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COVER STORY

'We Were Naive'

Anne Heche and Ellen DeGeneres Unload on Hollywood, the Religious Right and (Uh-Oh!) Mainstream Media.

November 29, 1998|HILARY DE VRIES | Hilary de Vries' last article for the magazine was a profile of actress Drew Barrymore

Yes, them again. Well, maybe not again, since "this is the first time we're going to sit for a photograph together," says Ellen DeGeneres--comedian, actress and former star of her own sitcom, "Ellen." These days DeGeneres is best known as one half, with partner Anne Heche, of Hollywood's most scrutinized couple, a relationship whose timing coincided (happily) with the coming out of DeGeneres' character, Ellen Morgan, on her series and (less happily) with the release of "Volcano," Heche's first big-budget studio film.

Now, six months after ABC canceled "Ellen" following an acrimonious final season, the actresses are reemerging with a spate of new films. Heche is co-starring in "Psycho," the Gus Van Sant remake of the Hitchcock classic, and DeGeneres, who hosted the VH1 Fashion Awards earlier this month--her first professional appearance since "Ellen"--will be seen in three upcoming movies, including "Goodbye Lover" in December and "edTV," the new Ron Howard comedy, next spring.

Which is not to say the couple's relationship has set well with everyone in Hollywood. Even in 1998, many in the entertainment industry remain intolerant of homosexuality, says Brian Grazer, producer of "Psycho" and "edTV."

"A hit, a movie that opens to $25 million, helps," he says. "But there is a threshold of prejudice that is real." For the first time since "Ellen's" cancellation, the couple sat down for an interview, chatting for 2 1/2 hours in the living room of their Spanish-style Hancock Park home.

"Of course, it will only remind people that we're gay and in love," DeGeneres says of this article, adding, with a rueful smile, "and 'thrusting it in everyone's face.' "

*

Question: What's been happening since "Ellen" was canceled last spring?

DeGeneres: Everything that I ever feared happened to me. I lost my show. I've been attacked like hell. I went from making a lot of money on a sitcom to making no money.

Heche: And I was told I would never work again.

DeGeneres: And we just went, "OK, we don't have any income . . . . Do we play the game or do we not play the game?"

*

Q: It looks like you're trying to play the Hollywood game now. You have all these movies opening. You're both obviously working. And before "Six Days, Seven Nights," that seemed open to question.

Heche: That role [as a heterosexual love interest] was such a huge thing. "Can Anne pull it off?" Of all the things to question about my doing that movie. How about that I had never done a comedy before? But, God bless Harrison [Ford], because if he hadn't fought for me, I wouldn't have gotten to do that role. And, really, God bless Ivan [Reitman, director], because as many fights as we had--which were daily--he did allow me to do the movie.

Q: Did that film prove you weren't box-office poison?

Heche: (lighting a cigarette) Well, I can't say the offers are pouring in. But I kind of thought all that might be over until just this week. I got a script that I absolutely adore and learned that Fox won't hire me because they still have this bitterness about the timing of my falling in love with Ellen and the opening of "Volcano." I have my own opinions about why that movie didn't do well, as anybody with half a brain would, but they want to blame it on somebody. I won't say doors are shut for me. I know there are studios that will hire me (laughing). I don't know where those scripts are from those studios, but I don't think there is a rule against me like there is at Fox. So I have started to do other things.

DeGeneres: (grabbing Heche's hand) She's written three scripts in two months, and then, out of the blue, she got this offer to direct for Showtime.

Heche: The hesitancy around me as an actress has allowed me to expand in [new] directions. I thought I would--just not so soon. I'm not one of those people who fantasizes anymore about being the pretty girl in a romantic comedy. I'm a chameleon, not a consistent personality in a film, so regardless of my life with Ellen, I would have had a different career than what some people were hoping I would have.

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Q: Ellen, it seems like you're trying to become a film actress despite the failure of your first movie, "Mr. Wrong," a couple of years ago.

DeGeneres:"Mr. Wrong" is not the movie I would have liked to make my debut in, but I've seen worse movies, and people still work after them. So when the show stopped, I thought, well, I'll just go into movies. But for some reason, people decided "Let's not give her another movie." So thank God for Ron Howard and "edTV."

Q: How did you like playing someone other than Ellen Morgan?

DeGeneres: I really do miss Ellen Morgan, and I'm not a chameleon like Anne is. But I've grown a lot seeing how fearless she is in film, and with "edTV," I don't know what happened, but there's definitely a different personality up there.

Q: Whom do you play in the movie?

DeGeneres: (deadpan) Jamie Tarses [ABC's president]. I play a network executive and I'm a woman, so I don't know who else to compare myself to.

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