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Ellen DeGeneres gets ready for Oscar

On Feb. 25, Ellen DeGeneres will make good on a six-year-dream. She’s had her eye on hosting the Oscars since her turn as the Emmy Awards frontwoman in 2001.
/ Source: The Associated Press

On Feb. 25, Ellen DeGeneres will make good on a six-year-dream.

She’s had her eye on hosting the Oscars since her turn as the Emmy Awards frontwoman in 2001.

“I thought, well this is fun and if I’m going to do this, I should do the biggest one of all,” says the 49-year-old comedian, who’s tinier and more intense than she appears on TV. “I’ve been hoping they would ask me for probably six years now.”

She finally got the invitation a few months ago and has been working overtime ever since.

“The Ellen DeGeneres” weekday talk show consumes a full work week. The gregarious host typically arrives at the studio at 11 a.m., writes the monologue, prepares with producers for the day’s guests, hits hair and makeup, then tapes the show. By the time she heads home in her brand-new smoke gray Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, it’s past dinner time.

Lately, DeGeneres has doubled-up on her talk-show, taping two episodes a day. That way she can focus on Oscar for a full week before the awards and still have fresh shows airing while she’s absent.

‘It’s thrilling’It’s a lot of work — “crazy, just nonstop,” she says — but she’s fueled by excitement. As a lifelong movie fan, she’s “honored” to host Hollywood’s biggest night. And as an entertainer, she’s eager to take on one of the biggest challenges of her career.

“Some people rock-climb and some people skydive. I host the Oscars,” says DeGeneres, sitting cross-legged on a slouchy brown sofa at her NBC office. “It’s thrilling, knowing that it’s not an easy job and that there are not too many people who can do something like this.”

She spends nights and weekends working with her Oscar writers, but ideas percolate at all hours. The show monologue came to her in the shower two months ago, she says.

“I wrote the entire thing,” she says. “Of course, two weeks later, I threw it away.”

DeGeneres is inspired by this year’s nominees, she says, not by past Oscar shows.

She doesn’t have any childhood memories of the Academy Awards, though they were an annual event in her Louisiana home.

“My parents were very impressed by Hollywood and stars so I’m sure we watched it,” she says, adding that she watched the Oscars with more interest once she became a professional performer.

“We would have parties and watch as everybody watches, make fun of things and tear people apart,” she says. “So now I’m going to be the one being judged and the one trying to keep it an entertaining three-and-a-half hours.”

‘Scary as hell’Based on her past hosting duties at the Emmys and Grammys, DeGeneres says she “kind of knows what to expect.” But stepping onto Oscar’s stage offers its own high-profile challenges.

Chris Rock, who hosted the show in 2005, told DeGeneres last week that the job is “scary as hell,” she says. But DeGeneres has a different perspective.

“I want to look at it as an exciting thing and I can’t wait to look out and see all those famous faces,” she says.

She adds that she won’t try to emulate any past Oscar host, though she does have her favorites.

“I always go back to Johnny Carson,” she says. “He was just a classy guy and everything he did, you felt like you were in good hands.”

She’s hoping that her positive attitude will spread a happy vibe through the Kodak Theatre, she says.

That warm approach is what makes her a perfect host, says Laura Ziskin, producer of the 79th Academy Awards.

“She’s just born to do this,” Ziskin says. “She’s hysterically funny, she’s unpredictable and she makes you feel good. She’s going to own it and blow us away.”

Academy president Sid Ganis says DeGeneres “sparkles.”

“Her wit cuts to the truth of things, but in a wonderfully warm-spirited way,” he says.

‘I’m trying to enjoy every step of it’DeGeneres has seen all the nominated films and counts “Babel” and “Notes on a Scandal” among her favorites. She’s writing jokes around those, but she still hopes for some last-minute surprises on Oscar night — like when Jack Palance did his one-armed push-ups, or the year a streaker crossed the stage, flashing a peace sign, among other things.

“I’m going to create something. I’m going to make something horrible happen,” she says with a glint in her light blue eyes. “Not like in a bad thing for anybody but I think something should happen.”

She gives no hints.

Much of her work for the show is already done. The monologue has been written and the tuxedo has been fitted. All that’s left is a few final touches and hosting a live, global telecast that in the United States alone generally attracts an audience of at least 40 million.

“I’m trying to enjoy every step of it: the anticipation, the day of, the night,” she says.

The day after the Oscars, DeGeneres will return to her daily talk show to share the hosting experience with her audience. Then she can finally relax.

“It’s exhausting,” she says. “I keep joking that I’m going to go into rehab the next day. I need to lay down for a little while.”

Despite the workload, DeGeneres is already contemplating her Oscar future.

“It’ll be interesting to see if this is something that I’ll do again,” she says. “But right now I’m just looking forward to this one.”