BY Advocate Contributors
February 08 2010 10:00 AM ET
The book that has emerged is “definitely not self-help” and not quite a memoir—“I hate that term”—though it is absolutely autobiographical and, given her built-in platform—DeGeneres has shamelessly promoted Better Off Ted on-air—poised to be a best seller.
The story starts in 1997 (when her acting career took off) and goes through 2004 (when she began dating DeGeneres), with flashbacks to her childhood. “I abused my body. I had bulimia. I would use fen-phen. I wanted to talk about all that. But obviously I can’t do that without talking about my sexuality. And although you can’t really talk about one without the other, it still felt like two stories. The only thing that linked the two of them was me.”
And it’s not always easy going. “It’s been a difficult but revealing process,” she says. Losses she thought she’d fully grieved, such as her father’s death when she was 9, have been confusing, if cathartic, to write through. “You go back and you experience these emotions that you thought weren’t there any more.”
So now the woman who once was terrified to speak about her life is a writer. The book leaves convenient room for a sequel spanning her life with DeGeneres. And, she says, “I would like to try my hand at a novel at one point.” One thing she’s not interested in trying is screenwriting. “I’m just not drawn to it,” she says. “I still love acting. It’s the easiest of all of it for me.”
Since escaping Ally, she’s played unusually complex women on TV, especially the hilariously dysfunctional sister, Lindsay Bluth Fünke, on Arrested Development. “We all want a movie to happen,” she says of the persistent development rumors. “Just write it already!”
She also did a long arc on Nip/Tuck as Joely Richardson’s girlfriend. “It was weird playing a lesbian,” she says. “The decision was easy. In fact, I went to Ryan [Murphy] and said, ‘I think it’s important that you get a lesbian to play a lesbian character.’ But it was probably the closest to myself I’ve ever played. There were certain speeches that I would give about how hard it is to be a lesbian, and I would find myself bringing in a certain emotion that I attached to that statement. It was tricky. Was it me, or was it the character?”
On ABC’s Better Off Ted—the fate of which was unknown when we talked, with its chances certainly not improved by running opposite American Idol, her wife’s new prime-time gig—she plays Veronica, a shark of a boss to the ethically bombarded title character, played by Jay Harrington.
“Veronica makes me so happy. She’s absurd, and I like absurd humor. I love it when people are really aggressive and funny—like how John Cleese in Fawlty Towers is always yelling at people. Veronica has no sense of morals or concern about other people. When people start telling me I’m just like my character, it’ll be an indication I’m not doing anything right.”
She makes another straightforward “case closed” argument for actors coming out, usual Hollywood scare tactics be damned. “People say, ‘There are lots of openly gay actors.’ And I’m like, who? If everybody I knew that was gay and not being open about it came out, it would make a huge difference to people coming up as young actors in Hollywood. Huge. To producers, to people in casting. I’m sure that when I was with Ellen a lot of people wondered if I could play a straight role convincingly. By having the opportunity, other people can go, ‘Oh, that’s OK. It didn’t kill that show. That was believable.’ ”
In comparison to her wife, at least, “I haven’t said ‘I’m gay’ that often,” she says. Maybe that was true back when the idea of Portia as the femme fatale still cast such a long shadow over her public life.
This is what she has to say now: “Being on Oprah was a very surreal moment—to go from being so closeted and so afraid to talk about my sexuality to sitting with my wife, talking about my wedding and how much I love her. To look out at that audience and see most of the audience crying—Oprah was crying! Life can take so many twists and turns. You can’t ever count yourself out. Even if you’re really afraid at some point, you can’t think that there’s no room for you to grow and do something good with your life.”