Interview of the Week: DeGeneres in Disney

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International  |  May 29, 2003 at 5:04 PM
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Playing an optimistic Regal Blue Tang with boundless faith in her fellow fish wasn't that much of a stretch for positive-thinking "Finding Nemo" star Ellen DeGeneres.

Noting that she found herself relating to her upbeat character, Dory, on several levels, DeGeneres laughed and vaguely alluded to her own personal disappointments, stating, "I would probably be considered to have a brain injury if I was that hopeful and positive."

"It's a shame that we think of people who are that happy all the time that there is something wrong with them," she mused.

"Certainly, I have learned some lessons in life that I am somewhat skeptical, but I am still surprised when people are dishonest and they tell me something and I find out they're lying to me... I'm always surprised by that. I'm still disappointed in people sometimes and you'd think I would learn and I'm sensitive in ways that maybe I should learn, but I'm happy I'm still the way I am."

Unlike many animated films, "Finding Nemo" does not use heroes and villains in supernatural or mystical situations to tell its story. Instead, it is the exciting, emotionally realistic, adventure tale of a Clownfish named Marlin, an overprotective father (voiced by Albert Brooks) trying to find his rebellious young son (voiced by Alexander Gould) Nemo and bring him home after a well-meaning tropical fish enthusiast scoops him up and dumps him in an aquarium. Fortunately, Nemo has a colorful (literally) cast of friendly sea creatures (voiced by Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Vicki Lewis and Allison Janney) who welcome him and help him cope with his new surroundings, while he waits in hope for his dad to rescue him.

Meanwhile, numerous other denizens of the deep do what they can to help Marlin find his son, restoring the neurotic father's faith in fishkind, his own parenting and his son's competence. Among the good salmon—uh, Samaritans—is the loyal, bubbly, but forgetful fish, Dory, voiced by DeGeneres in probably her funniest and most winning performance to date.

The 45-year-old Louisiana native recently told reporters she thinks pint-sized moviegoers will be drawn to her character because she exhibits so many wonderful, child-like traits.

"I think kids can relate to Dory because she's so child-like," DeGeneres said. "I don't know how old she's supposed to be in the movie, but she's got every single quality that kids should have, not that they necessarily do. I think kids are growing up too fast now. But she's innocent. She's optimistic. There's not even a thought in her head that a shark would hurt her or that being swallowed by a whale is a bad thing. She's just happy and optimistic and positive about everything."

Asked why Dory sticks with Marlin even though he repeatedly tries to ditch her, DeGeneres said she thought it was because the two fished had a lot to teach each other.

"He keeps trying to get rid of her because she's annoying and he's stuck in fear and he doesn't understand her at all and she's completely different from the way he thinks," she said. "And yet by them spending time together, he learns to lighten up a little bit and learns to have fun, because he never has fun because of the fear because of what's happened to him and Dory learns to form attachments... Because of their differences, they both learn to change a little bit, which is a beautiful thing."

Promoting "Finding Nemo" is just one of the numerous projects DeGeneres is juggling these days. The stand-up comic and former sit-com star has a new book coming out later this year and a new television talk show in the works for this fall. Asked if all this was a calculated campaign to get back to work after a lengthy break, DeGeneres replied, "I don't think anyone could have orchestrated this."

"(Disney/Pixar) approached me three years ago about ('Finding Nemo') when I was on my tour for my last HBO special, so I had no idea when that was coming out," she recalled, adding in her trademark breathless rambling: "The talk show, I made the deal a year ago and I knew it was going to start in September, so I thought I had a year off to do nothing, so I thought, 'I'll write a book,' and so I made the book deal to come out right after the talk show, but then I thought, 'I can't sit at home and just write a book. I need to go on tour. I'll get rusty if I'm not talking to people all the time.' And then I thought, 'If I'm going on tour, I might as well do an HBO special...' It just all happened at once. Believe me, I'm very grateful for it all because I've been, for the last three years, I've been through a lot of different journeys and so it's really interesting that it's all coming out as once."

The Disney Pixar film, "Finding Nemo" swims into theaters Friday, while DeGeneres' HBO special is set to air next month.

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