Ever since Finding Nemo became a global box-office phenomenon 13 years ago, Ellen DeGeneres has tirelessly campaigned for a sequel. Imagining in her wildest dreams that Pixar would create Finding Dory, a sequel all about her character, Dory.
Dory, DeGeneres’ fishy alter ego, suffers from short-term memory loss, which became a creative challenge for filmmaker Andrew Stanton. But then he hit on the idea of giving Dory a new partner in her quest to find her long-lost parents: With the aid of a grumpy octopus named Hank, voiced by Modern Family's Ed O'Neill, the forgetful fish discovers a mate to help navigate the waters of her forgetfulness.
One of the world's most successful out businesswomen, DeGeneres, 58, didn't need this role for the money. In addition to her hit daytime talk show, she hasa new lifestyle apparel brand — ED by Ellen — and a contract with Covergirl. She’s also a successful house-flipper, known for buying and renovating high-end properties around Los Angeles, then selling them for a profit.
None of this would be possible without her wife and the love of her life, Australian actress Portia de Rossi, whom she wed 8 years ago.
Unburdened by children, the couple are happy to share their lives with their beloved dogs.
We spoke with Ellen about her inner fish.
Q: Dory suffers from short-term memory loss. We all get forgetful as we age. Has this been your experience?
Ellen: I'm always surprised when people are prescribed medicine to help with forgetfulness, because how are you going to remember to take your medicine? I do have that problem with memory, not as bad as she does, but I don't plan to do anything about it because its just who I am. And I'm just going to live in the moment and hold on to those few moments that I have.
Q: It's rumoured there's a gay couple in Finding Dory?
Ellen: Are you asking if Elsa from Frozen is gay? Is that what you're saying?
Q: No! But is there a gay couple in Finding Dory?
Ellen: I don't know if there is, and I didn't know anything about it until I read this rumour. … I was watching it last night and was looking for that particular scene, and it appears that there are two women and (of them) has a very bad short hair-cut, and I find it offensive that people would deduce she's gay. How dare you? Just because a woman has a short bad haircut doesn't mean she's gay, so I don't know if that's the case. But I think if you see the movie several times, which I recommend, if you see the movie four or five times, there are some gay fish in the background, a lot of them look very gay to me.
Q: Are you proud to see so much more diversity out there?
Ellen: I personally think it's a great thing. I think that everything that we see in the media, whether it’s television or film, should represent everything that's happening in the world. I think everybody that is in the world should be seen and represented so, yes, it's a great conversation. And whether they intended it to be a woman with a bad short hair-cut being gay or not, I think it’s great.
Q: Finding Neo director Andrew Stanton felt bad that he'd left Dory hanging on for so long. Did you privately wonder what had happened to her?
Ellen: No I really didn't, and had I thought about it and done actually what Andrew did and think about: Where is Dory from? Who is her family? I would have called him sooner and said: Here's the sequel, here's the idea and then I wouldn't have (had) to wait so long.
Q: Do you think Dory's story is sad? Being parted from her parents all this time?
Ellen: When you think about it, I actually don't think it is tragic. I think you can look at it that way, but as we see in this film, what appears to be a disability is her strength and it turns into: What would Dory do? So maybe what appears to be a disability is actually something that everybody else can look at in another way and say: Actually that's a different way of thinking, and it's a good way of thinking, so I love that message in it that something that seems to be a handicap is something you can use as a strength.
Q: You’ve always hoped there’d be a sequel to Finding Nemo. Did you help Pixar come up with this storyline for Dory?
Ellen: I am responsible for every penny that this film makes because this movie would not have happened had I not campaigned as hard as I did. Thank God I have a talk show to talk about it. I just seemed like it was obvious. The film was an iconic film and it won an Academy award. I was a small part of it. I wasn't campaigning for a sequel to Dory — I was just campaigning for a sequel to a great movie, and then when it didn't happen for the first five or six years, I just decided to make a joke of it. It just seemed like it was never going to happen, so I would just continue to joke about it, and then the joke became a reality and it became about Dory's journey. So I'm responsible for every single thing that happens from now on.
