After more than a decade, Ellen DeGeneres reprises her role as Dory in the sequel to Finding Nemo
For years, Ellen DeGeneres complained on her talk show that Pixar kept making sequels for movies other than Finding Nemo, the one she was in. “Like, of course they should make a sequel,” DeGeneres tells me, revving up into one of her trademark rhapsodies. “It was more really of a joke—but it was incredible to me that there were all these sequels being made, and Nemo was such a great movie. It’s still one of the highest rentals. Rental? Do people rent movies anymore? No. But they’re still watching it over and over again, so, yeah, it was kind of amazing to me that it wasn’t being made. And it was kind of a joke.”
That’s the speech pattern—distraction plus frankness plus self-awareness plus cheeriness—that solved Nemo writer and director Andrew Stanton’s problem when writing the original movie. He was struggling with how to create a character with short-term-memory loss who did more than just repeat himself. So when he heard DeGeneres’ ramble on her ABC sitcom, he wrote the comedic sidekick in her voice, changing the fish from male to female. Then he begged her to take the part.
Now the sidekick becomes the star with the long-awaited Finding Dory, in theaters June 17. For DeGeneres, it’s a homecoming. “Andrew hired me when nobody else would hire me,” she says. “I had gone back to stand-up because I needed money and I didn’t have another option.” After coming out publicly, she was excited to get such a mainstream acting job. “It was really important for me to show that even though you’re openly gay, you can play different characters.”
So when websites started reporting, based on no particular evidence in the Dory trailer, that there were lesbians in the new movie, DeGeneres was surprised. “If that’s what people want, then yes, there are lesbian fish in the movie,” she says. “If people don’t want them in there, they’re not there. Whatever people want. ’Cause you wouldn’t want to take your children to see a movie with lesbian fish, because then they’ll want to be lesbian fish themselves. But if you do want lesbian fish, you’ll probably have to see the movie four or five times to see them.”
The sequel—which, for the record, is devoid of lesbians—focuses on Dory’s adult search for her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) with the help of a reluctant, cranky octopus (Ed O’Neill) along with Nemo and his father Marlin (Albert Brooks). “I always thought of Dory as a tragic character and not a comedic character,” says Stanton about why he wanted to make a Dory movie. “You sense that must be a burden, to have short-term-memory loss and be a fish alone in the ocean.”
Normally, letting 13 years go by before releasing a sequel would be an impossible bet for a Hollywood studio. But interest in Nemo never waned; besides all those rentals, it was re-released in 2012. “I did worry that if they waited too long,” DeGeneres jokes, “I’d sound like Lauren Bacall.”