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Ellen DeGeneres on love, Portia and Julia Gillard

Ellen DeGeneres courtesy of Warner Bros.
She's watched by 15 million people every week but on the eve of Ellen's first visit to Australia, Caroline Overington meets the one-woman powerhouse and finds that, behind the comic bravado, lies a heart that beats only for one.
First of all, your birthday is on Australia Day, right? When did you find that out?
I believe, and I hope this is true — Australia came up with Australia Day as a way to celebrate my birthday. So thank you. Y'all are very kind.
For many Americans, visiting Australia is literally the trip of a lifetime. You've now given a trip to Australia to hundreds of people. Was it more important to you to them that experience, as opposed to say, a car?
I don't know if a trip to Australia is really better than a car. Because if you think about, if you give someone a car they can drive to Australia.
You've teamed up with Nicole Kidman for the promotion. Can you actually move in Hollywood for all the Australians living there: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Rebel Wilson, Naomi Watts and so on?
It's actually very hard to move around Hollywood with all the Australians here. Not because it's crowded or anything, but because they drive on the wrong side of the road.
You have a personal connection to Australia: your wife Portia is an Aussie. Does Portia have any characteristics — words or mannerisms — that occasionally make you think, 'yep, she's Australian?'
Whenever we go ice-skating she spins in reverse.
Portia came to Australia recently to promote her book, which was an intimate study of her struggle with weight and identity. Did you know the extent of her suffering and the courage it took for Portia to get well, and to accept herself?
She learned more about me by reading my book, and I learned a little more from reading her book. Now we mostly communicate with each other by writing books. My next book is called Please Don't Forget to Fill the Ice Cube Trays, and she's working on Do We Have Any AAA Batteries?
Your own book, Seriously … I'm Kidding touches on similar issues of acceptance. Was it difficult to write, or was it liberating, or somewhere in between?
It was somewhere between difficult and liberating. It was defibrillating.
You recently joked with Nicole Kidman that it would be a miracle if you went swimming in a sacred waterhole and became pregnant — and that line has gone around the world. When you sit back and reflect on how far the world has come in terms of same-sex relationships, how do you feel?
First of all I wasn't joking that it would be a miracle. It really would be a miracle if I got pregnant swimming in that pool.
Your legacy will be the barriers you leapt over during your career — is that a point of pride for you?
I get a lot of emails from people who tell me that I gave them the courage to be themselves. That's such an amazing feeling. When you're afraid of what other people might think about you, it's hard to grow as a person, so I'm proud I was able to let that idea go. I love breaking through barriers, whether it's with my career or with my car. I don't like barriers in general.
From the outside, your job often looks genuinely difficult: dealing with people who are suffering great trauma — a cancer diagnosis, for example — how do you approach the difficult interviews?
I can't solve everyone's problems, so I just focus on what I can do, which is make someone smile or laugh. And of course, dancing never hurts. I end up being so inspired by those guests — they're really remarkable.
Hillary Clinton made you a global ambassador for people with HIV. Where does your interest in this health issue come from, and where is the need greatest?
The disease grows where there is a lack of education and compassion, whether it's in Africa or Australia or the US If I can use my celebrity to shine a light or take a stand for those less fortunate, I will. I think it's the least we could do.
Should Hillary run for President?
I think that would be great. She still has a few pantsuits she left at the White House from last time she lived there.
Your parents got divorced when you were young. There is a theory that when these things happen, they give us the grit and determination we need to succeed in life. Is any of that true for you?
I guess. I remember wanting to make my mother laugh. That's how this whole crazy thing got started. So yes. True.
The dancing on your show — do you think people should just dance whether they are any good at it or not?
I think people should dance whether they're really good at it or really bad at it. Because either way I'll put them on TV.
Your style — the funky, low-heeled look — exudes confidence. It used to be that women on TV had to look a certain way and be sprayed and buffed and styled and tanned to within an inch of their lives. Are those days over?
I'm funky and low-heeled on the show, but you should see me when I get home and relax — I'm all sprayed, buffed, and stiletto heeled.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is apparently your cousin, 15 times removed. Do you hope to be named godmother to the next heir to the British throne?
First of all, I don't think of it as 15 times removed — I think of it as 15 times closer than anyone else. And yes, duh. I'm the obvious choice.
It may seem to some people that you've always been out, and that it was never an issue — but you've written in your autobiography that coming out in Hollywood wasn't easy. At the same time, I would guess that you might be heartily sick of having to address the issue. That said, we lag behind the world in terms of human rights for gay Australians — a vote for gay marriage was lost in our parliament this year; a similar vote passed in Britain, which is ostensibly a more conservative country, with a conservative government. Do you have anything to say to our female prime minister about this?
I would just tell her that I married the one and only love of my life, and everyone should be so lucky to have that opportunity.
You are vegan — was that a difficult lifestyle to adopt, or is it, for you, the easiest and only way to live?
I think there's a misconception that being vegan is difficult or isn't delicious. I love what I eat. And think about it, everyone I know either has or grew up with pets, and they were a huge source of joy. We see the beauty and unconditional love and distinct personality of our dogs or cats, but somehow people don't realise that the same qualities exist in every cow, horse, and chicken. We are so removed from where our food comes from. Once you make that connection, eating animal products just doesn't make sense. It's bad for the planet, it's bad for our health — it's just not a compassionate or sustainable way to live. I realise it's an adjustment for people, and I'm not saying everyone has to be vegan today, but it's never been easier to be a vegan and we can all benefit from it.
If I had to sum up the appeal of your show, I'd say you get the mix right: it's got heart, it can be serious, but it's also goofy (the Ellen underwear for men; the dancing with the audience.) How much work goes into getting that mix right? It is instinct?
It is instinct. And a jigger of tequila. Every day I get to sit around with a team of people and we look for new things that move or inspire us, or make us laugh. We figure if we respond to it, the audience will too.
You challenged Michelle Obama to a push-up contest which, given the arms on the First Lady, means you must be crazy.
Look, I don't want to keep bringing up the fact that Michelle cheated, because I've moved on. But yes, physical fitness is obviously important, because if she had been more in shape, maybe she wouldn't have needed to cheat. I think we all learned a valuable lesson.
It has been reported that your motto is: "Let's try to beat that." What was the first thing you decided to try that on, and how would you work that motto into daily living?
That's the motto for my producers and writers. Because they are smart and like a challenge. But my real motto is actually "Be Kind To One Another" and I try to do that every day in my own life.
You've never been to Australia, which is actually a scandal. What pre-conceived notions do you have (kangaroos in the main street, we all carry hunting knives, like Paul Hogan on Crocodile Dundee?)
Of course I don't expect kangaroos in the main street. But I do expect to see them boxing.
Read more of this story in the March issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

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