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Ellen DeGeneres: 'Life is good'

Web posted on: Monday, April 05, 1999 2:58:49 PM EDT

By Andy Culpepper
Turner Entertainment Report Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- It's a good time for Ellen DeGeneres, and even she admits it.

Less than a year after the cancellation of her ABC sitcom, "Ellen," DeGeneres seems far removed from the she's-coming-out-of-the-you-know-what controversy that dogged her for the better part of two years.

It had become commonplace to see the Louisiana native popping up in headline after headline regarding her suddenly hot-button television series. Moral majority leader Jerry Falwell was urging advertisers to boycott her series. A TV station in Birmingham, Alabama wouldn't air her coming-out episode. ABC slapped a warning label on several of her gay-themed shows.

But all of that was several yesterdays in the past.

At last months' Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, as TV cameras beamed the arrivals to billions of viewers around the globe, DeGeneres was there, arriving arm-in-arm with her life partner, actress Anne Heche -- themselves beaming for all the world to see.

Suddenly, or so it seems, Ellen is coming out again -- but this time, at the box office. And it doesn't appear her big screen acting has a connection to a closet of any kind.

"EDtv," a romantic comedy starring Matthew McConaughey, opened in March. The edgier, black comedy ""Goodbye, Lover" follows later this month.

In director Ron Howard's romantic comedy-cum-media spoof, "EDtv," DeGeneres plays Cynthia Topping, a program executive at a cable network. Hard up for ratings grabbers, Topping seizes on the idea of making a regular guy named Ed into a TV personality. It's going to be wall-to-wall Ed, thanks to Topping.

Howard's film -- through the laughs and comic turns -- presents something of a cautionary tale about the dangers of fame and celebrity. DeGeneres' character is vital in exposing both sides of the equation -- the ups and downs.

It's an ironic bit of casting -- and provides ample grist for a sitdown interview with the comic performer who seemed completely at ease laughing about the perils of too much TV focused on any one person.

The following is an excerpted transcript of my interview with DeGeneres during a recent publicity weekend in San Francisco.

Watch the complete interview!
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Making it up as she goes

Culpepper: Somebody said living well is the best revenge. Do you agree with that?

DeGeneres: Yeah I do and also ...just kind of staying in there, you know. Not not giving up and just the tenacity of it all. I think I needed to retrieve just a little bit back I wanted to give myself a break, everybody a break. It was enough. It just kind of got out of control. I mean, it did feel like "EDtv" for me, and I participated in it, so...

Culpepper: So what have you learned, Dorothy?

DeGeneres: (Laughs) There's no place like home. And all along I had this wonderful attitude. It was just inside of me. I didn't have to go any where for it. No, I think I got kind of caught up and a lot of stuff was going on and I think it -- and again, I will say I wouldn't change a thing. I loved what I learned, I loved what I did, I love the mistakes I made, and I liked what I learned from them. But I think my problem was that I didn't set boundaries, and I kept letting people in and letting people in and sharing, and sharing, and sharing and thinking this is fine, and it's not going to hurt me, and it was just too much.

Culpepper: Was there a rule book or manual that you could have consulted?

DeGeneres: I certainly will be writing one now. But that's the thing and everybody's case is different, you know.

Culpepper: Martina Navratilova once said, "I don't see a line forming here." It's not like you had a primer to go by.

Culpepper: Yeah, and that's certainly -- there's no line ... now, you know. Everybody -- and it's not about sexuality ... everybody has a different ... path to whatever they're trying to do, and I really started out just trying to make people laugh. I really wanted to be somebody that was appreciated for my comedy. And that led to a show, and that show led me to a certain place that seemed inevitable to go, and I went there, and that took me some place else. And the show ended. And after twenty-years of me working I was just like sitting at home going, "I've never sat still before. What am I going to do?" And all this stuff came out. So I've taken this time, and I have this great movie, and I've got a couple of other movies coming out, and I'm working on a new TV show with Barry Levinson now ... Everything, life is good.

New life

Culpepper: Comedy, drama, what are you doing?

DeGeneres: Yeah, a comedy.

Culpepper: Another sitcom?

DeGeneres: No, not a sitcom, but we're kind of -- we're not going to reveal the idea yet because somebody may steal it. But it's an old-fashioned show. It's an old -- just getting back to being funny, and it's an idea I had and also Barry had, and we got together, and we are going to co-create it.

Culpepper: And you moved out of the big bad city?

DeGeneres: Yeah, we live in a small town just a few hours out of Los Angeles in the mountains and have a farm and animals and kind of balance out and come into Los Angeles every few weeks for business, and so it's nice.

Culpepper: (Laugh) Need any hired help?

DeGeneres: Listen, I recommend it to anybody to live that way. I used to live that way in high school. I lived in a small town and...I liked knowing everybody and waving when you drive down the street, and people in the store know you, and when you're shopping, it's all -- it's really, really nice.

EDtv: Comedy targets sudden fame, guy named Ed
March 26, 1999
'Ed' of the Internet: JenniCAM going strong after three years
March 26, 1999
ABC cancels 'Ellen'
April 24, 1998
Anne Heche honored to play 'kook' in 'Psycho'
December 4, 1998

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