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Spotlight on Portia De Rossi

The actress discusses her ”Nip/Tuck” debut, Ellen DeGeneres, and life as an openly gay actress

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A reporter is trying to coax Portia de Rossi into repeating a dirty word that she recently uttered on screen during her guest stint on Nip/Tuck. It’s not going very well.

”My character uses some pretty crass words,” she says.

”Tell me… I’m not delicate.”

”Things I would never say,” she explains.

”Okay, how about the PG version?”

”I just…,” de Rossi stumbles. ”What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just tell you? I’m actually very prudish — I don’t like watching sex scenes. I don’t like Sex and the City because I have to deal with that Samantha character. I’m not interested in other people’s sex lives.”

There are two ironies to that statement. No. 1: For the longest time, de Rossi’s sex life was all over the gossip columns. And No. 2: De Rossi is forthcoming on pretty much any other subject, including what it’s like to be one half of the most famous lesbian couple in the world with her girlfriend of three years, Ellen DeGeneres. There’s the fun perks (getting an iPhone from Steve Jobs), the everyday (shopping for midcentury furniture), and the exceedingly relatable (discussing children, which the two have decided against — at least for now). Sitting in the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, the 34-year-old native Australian is much softer than she appeared on Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, not to mention more endearing and self-deprecating. (”Do I have cheese on my sweater?”) She chooses her words carefully as she stares down at the black straw she’s been twisting.

”The beginning of my career was about constructing this actress named ‘Portia’ who looked a certain way,” explains de Rossi, obliquely referring to sex-siren roles she took on in Scream 2 and, fittingly, Sirens. ”But people really celebrate honesty. And the decision I made to be very public was a decision to choose love over anything else — over my career, over public opinion, over what my family thought.”

It is heartening to see that her career hasn’t suffered as a result. She recently turned down lead parts on two new network series in favor of an arc on the FX plastic-surgery drama Nip/Tuck. In the second episode, de Rossi appears as Olivia — an acupuncturist and mother of an 18-year-old hellion of a daughter — who is romantically involved with Joely Richardson’s Julia. It’s her first onscreen gay role.

”I had a conversation with Ellen, who was 100 percent behind me playing this role, asking her, ‘What if I get typecast as a lesbian?’ She said, ‘So what?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, it has to be so what.”’

And not to sound like Alanis Morissette, but here’s the third irony surrounding de Rossi: As she nears the end of her Nip/Tuck run (she’ll appear in at least nine episodes), she identifies more with Richardson’s character, who is in the throes of exploring her sexuality, than her own — an out, loud, and proud type. ”It brought up a lot of emotion remembering how it was to come out to people that you love. You just pray that it won’t make them change their opinion of you.”

In fact, she’s channeled these feelings into a sitcom she’s pitching to the TV networks called Butch and Fay. The titular characters — a man and a woman — marry for the sake of preserving their acting careers. Of course, de Rossi is in a far different place now, but she still feels uncertainty as she forges ahead as the most prominent openly gay actress in Hollywood. ”We really haven’t seen what’s going to happen to me, or Neil Patrick Harris. Is T.R. Knight going to get another romantic lead role? I don’t know,” she sighs. ”I’m sure people are looking at me and going, ‘I wonder if she’ll work again. I wonder what she’s going to do next.”’

Here’s what’s next: So, that filthy word is…?

Rebuffed again.

”When you see it, you’ll understand.”

The boldfaced names that de Rossi can’t get enough of

Hugh Laurie
”I was a huge fan from Blackadder. Then I saw him in [House] and I couldn’t believe it was the same person.”
Melinda Doolittle
”We were starstruck over each other. I said, ‘I can’t believe I’m meeting you,’ and she was like, ‘I feel the same way.”’
Jessica Walter
”I loved her [on Arrested], and I loved working with her because our characters were so horrible to each other.”
Neil Patrick Harris
”I can’t say I have any regrets, but I wish I handled coming out with the dignity and grace that he did.”