Dialogue: Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres prepares to host her first Oscar telecast

To look at Ellen DeGeneres' film acting resume, one wouldn't automatically think, "Here's a woman who ought to be hosting the Oscars." If the boxoffice takes of 1996's "Mr. Wrong" and 1999's "Goodbye Lover," "EDtv" and "The Love Letter" were added up, they wouldn't even total $50 million. Fortunately, there also was a little animated picture, 2003's "Finding Nemo," to which she contributed a memorable voice and which fell just short of $340 million at the domestic boxoffice alone.

But DeGeneres, 49, would be the first to say she didn't earn the gig of presiding over Sunday's 79th Annual Academy Awards with her movie work. Instead, she did it the old-fashioned way: by being good at the job she was hired to do. In hosting the Primetime Emmys and the Grammys -- each two times -- the consensus was that she brought a sharp wit and all-around likability while evincing the proper respect for the events. In particular, it's impossible to forget DeGeneres' impressive work at the 2001 Emmy Awards ceremony, twice delayed due to the events of Sept. 11. It included her monologue quip, "What would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a roomful of Jews?"

The host of NBC's megapopular daytime talker "Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show" will be back in a suit -- a tux, actually -- for her maiden Oscar voyage. With the night on which she will work the biggest room of her career fast approaching, the longtime comedienne spoke recently with Ray Richmond for The Hollywood Reporter and noted that she is feeling more excitement than anxiety. "There are two things I've always wanted to do in my life. One is to host the Oscars. The second is to get a call from (Academy Awards producer) Laura Ziskin. You can imagine that day's diary entry."

The Hollywood Reporter: So, how are you preparing for this? Is it pretty much like, once you've hosted one award show, you've hosted 'em all?
Ellen DeGeneres: Well, with the Oscars I'm finding that you freak out differently. It's the Oscars, as everyone keeps reminding me. Like I wasn't putting quite enough pressure on myself already. It's still just a TV show, but it's an awfully big one, and it matters a lot to me that people laugh a lot and come away thinking, "Wow, that was great."

THR: So, what can you tell us that you'll be doing? Is it the usual, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you"?
DeGeneres: No, I simply won't tell you, and that prevents the need for any killing. But here's the truth: I actually wrote the monologue back at the beginning of January. It just came to me. I thought it was all done. I had a tiny bit of a theme that reduced the need for it to hinge on who the nominees were. And then I just tossed it out. It wasn't that it wasn't timely enough. I guess it's just part of my process this time.

THR: Have you been watching tapes of old Oscarcasts to get some pointers?
DeGeneres: I have a little bit. I love how Johnny Carson did it in particular. He was terrific. But he hosted in such a different time. In the end, you just have to go with your gut as to what will work or not work.

THR: It seems like doing the Oscars requires a difficult tap dance, trying to keep it fun and casual and yet at the same time, a bit formal and respectful. How is that impacting your preparation?
DeGeneres: Fortunately, my instinct is to be positive rather than mean-spirited, which simply isn't necessary. My focus is on trying to make sure everyone in that room is relaxed and excited. I mean, at the same time I know they're all nervous. Except maybe Clint Eastwood. And Meryl Streep. They'll probably be the only people listening to me all night long. So, thanks for the idea. I'm just going to play to those two.

THR: Do you consider any subjects to be off-limits?
DeGeneres: I honestly don't see any rules that need to be guiding this. You'll see that in the fact that I won't be wearing a dress and in the way I go into the audience a lot, as I've done in past awards shows. Politics? I'm normally not one for political statements, except right after 9/11, when it was necessary, of course. In general, I don't see the need to be especially topical. I'll talk about the diverse group of nominees that range in age from 10-72 and the fact people are getting up at 4 a.m. to watch this live in France.

THR: Really? 4 a.m.?
DeGeneres: Well, you know, the middle of the night sometime. I'm really big with the sleep-deprived crowd.