Ellen DeGeneres [ After checking her caller ID ]: Harpo Inc.

Oprah: [ Laughs ] I love it. Are you awake?

Ellen: I am. I just woke up. I had a horrible night. The weirdest thing happened. We had some huge pop in the wall at 2:30 in the morning, and then it sounded like our whole house was going to explode. I don't know if a speaker blew or what—it was just this crazy loud vibration that went on forever, and I lay in bed thinking that the house was going to catch fire because there'd been an electrical short. So I went down to the basement—I haven't been down to the basement since we moved in two years ago—and lying next to all the audiovisual equipment is an audiobook called Being in Balance.

Oprah: Oh my goodness. Isn't that just how the world works?

Ellen: There's always a reason things happen.

Oprah: You're exactly like I am. I know that everything happens for a reason, so I look at everything like, "Okay, what does that mean, and "What am I supposed to be getting from that ?"

Ellen: Right.

Oprah: You know, you can make yourself nuts doing that, though. But it's also the way to live, I think. How long have you been living this way?

Ellen: Well, I think I've always been a searcher. But right before I decided to come out, I went on a spiritual retreat called "Changing the Inner Dialogue of Your Subconscious Mind." I'd never been to anything like it before, and all my friends were taking bets on how long I'd last with no TV, no radio, no phone. But for me that was the beginning of paying attention to all the little things.

Oprah: Would you say that coming out was the seminal moment in your life?

Ellen: Oh yeah, because it stripped everything away. The whole world was talking about me. You know, if you're going to be honest with yourself, you have to admit that you go into show business wanting people to talk about you and wanting everyone to know who you are. But that also means there are going to be a whole bunch of people who don't like you. No matter who you are. I'm sure there's somebody out there who doesn't like Betty White because she's short and has white hair.

Oprah: Refresh my memory: At what point did you make the decision to come out? You were three years into your sitcom?

Ellen: I was four years in, because the fifth year is when they canceled me. I think I've told you about a dream I had. I was struggling with the idea of coming out—what it would do to my career and to me—and in this dream, I was holding a tiny finch in the palm of my hand. I could feel how much I loved this bird and that it was safe in my hand, and I was reaching in to put it back in its cage—one of these thin, bamboo, beautiful, multitiered cages—and as I was putting the bird back in, I realized that the cage was against a window and the bird could fly out. The bird realized it at the same time I did, and I became the bird. And the bird looked at me and wanted to fly out, but I looked at the bird and said, "But you're safe in here in a beautiful cage. Don't leave." And the bird just looked at me and flew out the window.

Oprah: Wow.

Ellen: So I was like, "Okay, I know what that means." Until then I'd had no idea I was in a cage. I was in this beautiful setting, and I was making money and had everyone taking care of me.

Oprah: So once that veil lifted, did everything change?

Ellen: Well, there were lots of different veils and lots of different layers—but just to say the words was so huge for me. You know, people say, "Why do you have to tell everybody, who cares, and why do you have to announce it?" It's because it's your truth and the truth shall set you free.

Oprah: To be able to say it out loud to the world.

Ellen: But then it turned into everybody telling me to shut up. I was on your show and I was on the cover of Time, and there was article after article, and then articles reporting on articles, and it became this storm. I was getting attacked for talking about it so much, and I was like, " I am not talking about it, you are." And then everybody was hating me and "Oh, shut up already," and that's when the show went down in flames. I actually think the show got better after I came out. The season that no one watched—

Oprah: …turned out to be the best season. I remember. But it's so important to say that out loud so people can also see for themselves how the things that broke you open actually allowed you to be set free.

Next: On becoming a vegan


Next Story