BY Advocate Contributors
February 08 2010 9:00 AM ET
The lady has something to say.
Maybe she always did, but she didn’t always know it. For a very long time she swallowed words instead of food. When she did speak she answered as if in character, imitating the kind of woman her publicists and costars told her young actresses should be.
That was the deal Hollywood offered: Forget being smart. Forget being a feminist. Forget that year of law school. And definitely forget being gay. Be “Portia de Rossi,” an Australian ingenue. Rolling Stone’s “hot bombshell” cover girl. A modern Rapunzel with silky blond hair bewitching an audience simply by unpinning a tightly knit bun.
Be miserable and self-destructive.
“It was a very difficult dichotomy to live in,” she says now. “Oh, I’m Portia. I’m fresh and new to Hollywood. I just found myself in Ally McBeal. Now I’m in my underwear and sleeping with my boss even though I don’t want to portray women in the workplace that way. All of these things were tearing me apart. Plus—” Her mouth quirks up. “I was gay, did I mention?”
A self-described “staunch feminist,” she was stuck on a show that famously led Time magazine to ask “Is Feminism Dead?” Its leading ladies seemed to shrink in size with every episode, and the only on-set rumor that came close to challenging the popularity of “Does everyone on Ally have an eating disorder?” was “Is that hot blond gay?”
Today, De Rossi is a walking, talking advertisement for happiness. “I talk about everything more now than I used to,” she says. She writes about it too, in a book that she discusses for the first time publicly with The Advocate.
At a long, late lunch, she’s very pretty, of course, fresh-faced without makeup. More striking is how calm she seems, how confident and clear-eyed. If there’s a neurotic, needy star somewhere inside, she’s been outvoted in favor of a sly, sarcastic woman with a keen appreciation for the absurdity of her life. “I just wanted to have a relatively quiet life, as much as one can have as an actress,” she says. Then she fell in love with Ellen DeGeneres and became half of the most famous gay couple in the world.
De Rossi is either statue-still or a hummingbird, full of fluttery movement. She plays with her hair, with the rubber band on her wrist, with the sleeves of her sweater. But even when she fidgets, she never appears nervous. Her relaxed, thoughtful attitude is a Los Angeles anomaly.
And she has that least likely of all Hollywood endings—a marriage everyone believes is the real deal. “It’s one thing to have attention; it’s one thing to stand for something,” she says. “But unless it’s backed up with genuine happiness, I think people can sense that it’s not worth celebrating.”
After so many years dancing around questions about her sexuality, she first spoke with The Advocate in 2005, talking at length about her relationship with DeGeneres. But even then she avoided talking politics.
But four years later, during an appearance on The View to promote her sitcom, ABC’s Better Off Ted, De Rossi didn’t hesitate before she schooled conservative host Elisabeth Hasselbeck on what marriage really means: “Without the word, we don’t have equal rights.… Every citizen of this country should have that right.”
“I’ve had fun there in the past,” De Rossi says of the show. “But just before I was scheduled to appear, the New York legislature voted on marriage and it failed. It was so disappointing to me. And I thought, if I’m going on The View and I have a viewpoint, I might as well talk about it. It’s more important than talking about a TV show.”
Her wedding to DeGeneres was splashed across the cover of People, which also featured page after page of photos with breathless captions detailing their clothes, the food, and the flowers, just like any other (straight) celebrity wedding. Oprah Winfrey spent an entire hour showcasing their relationship in an episode pointedly titled “Ellen DeGeneres and Her Wife, Portia de Rossi.” It’s up for a GLAAD Award—competing against an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show in which DeGeneres interviews Sirdeaner Walker, the mother of 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover, who hanged himself after being bullied. (“Oh, boy,” De Rossi says when told of the matchup, then says loyally, “I hope Ellen wins for Ellen’s show.”)