Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Portia de Rossi
May 20, 2013 4:00 AM
Author and actress Portia de Rossi: "Everybody who is honest about who they are helps somebody else."
By Patricia Sheridan Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Her book "Unbearable Lightness" was a New York Times best-seller, which added the moniker of successful author to actress Portia de Rossi's resume. It is a candid account of her struggles with her sexual identity, an eating disorder and how she came to terms with it all. Married to comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, she is a dedicated vegan and animal advocate. The 40-year-old is thrilled to be back with the Bluth family and the critically acclaimed series "Arrested Development." After a seven-year hiatus, "Arrested Development" and the quirky, quixotic Bluths will return with new episodes on Netflix May 26.
What was it like getting back into your "Arrested Development" character after so many years?
The first couple of days were a little bit tricky for me because with this new season we all have episodes of our own and we don't necessarily interact with the other cast members as much as we did in the first series. So it was difficult the first couple of days because I was working with a guest cast member who has a big story line in my episode. It didn't quite feel like "Arrested Development" for me. I wasn't surrounded by my Bluth family.
On the third day we all got together and did the scene in the penthouse. It was the most fantastic experience. It was so surreal to see everybody again and to act with them. All of us just fell right into character as if a month had gone by and not seven years.
Was there any apprehension about living up to that first series?
No, here's the thing: When you work with someone as brilliant as Mitch Hurwitz, who has such a vision and is so creative, and when we have characters who are so great and so loved and we are all so completely different -- when you have that -- you have absolutely no concerns as to whatever you do in the future would be as good as what you have already done, because everybody was still there.
If even one of the actors decided it wasn't something they wanted to do it would have been different. But we've all come together out of, really, love for working on the show and deep, deep respect for Mitch. No fear whatsoever in my mind that it would disappoint.
In your book "Unbearable Lightness," you talk about self-esteem and your issues. So why get into two industries (modeling and acting) which seem designed to assault your self-esteem?
[Laughing] It's true, actually. I think that when you do pick careers that are kind of front and center and careers that kind of invite judgment from people, I think you get to ask yourself those questions more than other people that don't have to worry about feedback or comments or blogs or whatever that tell you whether you look good or you are a good actress. So I probably get to really explore the issue of self-esteem more than other people because of the careers that I've chosen. I mean, if I was an attorney, which I was studying to be, I may not have struggled in the same way as a model, for sure.
So looking back, would you consider yourself a courageous person?
Um, well, I don't know. I kind of soldiered on and plowed through a lot of stuff because I thought I had to. I didn't like the exposure, I guess. I really don't like to be in the public eye, but I loved to act so I kind of had to take the bad with the good. I am kind of glad I stuck with it even though it wasn't really comfortable for me. It wasn't the easiest career for me to choose, but I just love storytelling so much and I love characters and I love exploring all different kinds of lives and feelings and experiences. The acting part is fantastic! You know there are other parts you have to do if you are going to be a successful actor.
Like this interview.
[Laughing] Like explaining myself to you.
I know. I have to say it isn't easy to ask some of this stuff.
No, no, gosh no. I have many more years of experience, don't forget.
When you wrote the book, you had already come out and were happily married to Ellen. But did writing it help you feel even freer or was there some trepidation about exposing so much?
I did it because I didn't think there was any point in writing something without really examining why I found myself in such a dark place. It's not really helpful to anybody. At the time I agreed to write the book, I already really didn't care about the outcome of the book. The only reason I did it is because it would have been really helpful to me if I was 14 or 15 years old and I could have read a book like that about a girl who struggled with her sexuality, self-esteem and her weight, I would have appreciated that. I was already past it and through it in order to write it and then go on the crazy promotion schedule and talk about it so intimately.
I just kind of knew I had something that could possibly be helpful to someone else. It just felt good to kind of come clean, you know? Especially my struggle with sexuality, because I think that was really at the heart of all of my other problems.
If you were that age today, do you think it would be easier for you?
Yeah, I do, because I think there are more people in the world in all different kinds of careers and lifestyles who are visible and thriving and successful and married -- you know, things I could really aspire to as a 15-year-old lesbian. It wouldn't be so foreboding and dark and scary as it was for me back then. Everybody who is honest about who they are helps somebody else. You know, it's got to be better. The more people we know who are gay and healthy and happy and self-confident, the better it is for society.
With more high-profile people being open about their sexuality and gay marriage being approved in more states, why do you think there are people still uncomfortable about coming out?
It has been a part of society for centuries that there is something to be ashamed of if you are gay. It is hard to change that over night. It is hard to know if you are going to have the same kind of acceptance and love coming out as a gay person versus continue lying about being a straight one. There is still a little bit of fear, but the more people do it the less scary it will be for others.
Do you ever inadvertently bring your characters home with you, especially when you are playing them regularly?
[Laughs] I hope Lindsay [her "Arrested Development" character] never comes home with me. If you really look at all my characters, you would really want them to stay at work. I really like -- it's just a taste thing, not something really deep or something I need to work out in my personality -- I just really like [playing] people who don't have a conscience. I don't know why. I really like Lindsay because she's kind of an innocent. She doesn't think anything she is doing could be harmful to others or is immoral or bad. So she just kind of goes about her life without worrying how other people think or feel about her or anything she's done to them.
Talk about freeing.
It is. It's kind of liberating, right? To not have to worry about how other people see you. But I do like those characters who just kind of have no idea.
So you're not the Daniel Day-Lewis of "Arrested Development" as far as getting into character?
Or a raging, psycho, self-involved narcissist. No, nothing like that. I'm nothing like Lindsay. I pray I am nothing like Lindsay.
You've been a vegan since 2008 -- congratulations! I tried twice and just gained weight.
[Laughing] Ah that is actually the first time I have heard that. Most people lose a lot of weight when they become vegan. Here's the thing: You do have to do it right. You have to know what to eat, but it's actually a lot easier than you think, especially now. You should try it again because there is so many great products out there that can help you transition into a plant-based diet. I really love animals and I don't want to be a part of harming them in any way.