knew I didn't want to have one. I never want to have to release it from me. Listen, I love babies. I love children. And I melt when I'm around them. I also love my freedom and I love that I can sleep at night."
Phillips: "How does Alex feel about it?"
DeGeneres: "I think that we feel exactly the same She would like to have a child at the same time, you know, I don't know. We both ... I think, we don't take it lightly."
Phillips: "But have you thought about like who the candidates would be if you needed a donor?"
DeGeneres: "You're number one. Then it's Dan Rather. Well, obviously you know, we'd probably go to Justin Timberlake first. Brad Pitt would be up there. That's why I have a talk show, so I can get to know these fellas."
Phillips: "So you're sort of screening candidates."
DeGeneres: "I'm using the whole medium to find our donor."
Phillips: "You know what's amazing to me, having sat in the audience, there's just this spontaneous dancing that goes on. Nobody's telling them to dance."
Phillips: "I mean it just kind of happens."
DeGeneres: "Well, it happens because I dance. Nobody dances anymore. Unless you're, you know, like 18 through your 20s and you go to clubs, you stop going out and you stop dancing. So these people come, and they're anywhere from 16 years old to 80 years old. And they're all dancing. And it feels good."
Phillips: "Your humor has always been good-natured and clean. Have you ever been tempted to work blue?"
DeGeneres: "F*** no. You know, it's..."
Phillips: "Let me ask that question again."
Phillips: "Have you ever been tempted to work blue?"
DeGeneres: "I'll f***ing say it again. It's not like, I mean, the thing is, it's not like I don't, you know, if something drops on my hand or, you know, like I slam my finger in a car door, I'm not going to say, oh, goodness, that hurts. I'm going to curse."
DeGeneres: "The reason I do what I do is because I was influenced by Steve Martin, by Woody Allen, by Bob Newhart, by Carol Burnett, by Lucille Ball. I mean, if you put "f***" in front of anything, an audience is going to laugh. You know? It just-- it's easy. And I like a challenge."
Phillips: "You know, in, "Finding Nemo," Dory, your character, couldn't remember a thing. But, when it really matters, she came through. And no one was more surprised than she was."
Phillips: "What has surprised you most about yourself in these last few years?"
DeGeneres: It's amazing to me that I have achieved what I've achieved. Nothing has been easy. Not one step of the way has been easy. I'm really proud that I'm strong, because I didn't think I was strong. And I think that when you bring up Dory, you know, there's that moment in the movie when he's saying, you know, goodbye to her. And she starts crying and says, I feel like I'm home. That's what I feel like. I feel like I am finally home with everything."
Phillips: "Hit show, beautiful home. Wonderful girlfriend, does it get any better than this?"
DeGeneres: "It doesn't have to. But, it'd be great if it does."