Q: Which of Dory's adorable traits do you share?
Ellen: I would love to have every trait of Dory's, and I try to have as many traits as she has — optimism, perseverance, non-judgment and not having any resentment or holding on to anger. She doesn't feel like she's a victim. I think that's why she's such a loveable character. She just thinks everything is possible and she never for a second thinks that anything is wrong with anybody else or herself. She just keeps swimming, and I think that's a great thing. I'd like to have all of those traits.
Q: Why do you think that Finding Nemo and now Finding Dory have been so relatable on a human level?
Ellen: I think it’s so much more than a cartoon movie. It’s much more complex and layered than any of us thought it would be. And it’s much more complex and layered than Nemo, and Nemo is a great movie but there's so many layers to this. It is a very personal story for Dory and it is emotional.
Q: Did you cry when you first saw it?
Ellen: It was very easy for me to cry — and it was very sad seeing everything Dory is going through and feeling. These are all human feelings, they're all the same feelings that we all have. And it does show the power of these animators, because they make it so beautiful and so realistic. And the characters they create are so complex, because you do get emotional and you do cry at a fish. And we all cried. It's a beautiful story.
Q: And Dory is just searching for her home, a family, a place to belong?
Ellen: I think everybody is searching for their home, whatever that is. I think home is different for everybody. I understand what a sense of belonging is, and I understand when you are saying: Why am I who I am? Where did I come from and how did I end up where I am? I can relate to that. I think everybody can.
Q: In real life, are you analytical and cautious like Marlin or more like Dory in her take-every-moment as it comes attitude?
Ellen: It just depends on the situation. I think that I analyse. I look around and analyze and observe all kinds of things. And I try to not do anything irresponsible, but I also do like to be spontaneous.
Q: Do you plan or just go with the flow like Dory?
Ellen: I'm definitely a planner.
Q: So many women are in love with you, even though they are straight?
Ellen: Yeah, I've dated them before.
Q: Did you spend hours at the aquarium in preparation for voicing Dory?
Ellen: I didn't really stare at any fish in an aquarium. I've seen them. The honest answer is I didn't really do any research. But I really care about, and always have cared about, nature and our planet and the environment. And I think it’s important to protect our oceans and our fish and the coral reef and everything because it's a beautiful world that we know very little world about. And I think there's probably all kinds of answers and all kinds of cures and all kind of things that we can learn, so I think it’s really important to protect our oceans.
Q: Hank, the grumpy octopus, almost takes on the same role that Dory did with Marlin in Finding Nemo — helping him search for his missing son. Do you see a sequel in the future starring Hank?
Ellen: I said to Ed just a few minutes ago: I bet this movie will have a sequel with you as young Hank, all angry and grumpy.
Q: A lot of Pixar's animated characters take on the likenesses of the actors who voice them. Do you feel like your share any physical characteristics with Dory?
Ellen: People have said that Dory does look like me, but I don't see it personally
Q: What would you tell your six-year-old self?
Ellen: I think as you get older you get wiser and you start looking at life in a completely different way. And Iife is a very interesting journey, and it is filled with surprises and sometimes they're good surprises and sometimes they're bad surprises. And they're all good, because even the bad ones get you ready for something else and they build another part of you that you wouldn't have (had). I think we're made up of all kinds of different things. If we were just made up of love and joy and all good things — and nothing bad happened to us — we'd just be a little less layered. Embrace the bad with the good and just keep swimming.
Q: Plot spoiler here! But Dory has a beautiful reunion with her parents, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. Did you all record that scene together?
Ellen: I was alone for the reunion scene. It was a beautiful thing to read, and it was sad and it touched me and I could imagine what it was going to be like. And it was very emotional for me to record that day.
Q: Did you meet with the young actress who voices Dory as a child?
Ellen: That was a precious little girl who was behind me at the movie theatre at the premiere. She felt a special connection with me. It was so adorable because she was: You're me! And that was precious. I don't want to reveal her identity, unless someone asks me. That was the first time I had met her.
Q: Is there a message to Finding Dory?
Ellen: I think the message is that we can all get along, even though we're different species and look different and have different traits.